Yale College offers dozens of courses on U.S. military power — on its history, foundations, evolutions, impacts and limits. Yet, there are not enough undergraduate veterans on campus to fill a single seminar.
While the admissions office declined to say how many veterans are enrolled at Yale College, several student-veterans told me that no more than a half-dozen of Yale’s 5,409 undergraduates are U.S. veterans.
This is true even though more than a million soldiers have left the military over the past four years to take on their next mission: college. As the military downsizes and soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of veterans taking advantage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and enrolling in college is rapidly increasing.
Yale is not the only elite school with few veteran undergraduates. According to The New York Times, during the 2013-14 academic year, Princeton had only one undergraduate veteran, Harvard had four and Brown had 11.
“I remember when I was telling people that Yale was my number one school,” said Josh Ray, ’13, an enlisted veteran and director of the Yale Veterans Association in New York. “People would give me quizzical looks like, ‘Good luck. Yale doesn’t take community college transfers.’ And it’s not true.”
But the University has not done enough to dispel that perception, according to Ray. “I know some really brilliant veterans that other schools are getting who aren’t even applying to Yale because Yale is not doing enough to transmit the message that veterans are welcome and encouraged to apply,” he said. “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been some of the biggest events in recent history. Don’t we want the perspectives of people on campus who have lived these wars firsthand?”
In a 2011 “Doonesbury” comic strip, Garry Trudeau ’70 MFA ’73 pointed out top universities’ failures to recruit veterans. In the cartoon, B. D. says to an elite university admissions officer: “Athletes? Sure. Legacies? In spades. But veterans? Some of the country’s most talented, motivated kids? Not so much!”
Veteran recruitment has accelerated at Yale since 2011. Yale has begun to devote resources to make the University seem more accessible to veterans. In September, Yale admissions officers and veteran alumni hosted an information session in New York for veterans attending New York community colleges.
Yale admissions officers have also visited marine bases in recent years. These efforts to recruit veteran applicants deserve praise, but much work remains to be done to get schools like Yale on veterans’ radars. Hosting more information sessions like the one in New York in September, reaching out to community colleges with high veteran populations and making it clear that Yale often offers financial aid to pay the difference between Yale’s tuition and federal funding would be a good start.
Having more veterans on campus will enrich the Yale community. Today the military is practically invisible in much of the country, including here at Yale. Given that only one-half of one percent of the U.S. population serves in the military today, this civilian-soldier gap is not surprising. But it’s not good either.
Veterans are underrepresented on elite campuses today, according to James Wright, the president emeritus of Dartmouth, a Marine veteran and an outspoken advocate for veterans in higher education. Ivy League colleges need to ensure that U.S. veterans are encouraged to pursue their education, and that our campuses and society will continue to be enhanced by their presence, Wright said. “Their perspectives, experiences and thoughts about who they are and why what they did matters can inform discussions in classrooms, over dining tables and in residence halls,” he said to me.
Ben Shaver, ’15, a Global Affairs major who served in the Marines for five years before college, has taken classes at Yale on topics including Iraq and intelligence collection. “I can’t speak from firsthand experience about forming policy, but I have seen the concrete consequences of those decisions,” he said. “I’ve found that people in Global Affairs classes are often really focused on policy issues, but think less about the consequences and costs in concrete terms. It’s easy to call for airstrikes for ISIS, for example, but what does an airstrike look like on the ground? What are the human costs? I try to bring an awareness to those sorts of questions in my classes here.”
Schools like Yale provide exceptional opportunities for their students. Part of Yale’s mission is to expand those opportunities to groups that are underrepresented in higher education. Veterans – particularly enlisted men and women – certainly fit this bill.
Veterans have demonstrated their willingness to serve, to sacrifice and to put the well-being of their communities above of their own. They are a tremendous asset to our country.
Having more veterans in our undergraduate student body would be a great asset to Yale, too. Veterans are good for Yale, and Yale is good for veterans. We should do all we can to encourage more of them to apply to Yale.
Viveca Morris is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Her columns run on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.