Student vets want their voices heard

By A. GREENE

If you’re not a student veteran, you might not know that Pima Community College’s Downtown Campus has a Veteran’s Center. Even if you are a student veteran, you might not know about it.

The two-room center, located inside the Student Life room, is tucked into a back corner.

The front room has a reception area, two computers and a printer for student vets to use. A “quiet room” at the back can be used to relax and get away from college bustle.

In recent weeks, center director Diane-Marie Landsinger was removed from her position. She has since resigned from PCC.

Scott Plotts, president of the Student Veterans of America club at PCC, said Landsinger’s removal boiled down to a lack of effective communication.

“She didn’t know how to talk to us, we didn’t know how to talk to her and then we didn’t know how to talk around each other,” Plotts said.

Landsinger didn’t have experience working with veterans and didn’t understand their needs, Plotts added.

“I’m not saying that she didn’t have good intentions, because she did a lot of good things for us,” he said. “So it wasn’t her administrative qualities that were the negative thing, it was just her personal relations.”

Landsinger could not be reached for comment.

Plotts said morale is now higher and more veterans have been coming in to use the center.

“It’s difficult for veterans to sit down with people who are non-vets and be themselves, or at least people that don’t understand veterans,” he said.

The change has been positive, but Plotts said Pima’s vet students need more.

“I appreciate that they worked so hard a few years ago to get the space, but now I think it’s necessary for us to grow,” he said.

Plotts estimates there are 1,600 student veterans at Pima, most of whom are based at Downtown Campus. That number only counts students who are receiving GI benefits.

Graydon Staring, a first-year student veteran, said he has been into the vet center only a couple of times.

“They’re really helpful,” he said. “I understand funds are limited. I’m grateful it’s there.”

The center currently uses three Federal Work Study students, a couple of volunteers and an interim “signing official” who is filling in until a permanent director is hired.

First on the agenda for improvements is finding a new director. This time, the SVA is providing input.

“We’re being involved in a lot of the processes,” Plotts said. “They’re listening.”

Chancellor Lee Lambert said he is ready to start making changes.

“We know we need to have a vet center,” Lambert said. “A space that addresses veterans concerns, issues and opportunities.”

Lambert, who is a veteran himself, said he first wants to understand the perspective of the student vets and make sure the changes being implemented will actually provide solutions to problems. He then wants to bring in a leader who knows vets and knows how to help student veterans be successful.

“I know it can be done, and we don’t have to go that far to figure it out,” he said.

On Sept. 23, Lambert fired Downtown Campus president Luba Chliwniak and vice president Jerry Haynes. Lambert said a “leadership change” was needed, but was hesitant to give many details about his decision.

The Arizona Daily Star reported the firings were connected to leadership issues at the Veterans Center, but Plotts said that information was misleading.

“The article by the Daily Star had quotes from people that were talking about Diane-Marie’s issues … but the article made it out to be that those same complaints applied to Dr. Chliwniak and Jerry Haynes,” Plotts said.

As far as he knew, Plotts said, there were never any complaints against the former campus president or vice president.

He doesn’t know the full reasons for the firings, but said the article drew too much of a connection between Landsinger, Chliwniak and Haynes.

Leadership changes aside, Plotts said the SVA would really like to see full-time staffed centers at every campus. Downtown Campus is currently the only Pima campus with a fully functioning vet center.

West Campus is the only other campus with a vet center, but Plotts said it isn’t much. He called it a tiny room with a broken printer.

The club would also like to expand the Downtown Campus center.

“A larger space would be preferred,” Plotts said. “As it stands, we get seven or eight people in here and it’s way too crowded.”

Ben Llamas, a first-year Pima student and a veteran, said he has used the Downtown Campus vet center three times. The size of the space deters him from coming in more often.

“It’s really small in there,” he said. “It’s like the size of a large closet.”

For the SVA, the bottom line is helping as many student veterans as possible transition into an academic lifestyle.

“I’m happy that changes are being made,” Plotts said. “I appreciate that the chancellor has come in. As he’s said multiple times, he wants to help the veterans.

“The biggest thing we can ask for is help from the top.”

 

Pg09-Vet Center

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From left, Jonah Fontenot, Walter Wesch and Scott Plotts wait in the Veteran’s Center at Downtown Campus for a Student Veterans of America club meeting to begin.

(Aztec Press photo by A. Greene)

 

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