Columbia veterans connect

By Heather Scroering

Julia Wehr

Contributing Writer

Veterans Day has passed, but here’s a pertinent question: How do veterans at a large arts and media school like Columbia, who could share such a strong bond, recognize each other?

Many Columbia vets, both students and professors, probably interact on campus without ever knowing it. But two Columbia professors recently set out to remedy this situation.

Kimo Williams, professor of Music Theory and Ensemble, and Howard Sandroff, professor of Sound Art and Synthesis, are both Vietnam veterans. Williams said he and Sandroff connected as artists and vets a few years ago through a musical collaboration. Now, they are teaming up to find ways to bring Columbia veterans together.

After enlisting Louise Love, vice president of Academic Affairs and interim provost, the pair turned to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs.

Williams said he also asked E.J. Talbot, Columbia’s Veterans’ Educational Benefits coordinator, for an email list of all student veterans and used the list to set up the first veterans’ event in November. The gathering took place at Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., and it was organized so that Sandroff, Williams and student veterans could get to know each other and talk about their military experiences.

According to both professors, 30 students showed up. The meeting was fun and encouraging, they said, but some of the experiences shared by the student veterans saddened them.

“It just tore our hearts up because they felt isolated, [because] they didn’t know other veterans,” Sandroff said. “[That meeting] was the first opportunity for them to meet each other and they so responded to this that Kimo and I almost teared [up].”

A second event, Columbia’s Veterans Day Commemoration, was held in the Library of the South Campus Building, 624 S. Michigan Ave., on Nov. 10. It was open to everyone, but before all the guests could freely mingle, there was a private, 30-minute gathering for all Columbia veterans.

Senior film and video major Peter Bowse, 28, a veteran and speaker at the event, said veterans often connect with one another.

“It’s just kind of an instant bond that forms, and it’s just easier to talk to people because you have some common ground,” Bowse said. “It was just really satisfying to see that there’s this small community

for veterans.”

Williams said that before the event, student veterans probably saw him only as a faculty member, but now they can recognize him as a vet as well. The event also helped Sandroff connect with six other faculty and staff members, whom he would never guess were veterans, Sandroff said.

He explained that even though he has been at Columbia since 1978, it wasn’t until he met Williams many years later that he stopped thinking he was the only vet around.

Williams said that his and Sandroff’s main objective with this initiative was to take the first step to create a veterans’ community here at Columbia.

“Going back to college is a serious adjustment for any veteran because for four years, you have somebody telling you what you’re going to be doing next,” Williams said. “[Then], all of a sudden, you’re on your own, you’re back in school, your study skills are a little rusty, the institution is a little frightening and nobody has shared the same experience as you. So if you’ve got other people who have [similarly] experienced this, it helps an enormous amount.”