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Vassar Veterans PosseParticular Challenges

There are other challenges that are quite specific to Posse student-veterans. Registrar Colleen Mallet, who has taken on an entire array of extra tasks over the years to help the group, believes “Posse veterans are more accepted now on campus by the other students, who have become more sensitive.”

And yet…“I don’t tell people I’m a veteran,” says Rebekah Graham ’22, echoing several of her colleagues. “That way there’s no expectations—did you kill anyone? did you get shot at? The majority of the military is not that.”

“A lot people at Vassar have very specific, inaccurate ideas of what the military is for,” agrees Devon Arceneaux ’22, who adds in an astonished tone, “There are people who ask if I lived in North Korea.” And, like every student currently on campus interviewed for this series, he has had to confront the assumption, in a highly polarized political moment, that he is somehow automatically affiliated with the current occupant of the White House: “Someone asked me about being in Trump’s army. I joined under Obama!”

“People don’t understand what they are saying is ignorant,” says Kyle Trumble ’22, who characterizes himself as a moderate, whereas Tiffany Trumble ’23, a self-described “California girl,” says she is “very liberal. I like studying with people who are more open-minded.”

Kyle, Chloe, and Tiffany Trumble

As of this fall the Trumbles, who met in the military, will become one of the first two married couples on campus in which both students are Posse veterans. They have a one-year-old daughter, Chloe, and they face particular challenges that reflect an issue which has bedeviled the Vassar Posse program from the beginning, and is mentioned by many: child care. They agree they were fortunate because they found a spot for Chloe at the Infant and Toddler Center (ITC) at Wimpfheimer Nursery School, which means they have child care Mondays through Fridays from 8:30am to 5:30pm. For the past year, that meant Tiffany could work while Kyle was in class.

“We’re still trying to figure out how to balance child care,” says Tiffany Trumble. “I’m a licensed practical nurse, so I can call my hours. We tried me working at night, but Kyle studies better then.

“I did not plan on applying,” she adds. “I’m good at nursing, but Kyle persuaded me that I didn’t have to do the same thing the rest of my life just because I am good at it.” She is interested in forensic pathology, and is considering an anthropology major, but she also wants to study Russian, as her husband already does.

What makes the Trumbles’ ambitions at all feasible is Chloe’s spot at the ITC, which only has eight such slots for the entire campus, including the children of faculty, administrators, and other students.

A graduate from an earlier Vassar Posse, Eduardo De La Torre ’17, recalls all too well what a difference that can make. “People forget veterans have families,” he says. “When ITC didn’t have the capacity, we found a professor whose nanny would come watch our daughters when we had conflicts. Once we were finally in ITC, the girls thrived, and that made it easier.”

“The administration has learned bucketloads” about the needs of students who are Posse veterans, Registrar Colleen Mallet says. “We’re still struggling with GI benefits and the VA (Veterans Affairs department). The most frustrating thing is getting clear-cut answers to benefits questions.” She cites the new Consortium on Veterans and Military Affiliated Education, representing colleges and universities from the Adirondacks to the Bronx, as a “lifesaver,” because now she can share and get information from her counterparts in higher education tackling the same issues.

“People don’t understand the bureaucracy in the VA is a monster,” De La Torre says. “Posse and Vassar said, ‘We’re gonna sprout wings and jump off this cliff and we’re gonna land softly!’—and we did land softly, we made it, but there were injuries. The vets have diverse and unique needs. If there is an unsung hero in all this, it is Colleen, because she has had to deal with everything money-wise.”

“The Vassar Posse program is a beautiful thing that’s provided lots of guidance and support. Knowing that somebody’s there for you is a big deal.”

—Eduardo De La Torre ’17

De La Torre is one of several among those interviewed who said a college with a serious veterans program needs a full-time staff person working exclusively to address those concerns.

Vassar’s commitment to working with the Posse Foundation to sustain the Veterans Posse program remains firm, even as the College seeks the funding to ensure it will continue. As Professor of Political Science Katherine Hite, who served as an advisor to a Posse student who did not graduate, says, “They have complicated lives and deadlines. It’s not a walk in the park.”

The idea of the program, as Arceneaux sees it, is “to change the face of leadership in America, adding to the image of what a liberal arts student is, adding a voice. Posse students must be willing to step up, to not be afraid to be a veteran and a good student. And it’s happening, mostly.”

“No joke, I love Vassar,” says De La Torre. “The Vassar Posse program is a beautiful thing that’s provided lots of guidance and support,” he adds. “Knowing that somebody’s there for you is a big deal.”