Invaluable veteran leader leaves center

Vet outreach coordinator resigns citing lack of support


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Chris Babcock, a mechanical engineering major (right) and John Mortera, an electrical engineering major (left) study on their laptops in the Veterans’ Resource Center.

By Anthony Kinney, Associate Editor

Contra Costa College’s veteran outreach coordinator and office assistant Dedan Kimathi Ji Jaga has resigned from his position in the campus’ Veterans’ Resource Center (VRC).

Via email, Ji Jaga announced his resignation early Thursday morning, stating “a number of rather disturbing, provocative and debilitating factors” as the reasoning behind his sudden departure.

Ji Jaga said his frustration with the campus’ lack of support for the VRC and the college’s veteran population aided in his decision to leave CCC’s two-year-old veteran center.

Veteran chapter President Derek Casanares said losing Ji Jaga’s wealth of expertise and extensive experience with working alongside veterans to ensure they receive their benefits will have a major impact on the VRC. He said finding someone as adept as Ji Jaga is impractical as Ji Jaga brought more than 50 years of experience working with veterans to the VRC.

“He (Ji Jaga) was not only a staple in the Veterans’ Resource Center, but he is also a former student of the college,” Casanares said. “His history with the campus is extensive. I believe he was one of the key reasons the center was created.”

However, Ji Jaga and Casanares both believe there are college administrators charged with aiding the campus veterans who wittingly exclude veteran representatives from committee meetings and discussions.

“Decisions are made regarding the VRC without veteran input, occasionally without veterans even knowing about it,” Casanares said. “There hasn’t been any level of transparency, and this trend has to stop.”

Information about most decisions made about the VRC are not even disseminated to veterans unless inquired about by the group, Casanares said.

Ji Jaga believes that if this distressing trend persists, veteran morale on the campus will continue to decline and further deter other veterans from attending CCC.

Prior to becoming dean of students, Dennis Franco was dean of enrollment services which supports Veteran Services as an area of responsibility.

“When I first came to CCC in this role, the VRC didn’t yet exist,” Franco said. “We worked with Sentinels of Freedom, Dedan Ji Jaga and Leon Watkins (former veterans resource liaison) to establish the VRC in its current form.”

Although Franco has a new title on campus, he still bears the responsibility of supporting the college’s veteran services until a new dean of enrollment services assumes the position.

Franco said it’s a definite loss of leadership for the VRC with Ji Jaga’s resignation.

“For much of his tenure in the VRC, he volunteered 15-20 hours a week of his time, which is why I put forth his name to the (state) Assembly member Tony Thurmond’s office and he was awarded as the Assembly District 15 Veteran of the Year,” he said.

However, Ji Jaga said he isn’t looking for personal accolades but strong campus support for the community he loves.

Ji Jaga said, “They say they appreciate us and they thank us for our service, but their actions and how they choose to ignore the veterans center’s needs proves otherwise.

“You would think that after everything that some veterans have gone through, they would be shown a higher regard of respect at the college,” he said.

However, Franco sees things differently.

“In a perfect world where funding and staffing were no object, I think we would have a fully dedicated staff in the VRC,” he said.

Though the college is experiencing budget constraints, he believes the campus has shown a great deal of support for its veteran community with the opening of the VRC and the authorization of many events, including a Marine Corps birthday celebration and a Veterans Day ceremony through a “mini-grant” offered by the Veterans Stakeholders Group.

Established in 2016, the Veterans Stakeholders Group consists of college faculty and staff, community members and student veterans. Franco said it stands as an advisory group to veterans services at CCC and the VRC.

Casanares said it’s vital for veterans to run veterans’ organizations. History shows civilian- run veteran programs are usually inadequate and unsuccessful at fulfilling the needs of its veteran population.

“Civilians lack the knowledge, but more importantly, the understanding of veterans and their unique situations,” he said. “For that reason, veterans simply just feel more comfortable and at ease when dealing with other veterans.”

Franco said Ji Jaga’s departure means that the campus has to step up its level of work for the VRC and student veterans to fill the void.

He feels confident that faculty and staff will continue to partner with the Veterans Club and Casanares to listen to the student veteran voice to better the VRC and Veterans Services.

In his resignation email, Ji Jaga ensures his “veteran student brothers” that his abrupt exit is not intended to be seen as abandonment of the campus’ veteran population, but rather a time to “stand down” and re-evaluate how to better serve the veteran student body in a more meaningful way.