The History of Student Veterans at Manhattan College

By Kelly Kennedy, Social Media Editor

Manhattan College has been recognized for its dedication to honoring and serving student veterans, ranking as a Top 10 Gold-Ranking Military Friendly School. What many don’t know is that Manhattan’s relationship with the military dates back all the way to the Civil War, before Manhattan College even found its home here in the Bronx.

Tiana Sloan, director of the Veterans Success, researched the history of student veterans at MC with a group at the college in 2019. 

The first ever student veteran to attend Manhattan College served one year as a volunteer for the Union Army during the Civil War in 1864. At this time, Manhattan College was located at the intersection of 131 St and Broadway.

“We found a picture and the army discharge papers of the first student veteran who attended Manhattan College after serving in the Civil War. Obviously, we didn’t have a Vet Center or any of those things yet, but it was just cool that this is part of our history. I think it also shows that Manhattan’s model of Lasallian education has always worked for veterans and we’ve been able to keep building on it,” Sloan said.

During the first and second World Wars, many Manhattan College students began enlisting in the military, and patriotism grew within the campus community. 

According to the MC Military Vet History Overview, “Manhattan College did not have many financial resources at the time, so one of the main goals for surviving the war effort was to be used in some capacity in the war effort itself. Intramural programs designed to toughen youth for military life suddenly proliferated. The School of Engineering dealt with the majority of the para-military preparations. The Manhattan College Engineers also worked with the Department of Public Works in NYC to plan and test construction of bomb proof shelters.”

In September 1951, during the Korean War, the Air Force ROTC program was inaugurated at Manhattan College.

“During the Korean War was when we decided to allow the Air Force ROTC to come on campus. And during that time, we actually let Manhattan College students vote because we had the army training program and then we had Air Force ROTC. And they let the Manhattan College students vote on which branch of service they wanted to keep and because the Air Force was new and cool, and there’s a lot of engineering opportunities in the Air Force, our students voted for the Air Force,” Sloan said.

Many key MC alumni served in the Vietnam War. One of the most well known and remembered veterans to attend Manhattan College was Tyrone Pannell, class of 1964.

“He was absolutely beloved by everyone who knew him. To this day I run into people who even just went to high school with him, they didn’t even come to Manhattan College with him,” Sloan said. “He was the first African American officer killed in action in Vietnam. And he’s a Jasper so it’s just another part of our history and I’ve been really trying to get the word out more for people to know because many of our alumni from the Vietnam era know of Pannell, but I think more people need to know of his story.”

In 1973, women were finally allowed to attend Manhattan College, some of these women even participating in the Air Force ROTC.

According to the MC Military Vet History Overview, “As women began enrolling as students, both the Air Force ROTC and student veteran population saw an increase in their female population.”

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center, most of the Veteran Programs and the patriotism we see on campus today began to pick up. In 2014, the college registered as a chapter of the national organization Student Veterans of America, according to the MC Military Vet History Overview.

“9/11 was a turning point for the country because, while we had these conflict errors, we hadn’t been at an official war for so long. So 9/11 really changed that. We lost many Manhattan College alumni that day, and then a lot more people were getting called to serve. These are people who volunteered, to give up a moment of their life, or possibly their lives to go serve our country,” Sloan said.

After 9/11, the MC student veteran population rose tremendously. Many of our student veterans on campus today served during this time period.

Sloan also emphasized the mental health of student veterans at MC and the explicit difference between PTSD versus transition stress in students.

“A lot of people focus on when they hear about veterans, they think of PTSD. And while that is a problem, not all veterans suffer from PTSD, and what’s actually less spoken about and more common is transition stress. All of a sudden, they’re finished their service and they come out into civilian life and they don’t have an identity. They don’t have a schedule, they don’t have a purpose. And this causes a lot of stress in their lives,” Sloan said.

One program in particular is the Veterans at Ease program, which was started in 2015. This program coincides with the Religion 161 course requirement, and includes a retreat designed especially for student veterans. This program is currently run by professor of religious studies, Rodney Sebastian, Ph.D. Prior to COVID, the retreat would take student veterans to the Bahamas, now the retreat takes place in upstate New York. 

“We aim to help our student Veterans have a smooth transition. Our goals are very much aligned with the Lasallian values of balancing care, education and character development,” Sebastian said.

Our student veterans have also continued to give back to our community through this program, participating in events such as panels on mental health and community service.

“For veterans, a huge part of their lives involve service. That’s how they’ve been trained. You need to give the opportunities to continue that service in civilian life, and through college,” Sebastian said.

The Veterans Success Center opened in 2017, and has also grown tremendously as they aim to serve those who have served our country. The Veteran Success Center now also offers professional and academic resources for student veterans.

Robert Rahni, director of transfer and veteran admissions, spoke about the self-criticism many student veterans face.  

“They can be incredibly critical of themselves and it’s kind of ingrained in them. What the vets do typically is they look at what they don’t have, that degree, that piece of paper hanging on a wall from a college. They don’t look at what they do have, which is a skill set that less than 1% of the population can say they have through service, and all of these skills can be relatable and transferable in the civilian world,” Rahni said. 

MC recognizes the importance to not only honor, but provide a support system for those who have served our country.

“I think it’s an incredible model that the US gets to have an all volunteer military because these people stepped up and sacrificed,” Sloan said. “Even if they didn’t give their lives, they gave up a good chunk of their life and put their life on hold for us people they don’t even know. And so I love being able to give back to them and help them see their potential and reach their potential, because they really do go on to do amazing things.”

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