By Carly Lanning
If you are sitting next to Jack Williams in class, you will immediately notice two things about him. One, he is professional and always prepared for every class period. Second, there is an air of maturity about him that few students carry. If you begin a conversation with Jack Williams he would probably tell you about two things. One, about his boxer puppy that he and his girlfriend just bought and whose little puppy face is the subject of every photo on his iPhone. Two, that he is a veteran of the Marine Corps and as of this fall quarter, the founder of the new veteran’s fraternity at UC Irvine, Alpha Psi Omega.
After Jack finished serving his commitment with the Marine Corps he settled in Orange County, buying a house and attending Saddleback Community College to start up his education from where he had ended it four years earlier. After high school, Jack attended three semesters at a college in his home state of Georgia but found himself listless and directionless.
“I wanted to join the Marine Corps after September 11 because I felt like my life wasn’t going the way that I wanted it to and I wasn’t being the right kind of man or person that I knew I could be,” says Jack. “I promised myself while I was in the Marine Corps that I was going to put it behind me and finish my education but as I started school it was hard because I had gone with being with 65 of my best friends to just being on my own with my girlfriend who couldn’t relate to some of my experiences. I ended up seeking out Veteran’s Services at Saddleback College looking for friendship and guidance.”
But the transfer for Jack onto the UCI campus was anything but a smooth ride. Applying to UCI for the fall quarter of 2009, Jack was denied access because he was 14 units under the minimum amount of transfer units. Appealing the process, Jack tried to explain to admission counselors that he was hoping to be accepted with lower units because he didn’t want to waste the funding given to him in his GI Bill by spending another year at community college.
In the state of California through the GI Bill, veteran’s tuition is covered for four years at a California State College or University. With veterans going right into community college, they spend two years of these benefits preparing to transfer and only have two years left to attend their final educational desination. Without a solid contact to guide him through the admissions process, Jack was finally allowed to reapply for the winter quarter and was accepted as a history major with an emphasis in the Middle East. This entire process took eight months and isn’t an uncommon story among the veteran community here at UCI.
Fighting for priority registration that will assist veterans in maintaining their GI Bill and the opening of a Veteran Service Center in the third floor of the Student Center, the veteran community has always had to fight for their rights because they have been given little support from law makers and administrators on campus.
“We are a very diverse group of people, there is no stereotypical veteran. There are veterans who are dealing with brain injury, with PTSD, there are female veterans with unique experiences, there are veterans from disadvantaged backgrounds, and veterans who have never seen combat. We want to be accepted and are looking for support from the community whether it be acadmic, administrative or from the greater student population,” states Jack.
“But we don’t want people to think that we are damaged goods or that we need to be coddled. We are just looking to be part of the tapestry of UC Irvine.”
Alpha Psi Omega, which meets every Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Emerald Bay C, was created to provide veterans with a safe space and supportive network that could guide them through their school years at Irvine. “There is a great misunderstanding amongst the community that all our needs as veterans are taken care which isn’t the case. The reason that we are starting a fraternity is to ease the transition for veterans coming directly from service or working life or community college into a four-year institution,” says Jack.
“Research shows that veterans are useful, they are good workers and that they take a job and do it with pride. But there are things that they don’t do well and one of those is navigating buracracy,” says Jack. “We want to provide support and guidance in navigating this system.”
There can be a large disconnect between students and veterans on the campus, usually because of a four-year age gap and their differing life experiences.
“You are exposed to a lot of painful and generally bad experiences. As veterans, we are exposed to grown-up issues, we are exposed to life and death and have people’s lives in your hands. There is a kind of innoncence and loss of youth that happens after being in the military. People think that because we are in the military that we are harder and tougher but that is totally not true!” says Jack.
With graduation quickly approaching, Jack is leaving behind a place of safety and belonging for all the veterans on campus, giving them a family to support and encourage them in a way that their service and dedication to our safety as a country has inspired all of us.
For more information or questions about how to join or general information about the fraternity, please email email@example.com.