(image credit: Rosaline Aurora)

People enlist in the military for a variety of reasons. Generally, civilians assume it is for honor and patriotism, but this usually is not the case and was not the case for student veteran, Rosaline Aurora.

After years of tension and strain between Aurora and her family, she left. She didn’t want to follow their goals for her by attending college, studying a subject she wasn’t passionate about and taking over the family business.

“I enlisted for multiple reasons. The main was to stop being homeless and get a sense of income to help get me back on my feet. The second one was to find a community to belong in.”

Aurora served her country for nine years in the Army National Guard from 2007-16. From 2011-12, she was deployed to Kuwait, a tiny country just under Iraq. She spent seven months doing missions in Iraq focused on withdrawing from the war. The last five months involved doing missions in Kuwait. She was discharged as a sergeant. She now remains classified as “Inactive Ready Reserve.”

“If anything were to go down and they need people to deploy and they had no volunteers, they could call me up,” Aurora shared. Because of her identity, however, she said it is unlikely they would ever take advantage of this.

“They won’t. Because they’re not going to call up a trans person to deploy.”

Throughout her life, Aurora always thought that something was different about her.

“It’s always kind of been there. It really solidified when I was eight or nine, right around the time your body starts changing,” Aurora said. “I felt different and like it was the wrong thing. Why wasn’t the other thing happening?”

It wasn’t until about halfway through her deployment that she discovered the word “transgender” and began to research it. Slowly, this became the beginning of her journey through transitioning.

Upon returning from deployment, Aurora had become isolated from her unit. She went into therapy, helping to reaffirm that she had a support system. At this point in time, the Chelsea Manning scandal was underway. Manning is the transgender U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst who shared confidential documents with the public by releasing them to WikiLeaks. To Aurora, she’s a hero.

Eventually, Aurora approached her leadership to discuss how she could still serve while being transgender. The military’s policy regarding members belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, was repealed in September 2011. This meant that people in the LGBTQ+ community could serve while openly being themselves. Discussion following this decision focused on creating special rooming arrangements and avoiding overnight drills. Unfortunately, the rest of her unit found out without her consent.

“After I came out as transgender, the communication with everyone was so sub-par. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. Even my own leadership kept me back with a 10-foot pole. After I got out of the military, however, they were willing to bend over backwards for me to get everything I needed, to make sure that I could get my benefits and all that stuff.”

In late 2015, after she stopped drilling with her unit, Rosaline moved to New Hampshire from her home state of North Carolina to start over. In 2016, she officially discharged. Moving to New Hampshire though has been a comfort.

“Moving up here was a culture shock. It was one of the few culture shocks I’ve had that was kind of nice. Even though we don’t really have protections up here, I still get to be myself here more than I did in North Carolina. We’re the only New England state that doesn’t have protections for trans people.”

New Hampshire does not offer a way to change your gender on your birth certificate or provide anti-discrimination laws or even have the phrase “gender identity” in their legislation. There is currently an anti-discrimination bill in the works to support and protect transgender New Hampshire citizens that includes the phrase “gender identity.” House Bill 478 would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. According to the Union Leader, this bill would define gender identity as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that… is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.” However, a similar bill was defeated last year.

It wasn’t until this past August though, at age 28, that Aurora made the decision to enroll at SNHU to study her true passion: Game Art with a secondary major in Game Programming.

“I remembered the SNHU commercials from when I was a kid. SNHU is a great college. They really put everything back that they get. I mean, they are a nonprofit school, but they do a lot of charity events and then they put a lot of their money back in the school. Which is why this is such a great school to go to.”

She did admit that it can be weird at times to be in class with those a decade younger than her, but being older is a commonality among most student veterans. While some students attend for the social aspect of college, Aurora is dedicated to her studies. The moments she struggles with the most though, as an older student, are dealing with the ignorance of those around her who haven’t been exposed to diversity.

“I have mixed feelings being in classes with younger students. I tend to just let things flow however they need to flow. Some kids who are younger understand. Then you have the wealthier, white kids who come in, whose parents are very much conservative, who are like ‘no, that’s not right.’ People need to start thinking for themselves for once.”

This paradigm has given Aurora the opportunity to see a divide in SNHU’s student body, particularly in diversity as well as socio-economic status.

“There is a massive population of white students here,” Aurora said. “I feel like the white, wealthy students have been prioritized here over the impoverished students who aren’t really given a chance. I see that, and it upsets me.”

According to SNHU’s Consumer Information, 54 percent of students identify as white while 20 percent remain unknown. Meanwhile, 66 percent of students are receiving financial aid and 56 percent of students are using student loans.

But Aurora feels as if college is an opportunity for everyone to be socially educated.

“A study was done about how a lot of people who don’t go through college have a higher prejudice rate against things they don’t understand versus people who go to college, get met with all kinds of diversity, and become less prejudiced,” Aurora said. “So, when someone is prejudiced in college, they’re basically equating themselves as being uneducated…You might have that degree, but you’re not socially educated. And that, in my opinion, is just as bad.”

She continued by saying, “No one should be shunned for who they are. I don’t let being a vet affect my identity. I honestly keep my vet status hidden…Personally, I’ve been verbally attacked for saying that I was a veteran and being transgender at the same time.”

But to any students that may ever feel like they’re alone too, Aurora wants them to know that they have a friend in her. “Find a space that is safe. If you can’t find one, come find me. I will help you find a space that is safe.”

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