Between Fordham’s three campuses—Rose Hill, Lincoln Center and Westchester—there are more than 100 active clubs and organizations. Most recognizable among these are those that frequently host on-campus events and whose activities affect a large percentage of the student body: United Student Government (USG), Campus Activities Board (CAB), Residence Hall Association (RHA) and Global Outreach (GO!), among others. While these clubs and organizations are certainly among the most active on any of the Fordham campuses, students tend to overlook—and may not even be aware of the existence of—what is likely the largest club or organization affiliated with Fordham University, as well as the only club to be present and active within all three of its campuses.
The Fordham Veterans Association, a chapter of the Student Veterans of America, finds its member base with student veterans and veteran dependents currently enrolled at any of the Fordham campuses. The age demographic falls mainly in the mid-to-late 20s, but can reach as high as the early 40s. This club provides student veterans with an opportunity to form relationships with other student veterans who may be struggling to make the transition back into the civilian life.
“[The transition can,] in a lot of ways, be an awkward one, going from an extremely structured military life to college,” said Sean Ansted, Professional and Continuing Studies ’14, now 32, who currently serves as the president of the Fordham Veterans Association.
According to Ansted, the difficulty in trading in combat boots and fatigues for sneakers and jeans is very much based on whether the individual is eager to leave the military and transition into the next phase of his or her life or eager, but also hesitant, due to “the loss of complete structure and cohesion” that he or she had while serving.
“It’s a culture shock for many, in the beginning, to be mixed in with traditionally-aged students,” said Ansted. “But from my observation over the time I’ve been a student, that shock subsides.”
Ansted was raised in San Francisco and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004. Having grown up in a lower-class family, Ansted cites his main impetus to enlist as an avenue to gain benefits for school and as an enhancement on his resume. Additionally, with the Sept. 11 terrorist strike on the World Trade Center still in recent memory, Ansted felt a strong call to service.
“I think everyone who enlisted at that time had been affected [by 9/11], in a way similar to the attacks on Pearl Harbor — [it instilled] a sense of duty to serve in some capacity,” said Ansted.
Two years later, in 2006, Ansted would deploy to Fallujah, one of the first cities to be occupied in the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the site of some of the hardest fought battles in the region.
Ansted would serve with the 1st Battalion 14th Marines, originally activated in 1943 for service in World War II, as an up gunner on a convoy security team, and later as a vehicle commander, until the deactivation of the unit upon its return home.
Ansted began the stressful search for colleges in early 2011. He remarked that, during this process, he was “blown away” by the attention the veteran entry advisory staff paid, particularly that of Dean Glen Redpath, the assistant director of admission at Lincoln Center, and Anne Treantafeles, the veterans entry adviser.
“[Dean Redpath and Anne Treantafeles] do an amazing job of not only selling the university, but genuinely caring about the veteran community here on campus,” said Ansted.
Fordham University’s efforts to accommodate prospective veteran enrollment have been the recipient of numerous public accolades in recent years. 2013 marks the fourth consecutive year that Fordham has been voted the most “vet-friendly” Yellow Ribbon university in New York City by Military Times. Fordham is also one of only five universities in New York to be listed in the “Keys to Veterans Success” category by the United States Department of Education.
Ansted supports Fordham’s reception of these awards but voiced his desire to go even further. “My goal and overall mindset is to see where we may be lacking, attend to those needs and continue to climb the ranks,” Ansted said. “No one should be satisfied with not being at the top.”
The administration seems to share this mindset. After revisions which introduced caps to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which was designed to help student veterans pay for tuition fees, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, pledged that Fordham would ignore the revised $17,500/year cap for private institutions, and instead the university would increase its commitment by covering the entirety of the annual tuition costs and general fees for all admissible veterans and their dependents. There are 343 enrolled veterans and veteran dependents as of this semester.
The presence of such a large and active veteran enrollment at Fordham is, unfortunately, not common knowledge. When college-aged individuals picture military veterans, the image that appears in their mind is undoubtedly not a man or woman in civilian clothing, with a backpack slung over one shoulder. One of the main goals of the Fordham Veterans Association is to raise awareness of its presence on campus and to more seamlessly integrate its members into the student body.
“One of the main initiatives for myself and the other officers that took over last summer was to open ourselves up to the rest of the student body and to not be as segregated as we have before,” said Ansted. He hopes that this desegregating will prevent him and other student veterans from simply being known as the “bearded guy in the back of the class.”
This past fall semester, the Fordham Veterans Association made efforts to meet with the USG bodies on all campuses and to make contact with other clubs and organizations, with positive results.
“It’s of course going to be a continued effort,” said Ansted, “but in a short period we’ve already had a number of non-veteran students assist us with our holiday toy drive, and we’ve gone as far as to co-sponsor the Rainbow Alliance’s club prom.”
In addition, last Friday evening the Fordham Veterans Association hosted a fundraiser at Mugz, a location known well to Fordham students, with the proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Regiment. Ansted and other student veterans were pleased to see a handful of non-veteran students attend the event and contribute to the cause.
“[This] is what we’re aiming for cohesion among vets and integration as a whole as students representing the university,” said Ansted.
With the help of fellow students and “a very dedicated and genuine core of admin staff who participate in great lengths to make sure veterans have a smooth transition into college life,” Ansted hopes for greater unity between veteran and non-veteran students.