Red, white and FSU: Veterans center opens on campus

(Event attendees celebrate the opening of the Veterans Center on March 23. Photo by Corey McFeeley.)

The FSU Veterans Center officially opened on Friday, March 23 after a ceremonial ribbon cutting outside Crocker Annex.

According to Jackie Wolf, FSU’s veterans services coordinator, the center is a designated spot on campus for student veterans to study and socialize with their veteran peers.

With an assortment of couches, a flat-screen TV and a study room, the space is meant to be an inviting atmosphere for student veterans to get to know one another, Wolf said.

“I want to say thanks to everyone that has helped make this happen,” Wolf said before cutting the ribbon outside the center’s door. “Thank you to Framingham State, the president, the CFO, the Dean of Students, Glenn [Cochran] – all these people that have been by my side helping me with this, but I especially cannot be more proud of these students.”     

Although the center had its official launch on March 23 to correspond with the military community collecting event in the McCarthy Center Forum on March 24, it’s been open to student veterans since October, Wolf said.

“We invited the student veterans to utilize the area as soon as we moved in,” she said. “As the students used it, they were encouraged to give ideas about what would make it better. I wanted the student veterans to have a voice in what the space would be.”    

When they moved in, Wolf added the center didn’t have much practical furniture. But through donations, Wolf and members of the Veterans Club have been able to properly furnish the space.

“The TV, sound system, entertainment center, refrigerators, personal printers … [and] lockers were all brought in by students to build the Veterans Center,” she said.

Although the center just launched this year, Wolf said she had wanted to launch it a year and half ago when she was hired, but was told the University didn’t have the space.

“I asked if we had a veterans center and if it would be possible to get one started, but I was told that space was really hard to come by and there were a lot of other people on the list ahead of me that were waiting for space for various different projects that they had,” she said. 

According to Wolf, recent data collected from the non-profit organization Student Veterans of America has shown that colleges with veterans centers have higher student veteran retention and graduation rates.

“Student veterans are non-traditional students. They’re a little bit older – a little bit more experienced. They have families. They are crunched for time and they feel a little bit like they stick out at the traditional study spots,” she said. “Usually, they like having their own place where they can come and study, and they trust everybody around them.”   

Early in the spring 2017 semester, members of the Veterans Club, frustrated by the lack of a dedicated space for veterans, met with President F. Javier Cevallos to see if he could help them secure a location.

Senior and Veterans Club President Stephen Ames said he proposed the club meet with the president because he thought Cevallos could help them expedite the process.

Ames said Cevallos “loved the idea” and started looking for a space for the center.

Cevallos said, “It’s a place for a group of students who have a common set of experiences that are different from the majority of our students. Having that place where they can come together … and feel a part of the community is very important.” 

Initially, Cevallos proposed the center be housed in an empty space on the lower level of Foster Hall, but he ultimately decided against that since it was “too isolated” from the rest of campus.

By late spring, Cevallos informed the Veterans Club the Crocker Annex was available since Campus Events, the office that previously occupied the space, had moved to O’Connor Hall. 

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said creating the center in Crocker Annex might be temporary, however, as the University has requested funding from the state legislature to renovate Crocker Hall entirely. If funded, it would then have to be added to the commonwealth’s capital spending plan. In total, the process could still take three years before construction would begin.

Hamel added, “It’s a lot of space, probably more space than they will end up having when we ultimately need to move them out because we don’t have that type of space on campus. But for the short term, they were fine recognizing that it is a possibility that we’ll be renovating.”     

Wolf reports to Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and the director of Residence Life, who directly helped Wolf move into the center over the last year.

Wolf said, “There were times when I was told that I did not have authority to request things, and Glenn would have to step in to get it done.”

She added, “For example, just accepting the space – facilities wouldn’t let me say I [could] accept it. Glenn had to tell them that I could have the space. There were various moments along the way when I got pushback, and Glenn had to step in to say he was backing me on this project.”

Wolf said while she had wanted to open the center before the fall semester, it had to be repainted, the locks had to be changed and furniture had to be moved, which took until the middle of October.

“We decided that if we planned the open house to correspond with the collecting event, it would help build more excitement for the collecting event,” she said.

In the months that the center has been open, Ames said he is often taken aback by the amount of people he sees whenever he is there.

“To be completely honest, I was actually surprised myself in how much people like to come here and use this place,” he said. “Every time I come here and I see the log book, and I see the list of all the people that have been here that day, it always makes me happy – just to know that people are enjoying themselves … and feel free to be themselves.”