By: Chelsea Burk
One of the goals for the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is to celebrate the knowledge and experiences that different social groups and cultures bring to the University of Iowa. Although they might not be the first group one thinks of when they hear “diversity,” military-connected and veteran students contribute just that. UI has a student support office, Military and Veteran Student Services, that promotes the success of these students through inclusive and equitable policies, efforts, and practices.
Dr. Chelsea Burk, student support specialist for Military and Veteran Student Services, sat down with Nick Kalinin, a senior who graduated December 2019, and who has been active in the student veteran community on campus. She asked Nick a few questions about his experience moving to Iowa for school after growing up in California, his engagement with other student veterans on campus, and his involvement in the university-wide 2019 Military and Veteran Student Task Force.
Chelsea: Tell me a bit about your experiences before coming to the University of Iowa.
Nick: I grew up in California, and I joined the Navy because I wanted to live somewhere new. I ended up getting stationed three hours away from home. After being in the Navy, I went to community college in my hometown. I was like, okay, no more military stuff—the people drove me crazy even though I liked my job. Then I went to community college and the people in the [Veteran Services] office had the same mindset as the people I had worked with. When I came to the University of Iowa, I didn’t go into the Military and Veteran Student Services (MVSS) office to hang out during my whole first semester. I wanted to avoid anything connected to the military. Then, I started work study here at Iowa [in MVSS] and realized that the student veterans weren’t so different from me. We’re all here to do something different with our lives. We can be proud about our service but also move forward.
C: You said that you wanted to avoid anything affiliated with the military when you came to Iowa. Why did you go into work study in the MVSS office?
N: The Psychology department had a helping profession panel and Matt [Miller, MVSS Director] was on it my first semester. I was listening to Matt’s experiences talking about how he got to where he was and where he wants to go and I felt like I could resonate with a lot of those experiences, and I wanted to do work study [in MVSS] as a reason to spend time with him and interact with him a little bit more. I initially wanted to be a social worker at the VA hospital, so I wanted to connect myself into the veteran pool of things.
C: What do you notice are some of the struggles that you have faced and that your peers have faced specifically at the University of Iowa, and what resources have you found to be useful?
N: The first thing that comes to mind would be the social factor. Transferring here in the spring semester from out of state, it was fairly difficult to plug myself in a social circle at first. Ironically enough, it took me hanging out in the veteran’s office to find that social circle, so that definitely helped: going to the UIVA [University of Iowa Veteran’s Association]events, just sitting in the office.
On campus when you disclose that you’re a veteran I think there’s this sort of assumption, a stereotype, I guess. Among the students, I try to withhold that I’m a veteran for the first month of classes—then when I bring it up, they’re like, “Oh, I totally wouldn’t have expected that you were a vet,” and I’m like, what does that even mean? I feel like that can be a problem for vets. Maybe it’s also part of our responsibility to educate people. If we don’t want to have all of the negative stereotypes that people have then maybe we should act a certain way. It’s a tough thing because we’re a mixed bag of people here [as student veterans].
I feel like Iowa City is a very supportive community for veterans, especially with the VA hospital here. Other people have to drive for hours to get health care and I can just walk across the river.
C: What would you like to see arise from the task force, and what encouraged you to get involved with it?
N: A big thing for me that I keep thinking about and that we discussed in our subcommittee is making orientation a little more social and immersive for vets. If they can come to campus right away and see that there is a group of us that are here to hang out, show them around campus, show them the ropes of Iowa City, then maybe they’d be more inclined to use the services and want to plug themselves into this social circle. That’s a big thing. My orientation was very structured, get this done, and then boom—you’re a student now, have fun. So, I’d like to see something change with that. I feel like the resources are there, they’re just underutilized. The staff and faculty are all very receptive to veterans. I wanted to join the task force because I feel like I do have valuable input having been here for almost two years. I would really love to help future student veterans and also it seemed like a great experience for a field I’m looking to go into as well. Also I enjoy hashing these thoughts out with professionals. It’s already been a very enlightening experience. To see that people really meet and talk about these things to improve students’ lives is amazing.
Learn More: veterans.uiowa.edu/our-offices/mvss