Veterans of the United States military have been no stranger to the news this past year. As the nation’s armed forces serve around the country and the world, they’ve become talking points for many political candidates. Often, discussions like these count veterans as a uniform group when it comes to claims or arguments about policy.
But student veterans at the University of California, Santa Barbara don’t agree with the notion. In fact, many of them would have people know that they aren’t a homogenous group and instead offer a diverse range of viewpoints.
Politicians should stop bringing up the military in political debates altogether, Tom Deakins, a University of California, Santa Barbara student veteran, told The Bottom Line in an email.
“When it comes to using us as pawns or political shields to forward some ideology I am in disgust,” Deakins, a fourth year molecular biology major, said. “Unless whatever group is trying to genuinely help veterans, I can speak for nearly all vets when I say to leave us out of it.”
“The country is more than a piece of cloth with stars and stripes on it,” student veteran Cristina Tommeraasen told The Bottom Line in an email. “It’s about the connection we have with one another and the rights and liberties we have that unite us as Americans.”
Tommeraasen, a third year sociology major, said National Football League players — who two months ago faced a national controversy over kneeling during the national anthem — should have the right to speak out for what they believe in. She also explained her stance on transgender people serving in the military, saying she doesn’t think sexual and gender orientation “should be of concern to their ability to serve.”
Fourth year biology major and veteran Beth Connelly agreed that politicians shouldn’t use veterans for their own political points. In an email to The Bottom Line, she echoed her concerns about politicians’ attitudes towards veterans.
“I would like them to realize we are not a meal ticket, a campaign platform talking point to get votes,” Connelly said, emphasizing that veterans “are a unique community of people who have all made sacrifices to serve our country.”
Views like these represent only a few of the opinions held by student veterans in regard to political discussions surrounding the military. Max Peck, the administrative lead for Veteran and Military Services at UCSB Student Affairs, echoed the students, insisting upon a diversity of thought among former members of the armed forces.
“If there is any place of true diversity at UCSB, I’m telling you it’s the Veterans Resource Center,” Peck told The Bottom Line. Student veterans come from many different backgrounds, Peck explained. “We have men and women from all walks of life that have ideologies that range from the far left all the way to the far right.”
The UCSB Veteran Resource Center serves as a support system for student veterans, providing a space where they can learn about their benefits, receive counseling, and connect to other students who have served. Students look to the center to adjust to life at UCSB, bringing to campus lives that are starkly different from those of other students.
Tommeraasen said the center allowed her to “feel like I was in good company, like I was part of a tribe and I wasn’t alone. That is invaluable as a veteran because in the military we are not alone, we are always a part of the same mission as our brothers and sisters that surround us.”
While debates across the country group veterans together as a single-minded entity, student veterans said the Veteran Resource Center also becomes a place for the discussion of current events among the community — allowing for complexity in opinions and experiences.
“When it comes to political discourse, I try to remove myself from it,” student veteran Dexter Caguiat told The Bottom Line in an email. “However, within the veteran community, I enjoy talking, hearing, and learning about both sides of the narratives. It’s like our safe space.”