Service to others has been a North Carolina Central University value since its founding in 1910. But no one exemplifies this value more than the 400 students who are military veterans or currently serving on active duty or as reservists.
NCCU will pause to honor the strength, duty, devotion and resolve of U.S. service members on Monday, Nov. 12, at 11 a.m. with a Veterans Day ceremony at the Shepard statue, followed by a grand opening of the new Veterans Center in the Miller–Morgan Building Room 216 at 1 p.m. These events are free and open to the public.
“Every story is different, but those who serve in the military are independent, hard workers who are not afraid of sacrifice,” said Tomeka Davis, NCCU veterans coordinator. “Vets are not seeking favoritism, but they do want people to understand what their service means, and to recognize and honor their sacrifice to country.”
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Davis understands the challenges that a college campus can present to a veteran, especially one recently returned from war. “There are times when student vets may consider giving up. It can be challenging for veterans to understand the higher education system, even down to what a curriculum is,” she said.
Davis hopes that the new Veterans Center will serve as a place of solace for student veterans. “There is a bond that is formed when you join the military, a sense of camaraderie. That is what the Veterans Center will provide, a space to connect to others who understand our story. That’s what veterans need to be successful and graduate on time.”
A grant of $18,600 from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund helped advance Davis’ long-term plan of establishing the center. The new center will include office space for Davis, a computer center and a student lounge.
A campus presents unfamiliar territory to many veterans, Davis said. “In the military you learn to have respect for authority figures and to operate in a structured environment that is given to routine and order,” she said. “That is sometimes quite the opposite of what happens in a college classroom.”
She also cautions people about jumping to conclusions when it comes to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury. “Veterans are not on edge. We are not a product of our challenges. In fact we bring many strengths to the college classroom.” The key, she said, is creativity, an open mind and sensitivity when it comes to serving student veterans.
“I had a vet who came to see me after he had a conversation with a classmate who after learning that he completed several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan asked him if he had ever killed anyone. That brings up unwanted memories. Those are the things that we have to be sensitive about.”
Davis also hopes that a new mentoring program between military veteran faculty and staff and students will lessen the stigma many disabled veterans face. “It’s hard to admit to having a disability, especially for someone who didn’t go into the military with one, but came out with one,” she said. “You are supposed to be a warrior.”
With the end of the war in Iraq and the promised end of the war in Afghanistan in 2014, Davis expects a continuing increase in the number of NCCU veterans. When the post-9/11 GI Bill was passed, Davis saw an increase of nearly 63 percent.
In September 2012, NCCU was named a military-friendly campus for the third time by GI Jobs magazine. The publication considered several criteria when awarding this distinction, including a student organization specific to veterans and the acceptance of military credits and training as college credits.
According to Davis, talking with vets is quite easy. One simple question, “What branch did you serve in?” can spark a long conversation.