OCCC’s dedicated space for veterans

October 3, 2016 Campus Community, Featured Slider Print Print
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Photo by Aaron Cardenas

Photo by Aaron Cardenas

The sign above the door reads, “Veterans Lounge.”

Found in the back of the Social Sciences building, a large room with couches, chairs, computers and a kitchen set sits empty on a Thursday afternoon.

After a few minutes, Laura Hancock, a veteran of the US Army, comes in with her service dog.

A few others slowly walk in and a conversation starts between them.

Hancock, a Psychology major at Oklahoma City Community College, is one of the veterans who frequents the lounge.

“I use it for studying, getting away from everyone, talking to other vets,” she said.

The lounge is located in the Social Sciences Center, in room 1H12 – but it’s not easy to find.

In fact, some veterans, including Hancock, have commented on the hard-to-find placement of the room.

“Since no one knows about it, the location is kind of hard to get to even when you explain directions,” Hancock said.  “I only found out about the lounge by being over there. I was sitting over there and I just looked up and asked, ‘was that sign there the whole time?”

Lance Witherow, Marine Corps veteran and OCCC student since March, had a similar experience.

“I had no idea about the veterans lounge until two days ago. It’s kind of hard to stumble upon it when it’s in the back corner of a forgotten room,” Witherow said. “I went to go check it out and it was locked. I just left. Not to sound like it’s an unimportant thing, but if I have to put a lot of effort just to study in there, I can find a different place to study.”

The lounge was opened in the spring, and dedicated by OCCC President Jerry Steward on May 16.

In an email to the Pioneer, Steward said that the lounge was created “to provide students with veteran status a quiet and relaxed environment to study and enjoy the company of fellow veterans.”

OCCC reported 660 veteran students enrolled during the 2015-2016 school year.

However, due to a lack of advertising and signage, many veterans are unaware of the lounge. A number of veterans spend their time in the Veterans Services Office, located in the main building.

Air Force veteran Kira Strickland had never heard of the Veteran’s Lounge before, and did not know how to get to it. “I’ve been in the building before but never been to the lounge,” she said. “I heard it’s always locked, I don’t know if I’ll bother going over there.”

Strickland said she’s met other veterans at the Veterans Services Office while getting her enrollment processed.

“I sometimes eat lunch in there too so I won’t just be sitting by myself,” she said. “It’d be nice if it [the lounge] was closer. I actually thought to myself, ‘I wish we had an area where we could go’. My old school had one, but everything was in the same area so you got to know the veterans staff as well as the other veteran students.”

Hancock said she wished the two rooms were closer, too.

“There is a lot of people who hang out in the small little office of Veterans Services,” Hancock said. “It would be more convenient if Veterans Services was closer. It’s hard to have several service dogs in that small room too.”

Steward said the lounge was located away from high traffic areas on purpose.

“The space is purposefully designed to be set apart from the busy activity of classrooms, labs, and other high traffic areas on campus so students using the lounge will have a quieter and more calm work space,” he said.

A report by the Community College Research Center indicates that 44 percent of student veterans have “four or more risk factors associated with non-completion, such as part-time college enrollment, working full-time while enrolled in college, and supporting a family.”

Steward said he wanted to address the difficulties of returning to civilian life with the opening of the veterans lounge.

“Our students with veteran status face unique challenges when they return from duty to civilian life, and the lounge provides a dedicated space for these students to study and focus on these goals,” he said. “It also provides them an opportunity to interact with students with similar life experiences.”

Witherow agreed, adding that many veterans face challenges when returning from a military lifestyle.

There are people who build camaraderie in the lounge and Veterans Services office so they can better assimilate into a school population,” Witherow said. “That is a difficult transition to go from a military mentality to a mostly liberal mentality. When you meet those people, you’re able to connect.”

Though the veterans lounge is being used by veteran students, many said they wish the lounge was advertised and easier to find.

“At least having the Veteran’s Lounge being advertised more,” Witherow said. “Addressing things up front would be helpful, saying this is why we have it, this is why we need it, so other students won’t say ‘oh the veterans are crazy, they need their own space.’ That’s not true, so advertising it for it’s purpose would be good.”

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