PR campaign holds student veterans panel

By on March 5, 2016

As part of its public relations campaign to raise awareness for student veterans, the PRSSA Bateman Competition team “Bridging the Gap” held a panel on Tuesday, March 2 featuring three student veterans at Quinnipiac.

“We thought that having a panel with a couple of student veterans would be the best way to bridge the gap between what it’s like being a veteran and what [the students’] stigma is about veterans here on campus,” senior team member Carly McKenna said to open the event.

The three veteran panelists, former United States Army infantry officer and grad first year Mikael Russo, former Marine Corps musician and senior Maureen Friedly, and current Sgt. in the Connecticut Army National Guard and junior John Bartlett, discussed their experiences serving our country and being a student veteran.

The veterans spoke specifically about the gap between them and other students and what they hope to see in the future.

“It’s not that veterans don’t want to talk to civilians and civilians don’t want to talk to veterans, it’s that there’s this miscommunication between the two,” Friedly said. “I feel like there’s this space in between the two cultures, this gray area where things are getting jumbled up and not quite connecting the right way.”

One idea Friedly has to close the space is for student veterans to teach a course at Quinnipiac. The course would be based around what it’s like for veterans to move back into the civilian community and how the people in the community can make that transition more fluent.

Russo agreed with Friedly’s idea and echoed her comments but in a slightly different way, discussing how from his experience the divide or differences are not exclusive to the fact that he’s a veteran.

“[As a veteran] you feel out of place but it’s not unique to being a veteran or at least I haven’t experienced that” Russo said, “it’s unique to the fact that I’m 30 and you’re 21, we’re just at different spots in our lives.”

This reality is something he embraces because he understands that that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

“In the American society, 99 percent of America goes about their business and 1 percent joins the military and fights wars,” Russo said. “So if I’m in a class and I hear a 19 or 21-year-old kid talking about something they know nothing about I’ll take it with a grain of salt because that’s the system working itself out.”

All three panelists talked about the positive experiences they have had as members of the Quinnipiac community thus far.

“I’ve only been here six weeks and in that time I love the curriculum, love the classroom environment, love the students,” Bartlett said.

Russo had similar sentiments, saying how his first six weeks taking classes at Quinnipiac have been a pleasure.

However, not all of the discussion was based around their experiences specifically at Quinnipiac. At one point they were asked if they feel people, not just in the Quinnipiac community but in general, are hypersensitive towards them because of what they see on posters and in the commercials for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the other hardships veterans face.

Russo said while the soldiers shown in such commercials are true American war heroes and deserve all of our support, it does not depict the reality for all veterans, himself included.

“That’s why things like this [panel] are so important, so we can close the gap because we don’t want that to be the way you guys think all veterans are, that we’re all psychologically messed or anything,” Russo said. “The vast majority of veterans go on to live very peaceful, productive lives.”

Bartlett, who served four years active at Fort Lewis Washington with one deployment to Afghanistan, had a similar response regarding the veterans on the opposite side who aren’t talked about as much from a societal standpoint.

“You never hear stories about the guys who go out of their way to help people out, all the time, guys starting big successful companies,” Bartlett said. “They’re coping with what they did and what they had to do during their service and during the way in a way that’s productive and meaningful.”

On the other hand, Friedly discussed how as a female in the military she advocates a lot for veterans who go through MST (military sexual trauma).

“My biggest frustration with the label of PTSD is that everyone associates it with somebody who is a combat vet who has seen action overseas and that’s not the case” Friedly said.

Friedly added that she knows women who have served and experienced sexual trauma stateside that have PTSD. But she feels that because this did not occur overseas, their experience is not seen as equally important.

With all of the information and insight the three panelists relayed to the students and faculty in attendance, many came out with more of an understanding what it’s like for the student veterans.

One of these students was sophomore Myriam Poznar.

“My biggest takeaway was that the student veterans don’t necessarily mind the gap, they understand that there is going to be a gap and to not treat them any differently” Poznar said.

Senior Robert Klemens also had a strong takeaway from the event about the student body as a whole.

“Coming here I learned so much and it’s crazy to see the diversity that we have on campus” Klemens said, “There’s so much more we can learn from the student body, there’s so much more we can learn from everyone.”

To learn more visit, the “SVA Bridge the Gap” page on Facebook or follow @BridgeTheGap on Twitter.


About John Lavenburg