The Student Veterans Association at Mississippi State University has worked to provide a community and resources for military-affiliated students.
Isaiah Mills, a senior majoring in business administration, is the president of the SVA. Mills said all military-affiliated students — including ROTC, student veterans and military dependents — are welcome to join the organization.
“Our mission is basically just to empower our student veterans and their supporters to lead and live their best lives,” Mills said.
The SVA started as a small branch of a larger organization called Student Veterans of America. It has over 1,500 chapters in all 50 states, connecting the MSU chapter with veterans and resources across the nation.
In addition to connecting military-affiliated students with scholarships and resources, SVA has hosted community building events, professional development seminars, collaborated with other veteran organizations off-campus and partnered with philanthropies like Toys for Tots for service drives.
The SVA offices are located across from the Joe Frank Sanderson Center in the Center for America’s Veterans.
Mills said it can be difficult for student veterans to return to school after service or deployment. One of SVA's goals is to help bridge the gap and connect student veterans to a community that understands what they are going through.
“Everything is so strict and organized,” Mills said about the military. “Sometimes, you just want to come back to your hometown and just relax. We just want to have open arms for people that support us and try to bridge that gap between civilians and ex-military.”
Mills said it has been difficult to get SVA back to where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, but he is looking forward to rebuilding the community.
Thaiena Williamson, a junior majoring in biological sciences, has worked as the secretary of SVA. As a military dependent, Williamson said SVA is a safe space for her and others to talk about their experiences with people who understand.
“We can all really just relate to each other and actually understand each other and where we’re coming from,” Williamson said. “I can talk all day about how my parents are in the military, but nobody’s going to truly understand unless somebody has been through it.”
Williamson said SVA was not trying to be the best organization on campus; they just want to be the best for the people they serve.
“We’re simply just trying to create a safe space for ourselves and be able to reach out, branch out and provide for others,” Williamson said. “There are so many scholarship opportunities that (military-affiliated students) don't know about, or the buildings, the centers, the resources available. Ultimately, we’re just trying to be a resource.”
Director for Veterans and Military Affairs at the Center for America’s Veterans Brian Locke has worked as the adviser for SVA.
He said he sees the organization as an extension of their staff because of the tight knit relationship they have. This allows members easier access to the CAV.
“I think because they’re so tied into what we do here,” Locke said, “by joining the SVA, you get a first-hand view of what we do here.”
According to Locke, it is important for more than just military-affiliated students to get involved with SVA. Non-military affiliated students can show their support by attending SVA and CAV events that are open to the public.
The Veteran Recognition Ceremony is Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. The event will be hosted on the Drill Field and feature speakers like Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt and university President Mark Keenum. Locke said the ceremony will be fairly short and all are welcome to attend.
Mills said the best way to get involved in the SVA is to direct message the organization on Instagram at @msstatesva. He said students can further support student veterans and the SVA by sitting down and talking with them.
“A lot of people come back with stories to tell, and it's helpful to just sit down and say, ‘Hey, tell me about your military experience,' even if you’re not interested in the military,” Mills said. “Just let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done, and tell them that you appreciate them.”