By N. L. Sweeney
Vivian Wei, the Vet Corps navigator this year at the University of Washington Bothell, is passionate about helping military veterans in higher education as their advocate for services and resources.
On first meeting Wei, her passion for her work is immediately obvious. It often comes as a surprise, then, that she is not a veteran. She also has no family members who were in the military.
Her desire to give back to this community is inspired by friends who have served and by her plan to become a military physician, a position she intends to pursue after she receives a degree in Biology.
“It can be intimidating to move into a space for veterans,” Wei said. “I remember feeling out-of-place when I began volunteering with veteran organizations, but these are spaces for allies, too.”
Sharing ideas and insights
Rather than being a drawback, Wei says her status as a civilian helps in her work. “A large part of my position is being an example for what support can look like,” she said. “If I can be a part of making change and creating support networks for veterans, so can other civilians.”
The advocacy Wei provides can take many different forms. She offers counseling, assists student veterans with referrals for support, participates in student orientations and promotes awareness of student veterans’ needs and experiences.
Wei’s training and employment come from AmeriCorps’ Vet Corps, the organization charged with placing veteran navigators at Washington universities. The Vet Corps was formed to help veterans achieve their goals while pursuing higher education. Vet navigators attend three intensive conferences throughout the year to learn how to best serve student veterans.
“I want to be their advocate,” said Wei. “Whether that’s for housing, disability resources, counseling or faculty consultation, I am here to help.”
Turning up the volume
One of Wei’s goals is to create spaces at UW Bothell where veterans feel heard. This can take the form of building lines of communication between students and their professors, for example, or sharing information with faculty and staff about common difficulties student veterans may face.
“In many educational settings, the struggles these students will encounter are invisible,” Wei said. “Students could be triggered by certain images, making it difficult to engage with a lesson or advocate for themselves. Many veterans have difficulty hearing and so may miss vital information.
“Communicating the specific difficulties students share with me and those which often go overlooked systemwide gives students the best chance of success,” she said.
Working out of the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) in Founders Hall (UW1), Wei is currently planning some educational sessions about traumatic brain injury. As part of this training, instructors will wear headphones that simulate hearing difficulties so they can experience what some veterans may be dealing with in their classes.
Learning to relate
“We want to refocus our interactions with veterans,” Wei said. “Supporting a person who has served is about more than just thanking them for their service.
“We can do a lot to improve their experiences in classrooms, she said, “and this kind of training is a great first step.”
The Student Veterans Association meets every Thursday in the VRC and welcomes all who want to be involved. The VRC is also available for people to study, enjoy coffee and relax between classes.
“It takes more than just veterans to support other veterans,” said Wei. “We all have to be part of the effort.”