This article was updated at 5:25 p.m. on May 17.
By Noland Arocha /@OfficialDjMenyo
The Office of Student Affairs released a three-page memo asserting its commitment to remain “military-embracing,” responding to student concerns and complaints that Texas A&M University-San Antonio is decreasing its focus on serving student veterans.
Earlier this month, some veteran students said they were disappointed when their military cording tradition was taken away from them. Student Affairs responded that the institution is not taking away a tradition, but creating a new ceremony that will accommodate a growing number of veteran students.
The inaugural Veteran Patriot Cord Recognition Ceremony for veteran students is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 13 in the university’s auditorium. Edward Westermann, Colonel (USAF Ret.), faculty senate chair and associate professor of history, will serve as guest speaker.
Military graduation cords, or patriot cords, draped on the shoulders as students cross the stage, are a source of pride for an increasing number of student veterans at the university.
Today, the total percentage of military students exceeds 15 percent. By 2025, the goal is to “increase the percentage of the student body from the military up to 25 percent, or more,” according to the memo.
“We are not taking cording away,” said Melissa Mahan, vice president for student affairs.
“We’re really trying to make it more special and a more of a ceremonial type of event because we can’t do that on stage during commencement. We’re making it its own special ceremony because we really felt like it needed to be more ceremonial and brought to a higher level,” she added.
“The tradition for cording military students who are graduating will continue but will not be on stage at graduation,” the memo reads, in part. The new ceremony, it continues, “will allow our veteran students to share this special and intimate moment with their family and close friends.”
Supporters of the Veteran Patriot Cord Recognition Ceremony say the new tradition will help commencement from running too long and also elevate its status. A video of A&M-San Antonio’s fall commencement shows cording and handshakes added only seconds to each veteran’s stage crossing, but depending on the number of veterans, administrators say that time can add up.
Sixty veteran students graduated in Fall 2014, according to graduation coordinator Dolores Scritchfield. The university will cord 70 veteran students. Next year, projections sit at approximately 100.
But the new ceremony angered some veteran students, including SGA Senator Jennifer Faubion, a graduate student working towards her master’s in guidance and counseling, and a member of the cadet program (ROTC) here at the university.
Faubion said she was notified by the Office of Student Affairs on April 28. It came up too suddenly, she argued, and the veteran students didn’t have enough time to plan.
“They are supposed to give you time to actually throw an event,” she added.
Faubion said she holds strong to the traditions that are established by the university and was angered by the change. After finding out veteran students would not be corded at commencement, she took action by circulating a petition to keep the cording tradition at commencement.
On April 9, Faubion collecting 548 signatures, then turned in the petition to her student government association for approval on April 23.
“I’m being trained at this school to become a second lieutenant in the military,” Faubion said. “If I don’t make an action on this issue, then I’m not doing my job. I’m supposed to be the voice of the students,” adding that when she see’s something wrong, she will act on it.
Shortly after, she drafted SB 006-011 Resolution to Keep the Tradition of Recognizing Veterans During Commencement. The bill was signed by outgoing SGA president Andres Holliday and routed to the Office of Student Affairs.
While Student Affairs asserts cording for military students will continue, just not in the same place and venue, Faubion remains frustrated.
“Even though it looks like we got what we wanted as far as keeping the tradition alive, I feel that it’s still not enough,” she said.
Other student veterans interviewed in the Patriots’ Casa computer lab said they were disappointed, but didn’t seem to understand the university isn’t removing the tradition altogether, just changing the venue.
“If they are advertising this is a military embracing school, then why take away the privilege veterans get by being corded recognized for their service on stage?” asked biology junior Kassandra Raygoza.
“I think their words or policies should reflect what they are actually selling,” said criminology junior Tavories Davis.
Charles Rodriguez, university chief of staff, who will honor this year’s student veterans, said that as the university gets bigger and the lengths of the commencement go longer, a separate ceremony is more intimate and will allow commencement to move along faster.
During the A&M-San Antonio Spring Commencement on May 15, commencement announcers added the introduction “an honored veteran” before announcing the names of student veterans.
Students who have suggestions or comments about the Patriots’ Casa or the changes in the cording tradition can comment below, or reach university President Matson directly through president’s S.H.A.R.E. Feedback Form.
For more information about the military cording event, call Tim Smith at (210) 784-1174.