Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Avoiding Veterans on Campus

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a University of Texas-Arlington professor of military history brings up the question of how to adequately deal with veterans and their families on campus and in the classroom. She revealed that "...the emotional needs of those students unrelentingly pushed the class in a direction I was not comfortable with as a historian." 

I will not question her motives - and I believe her to be fully supportive of our soldiers - but, I wonder if the real issue was the impact of having to deal, likely for the first time, with the very real impact that war has on real people. Military historians can easily find themselves in a sterile environment studying war as artifacts. I find myself guilty of that, as well.  But, even archaeological artifacts were often once handled by people and to not understand that...or refuse to deal with it because "...I was not comfortable with [it] as a historian..." is disturbing, too.

I teach a lot of veterans. We now have over 1,000 recently discharged veterans at Texas State University. I end up with a significant number in my classes, likely because I am retired from the Navy. I find them engaging and willing to enter into discussion. Even when I discover they have opinions that are not based on fact, I am normally able to engage them in dialogue that begins to open their point of view.

As with the UT-Arlington professor, I am not a psychologist. So, I do not attempt to solve their psychological issues...I refer them to the Dean of Students office wherein there is an excellent on-campus veterans program. However, by personally engaging them, I find them to be curious, willing to think outside the box - they have had to do just that in their combat experiences - and, whether one wants it or not, they are the the next GI-Bill generation. It is our job as professors at the colleges and Universities of this country to engage and imprint our knowledge, skills, and opinions on them. To avoid that might speak of a small mind.
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