UW-Milwaukee installs latest 'I am not Invisible' campaign to raise awareness of women veterans
There are about two million women Veterans that make up 10% of the Veteran population. Yet, they face significant challenges and barriers in accessing the services they need. Furthermore, they are often fighting for recognition of their service.
The “I Am Not Invisible” campaign began in 2017 as a way to increase visibility of women Veterans and to change the culture of gender-based harassment by placing images of women Veterans in VA facilities. That campaign has continued to grow across the country and today, and the latest installment is being hosted at UW-Milwaukee.
Yolanda Medina is the director of UW-Milwaukee’s Military and Veterans Resource Center and is also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. For Medina, the campaign is a bringing some critical attention to a chronic issue that women veterans too often face in our society.
"Well, first and foremost, as soon as anyone sees our face, we are assumed to be the spouse or the partner, not the veteran... And then we have to clarify and say, 'I'm the veteran. I'm the one who needs support,'" Medina explains.
Many people tend to automatically associate the concept of a veteran as being male. When asked why this is, Medina says, "My opinion is all of the advertising that goes up everywhere. When they're talking about military or veteran, it is immediately the white male combat veteran silhouette."
This tendency is not limited to veterans post service. Medina, who is Hispanic, details another similar experience while serving in the Philippines where she was assumed to be one of the natives while out of uniform. "I took pride in wearing the uniform, but I could only be proud in the uniform," she notes.
During another instance while attending a veterans-only luncheon here in Milwaukee, Medina describes not being granted admission into the event until her husband, who is also a veteran, verified that they served together.
These instances fueled Medina's desire to be a greater resource for women veterans. Having always been interested in veterans' needs, Medina shifted her focus specifically to women veterans upon seeing the disparity and need for support. Now in her tenure at UWM, her focus is women, people of color, and those with moral injury outside of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this work, Medina seeks to increase the types of support that women veterans need, such as physical care. More often than not, women veterans are automatically sent to the women's sexual trauma unit. And while this support is prevalent, it is not an all-encompassing remedy.
This is why the campaign plays such a pivotal role in increasing awareness for women veterans. It curates and displays a collection of photographs depicting women in the military to counteract the typically presented image of the male combat silhouette. With over 100 photos, the Wisconsin installment presents a powerful message. "I was moved to tears because there was such a gamut of different identities. I didn't feel alone," Medina describes.
"The more voices out there saying, 'We served, too,' the more someone is finally going to realize, 'Oh yes, women are included in this picture,'" she adds.
Medina hopes that this installation helps change the narrative for the term "veteran."
"I want when people hear the word 'veteran' that they automatically see a diverse picture in their mind," she says.
The "I am not Invisible 3.0" installment at UWM opens March 28 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.