Seamus Murphy '16 urges increased student veteran representation at Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

Jason Ben Nathan / Sun Staff Photographer

Seamus Murphy '16 urges increased student veteran representation at Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

October 13, 2016

Student Veterans Push for Increased S.A. Representation, Aim to Combat Stigma

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Undergraduate veterans, first-generation students and racial minorities advocated for increased representation in campus leadership at Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting.

David Cox ’18, vice president of the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association and S.A. College of Agriculture and Life Sciences representative, with CUVA President Emeritus Seamus Murphy ’16 addressed what they called the current underrepresentation of veterans as a minority group of undergraduates at Cornell.

Cox and Murphy presented findings from the recent bi-annual Ivy League Veterans Council meeting, hosted at Yale University.  As a member of the ILVC, the Cornell Undergraduate Veterans Association “actively reach[es] out to veterans attending Cornell and prospective Cornell students who are military veterans” and helps the community to “better understand the issues faced by undergraduate veterans attending Cornell.”

There are currently only 22 undergraduate veteran students at Cornell, 0.0016 percent of the student population, but the University maintains the second highest number of undergraduate veterans in the Ivy League, after Columbia with 430 undergraduate veterans composing 7.04 percent of their student population, according to Cox.

The ILVC organization is dedicated to improving representation of student veterans and advocating for more substantial recognition from the administration.

“[The ILVC is] not really fighting for a certain thing,” Cox clarified. “We’re only … asking for it to not be ‘you guys are guests here as veterans and now you’re graduating, good job and you’re gone.’”

Cox emphasized that the student body can be a valuable tool in advocating for the University-wide integration of undergraduate student veterans. He stressed that students as a unit must work reduce the stigma often associated with returning soldiers.

“Often times, the amount of questions that we get asked that are just outlandish just become[s] a little bit odd,” he said. “I’d like to see the stigma attached to returning soldiers in combat operations addressed in some way.”

Murphy described his personal experience with the stigma he said many undergraduate veterans on campus face. He shared an example of the personal and inappropriate questions, which often come from students who barely know him, including, “Have you ever killed anyone?” It was a question he said he felt that “after five minutes of knowing them, [is] a little excessive and in the wrong place.”

Murphy said forcing veterans to address these types of questions is “unacceptable,” adding that such queries “bring up all these emotions that aren’t necessarily needed in the campus environment.”

Murphy explained that such preconceived notions are not only present in student interactions, but can also be found among professors.

“I had a faculty member at one point ask me why we were in Iraq,” he said. “The professor has his Oxford diploma and he’s talking about all his publications and he’s asking me why we were in Iraq.”

In order to educate faculty, staff and Cornellians on the struggles these students face, CUVA is aiming to increase veteran student representation on campus. Cox stressed that this increased representation would be used to foster collaboration among student body members to improve the integration of veteran students.

He added that veteran undergraduates must be recognized as a “disenfranchised population” and the Cornell community should work to bridge the gap between civilians and military members.

“I’m going around as a CALS Representative because I need to have traction with the Student Assembly so I can push resolutions for Veterans,” Cox said. “I had to run just to get a voice.”

He added that he hopes the restructuring of the S.A. will improve veteran representation, pointing out the ways in which veterans already benefit Cornell’s community.

“Student veterans are ‘where the rubber meets the road,’” Cox said. “We have a higher probability of being first-generation students, from a lower socio-economic background, and tend to require less financial aid because of our veteran benefits.”

He expressed optimism that a veteran member of the assembly would be able to allocate time expressly to the struggles the population faces on campus.

“In the future, hopefully we can have a veteran on [the S.A.] and she or he can deal exclusively with veteran issues so I can deal with more CALS issues,” he said.

The S.A. also discussed and tabled two new resolutions regarding its restructuring process.

The first resolution aims to establish an ad hoc investigatory committee whose purpose would be to “filter through some of the proposals that are proposed, manage some of the forums, the outreach, the public relations,” according to Gabe Kaufman ’18, undergraduate representative to the University Assembly.

The second resolution was written and proposed by Paola Muñoz ’17 and Nicholas Karavolias ’18, members of First in Class — Cornell’s first generation student support initiative. The resolution aims to empower all students in the restructuring process by encouraging the S.A. to include open working groups in its restructuring.

The motivation for restructuring the S.A. is driven by members within the assembly. Traci Celestin ’19, minority liaison at-large, explained the need for a change in the S.A. that allows for greater community involvement.

“As someone who was, for about six months, the only black voting member on the Student Assembly, I don’t even feel welcome in this space and I feel like there definitely needs to be something that happens now,” Celestin said.

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