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‘Smack In The Face:’ Student Veterans Organization Not Invited To Student Government Veterans Panel

by Analisa Novak & Lorenzo Burgio

The Student Government Association at Central Connecticut State University spent a month planning a veterans panel to promote veterans’ voices on campus.

According to the CCSU Student Veterans Organization, their voices were left out by the SGA, when they were not invited to participated or informed about the panel discussion.

SVO President Paul Small explained, he and the rest of the SVO found out about the event through an email the SGA sent out that day, inviting the entire student body.

“When I received the email about the veterans panel I was confused, upset, angry and disappointed,” Small said.

He then contacted the SGA office and Student Activities and Leadership Department program advisor Chris Hazelton hours before the event for more information.

“After I figured out the office and the club were both unaware of the event, I then called the SGA office and didn’t receive a response until 5p.m,” Small said.

Event organizer and chair of Social Justice committee Christopher Marnelli, then offered Small a seat in panel discussion since a seat was vacant due to a cancellation-Small declined.

“That offended me the most, that they tried to get me to be a back up for the presentation,” said Small.

The Social Justice committee is an ad hoc committee formed out of senators from the SGA. According to Marinelli, who is the committee president, a sub-committee was created to organize the panel discussion.

“I have a lot of respect for veterans, I felt like this would have been a great opportunity for students on our campus to hear veteran perspectives and get veteran advice,” Marnielli said when explaining why the panel discussion was planned.

Marnielli stated a miscommunication in the planning process led to SVO not being informed or invited to the event.

“I delegated the task of reaching out to the SVO to another senator on the committee,” said Chris Marinelli, unwilling to specify the senator.

Although the task was assigned to a senator, no members of the SGA ever contacted the SVO throughout the planning process, that started on Feb. 16.

The veterans invited to panel were veterans from the Tuxnis Community College Operation Academic Support for Incoming Service (OASIS), and Air Force Veteran Greg Michaud from Plainville.

SVO member Tum Tum Souriyamath said he was shocked when he realized SVO was not invited.

“It was a smack in the face. Not only to us [veterans] but to the administration, the people who work and support us and provide us with such a great environment to feel like a normal student and have people around you who can understand what you have been through and are going through,” said Souriyamath,

SVO is a campus organization that promotes appreciation for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and helps provide transitional support to the current student veterans. CCSU Veterans Affairs coordinator Chris Gutierrez explained the organization is an essential organization for both the campus and the students.

“They get involved in many programs on campus. In the past they help provided voices to other veterans. They also help with many programs off campus by visiting high schools and talking about their experience in the military. Its also not just for veterans, all students are welcomed.” Gutierrez said.

There are between 450 to 475 veterans that currently attend CCSU. The SVO consists of about 50 members, with about 15 always accessible.

“SVO has done so much for veterans and then there is an event on campus and they’re not even contacted about it until the night before, that’s just a huge smack in the face. That’s pretty much saying you don’t exist and you’re not here. It’s just neglecting that we’re existing and we are a population that matters,” Souriyamath said, adding, the SVO still wants to know which senator the work was delegated to.

Marneilli and other SGA senators are apologetic about the misunderstanding and continue to say it was never their intention to exclude the organization.

“We need to make right our mistake and it was just that, a mistake, by making sure the veterans on this campus feel the support, respect and love they rightfully deserve. The intent was not to exclude them from the panel. We owe our lives to the men and women that serve this country and make the sacrifices so many of us are afraid to,” SGA President Jahmil Effend said.

Marnelli and SGA Senator Marrissa Cusano attended the SVO meeting days later to apologize and are the only two senators to reach out to the SVO

“I went to support them, they are an amazing organization. By the time I found out about the panel it was already set in stone who was going. By the time I found out SVO wasn’t asked they already knew,” Cusano said.

“Senator Marineli is trying to make up for the incident, but no one else from SGA has reached out,” said Small.

Organizations and clubs on campus typically depend on their liaison to communicate with the SGA to organize events and similar matters.

Since the previous liaison left the position at the end of January, the SVO has been unaware if they had one or who it was, until last Wednesday’s SGA debate when Senator Thomas Mitchell stated he held the position.

Small said Mitchell never contacted the club or ever attended a meeting of theirs, despite being the liaison.

Small wants a more open dialogue between the two organizations. He is still baffled as to why it wasn’t a priority for members of SGA, much less his club liaison to inform them of this event.

“The SGA wouldn’t invite the Tunxis car club to a car enthusiast event on campus, so why would they reach out to the Tunxis OASIS and ignore the veterans organization at Central? It’s baffling to me,” said Small.