On Campus

‘Our Doors Opened Wide’ exhibition illustrates veterans’ lives at SU after returning from war

Kiran Ramsey | Digital Design Editor

The exhibition showcases Syracuse University's efforts to accommodate thousands of WWII veterans who enrolled at the university through the GI Bill. More than 19,000 veterans enrolled at SU between 1945 and 1950.

Students and visitors who go to the sixth floor of E.S. Bird Library can now get a glimpse of what life was like for veterans who enrolled at Syracuse University after World War II.

“Our Doors Opened Wide: Syracuse University and the GI Bill 1945-1950” — an exhibition of letters, films, photographs and memorabilia from veterans’ lives at SU — opened Thursday. The exhibition focuses on SU’s efforts to accommodate thousands of WWII veterans who enrolled at the university through the GI Bill.

Pieces on display at the exhibition include veterans’ handwritten requests for enrollment, vintage SU apparel and newspaper clippings from The Daily Orange. Photographs of temporary houses and classrooms next to SU landmarks such as Crouse College feature the lengths the university went to accommodate the influx of veterans.

More than 19,000 veterans enrolled at SU through the GI Bill between 1945 and 1950 in what was called the “GI Bulge.” The GI Bill allowed WWII veterans to attend college tuition-free, and SU instituted an open-door policy that promised admission to any servicemen and women returning from war. The popularity of the GI Bill caused SU’s total enrollment to triple between 1945 and 1948, according to an exhibition’s brochure.

“The university opened its doors and welcomed as many veterans as it could,” said university archivist Meg Mason, who curated the exhibition.

The university undertook massive construction projects to keep up with the rising number of students. Projects such as the construction of the South Campus apartments and a 150-trailer park that served as housing for families are illustrated throughout the exhibition in photographs and videos.

Philip Oldham, an SU alumnus who visited the exhibition Thursday, said the photos on display are an accurate depiction of what his life was like when he was an ROTC cadet in the 1960s.

“It all looks very familiar, specifically the Quonset huts they set up behind Hendricks Chapel,” Oldham said. Quonset huts were cheap, prefabricated metal shacks that the university built to serve as classrooms and housing facilities for veterans.

As the “GI Bulge” changed the campus physically, veterans also had an effect on campus culture. Married veterans pressured the administration to desegregate Archbold Stadium so that husbands and wives could sit together. Freshmen that were previously military officers were not asked to wear the traditional freshman beanie.

“It’s cool to see how campus was all those years ago, and especially compared to how things changed and how it is today,” said Jenesis Gayden, a junior psychology major who attended the exhibition’s opening reception on Thursday.

Despite their military status, veterans still engaged in many of the same activities as regular SU students. Veterans played sports, went to dances, formed clubs and wrote for college publications. Pieces of veterans’ lives, such as newspaper articles, football programs and cartoons are on display alongside photographs of their time on campus.

For Goodwin Cooke, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and professor of practice emeritus of international relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs — the exhibition carries a deeper meaning than a simple display of memorabilia.

“I think it’s great of the school to renew their devotion to the cause of supporting American veterans, and I think that this was a swell idea,” said Cooke, former ambassador to the Central African Republic.

Last week, SU jumped from 50th to 36th on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Colleges for Veterans. In January, Chancellor Kent Syverud was awarded the first William Pearson Tolley Champion for Veterans in Higher Education Award by the Student Veterans of America for his work in supporting veterans succeed in college.

“I think the opening of the exhibit is very timely because of the priority the university has given to veterans recently,” said Mason, the university archivist who curated the exhibition.

“Our Doors Opened Wide” is located on the sixth floor of Bird and is free to walk-ins through April 14, 2017.

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