With an enrollment total of 16,160 undergraduate and graduate students, UMKC prides itself on the exceeding diversity that is found among the student population. Having been named among the top five gay-friendly schools in the country, UMKC has become known for its acceptance and for their LGBTQIA students.
Along with safe space zones for LGBTQIA students, the student union also houses The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, whose “mission is to enhance the student experience by creating diverse interactions, nurturing relationships across campus and in the community and addressing academic and social needs in an effort to provide an inclusive campus environment that supports students of color.”
The list of diversity support found on UMKC’s campus is endless, however, a group of students seem to have been overlooked, 433 of them to be exact. While it may seem that 433 is such an insignificant number compared to the larger picture, tell that to the student veterans who make up that 2.7 percent of the student population.
“We may not stand out like we did in uniform, but we are a significant portion of students,” said Angelique Dilmore, a UMKC student veteran.
Dilmore, a senior majoring in Communication Studies, is a full-time student and a mother of a six-year-old girl. For her, the lack of recognition for the University’s student veterans is an issue because those individuals have a higher risk of not completing their education due to the fact that a majority of student veterans are first generation college students.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 62 percent of student veterans are first generation college students, with a majority of that percentage being individuals who are over the age of 25, making them “non-traditional” college students.
“Older students have a tougher time getting back into it [school]. Can you imagine taking college algebra when you haven’t done equations in a decade?” said Dilmore.
“We do not have an identifiable center,” said Eric Grospitch, Dean of Students. “We have been working for the last two years to find that place. We have been searching and watching for space on campus as it comes available for the creation of that veteran center.”
“Really what we’re looking at is a veterans and adult-learner kind of a concept. If you read the research on the veterans and you read the research on adult learners, they parallel about 90 percent, so we’re looking at that kind of a model,” said Grospitch.
Last fall, the vice chancellor sponsored a graduate assistantship related specifically to veterans programs. Through this assistantship, a training program was launched last month for faculty and staff.
“Part of what we are doing with this new outreach that we started last month is talking with faculty and staff with how you engage with student veterans,” said Grospitch. “The idea is that once somebody has gone through what is going to be called the ‘at eaze zone’ training, they become a comfortable place for people to go to, like a safe space.”
On the Student Veterans Virtual Resource Center, found on the UMKC website, the platform has been created as a student veteran support center as a way for veterans to find answers to questions regarding the admissions process, transcripts/records and veteran organizations. Under the tab titled “Campus Resources & GI Bill Benefits” links to departments such as the cashier’s office, counseling center and financial aid can be found, however, a student veteran-specific facility cannot be found.
“Ultimately, it’s space and dollars. It’s not for lack of institutional desire or institutional try,” said Grospitch.
“Veterans have special needs and having their own space to connect with other veterans and seek out help is vital to a veteran’s success in school,” said Dilmore.
One University organization, the UMKC Student Veterans Organization, aims to provide veteran resources support and opportunities for campus and community service. While the SVO is a university-based organization, it is entirely student led and run.
“Veterans are a class of citizens who often won’t speak up when they are in need. They are used to being protectors and providers, so they usually think about themselves last,” said Dilmore. “A few small steps from UMKC could make a life-changing difference for current and future student veterans.”
“We do have hopes of getting that center, I feel as I look at where we were, we’ve come a long way. As I look at where we want to go, we have a long way to go,” said Grospitch. “Ultimately, what we want the students to have is support.”
For student veterans, or any students suffering from PTSD, the UMKC counseling center is located at 4825 Troost Ave in Suite 206.