Serving student veterans and military service members in higher education by Corey Rumann

I began investigating student veterans’ and military service members’ experiences as a doctoral student at Iowa State University when there was little or no research focusing on that issue. Through the years I have seen the attention on supporting and understanding how colleges and universities can more effectively serve military students grow considerably, and I am encouraged by the response of higher education officials to this student population. There is still much work to do but all in all the infrastructure and resources being put in place at many institutions of higher education at least begins to more effectively address the needs of our military service members. That being said every time I attend a conference or workshop focused on military service members in higher education I leave with a feeling of tension in my stomach wondering what is not being said or discussed in the conversations I have with others doing this work. A number of questions come up for me that I’m not quite sure how to address. Some of those questions include the following:
• Who do people envision when we talk about student veterans? Is it the straight, white, 20 something man who saw combat or someone else?
• Who is or is not using funding provided by the 9/11 GI Bill to go to college?
• Despite an increased focus on women veterans and service members what is still not being addressed? How are the experiences of women veterans different than their peers who are men?
• How welcome do military service members who are gay feel on campus and where do they seek our services to ease their transition from the military to college?
• What are the experiences of gender non-conforming veterans and military service members on campuses?
• Are veterans of color treated with the same respect and admiration as white veterans? How does race (and other social identities) intersect with a person’s military identity?
• How do we address the high unemployment rates of military veterans?
• How does the military status of students with disabilities affect their experiences in college?
• Suicide rates of veterans are alarmingly high. What are we doing to address their needs?
• What about students who are not from the United States who have served in the military? What are we doing to serve their unique needs?
• What are the motivations of administrators when they proclaim support for military service members and veterans? Is it a political decision or a genuine desire to serve those who have served? Who are these programs aimed at serving? Is it all veterans or just those who fit a certain image?
• Are student veterans a marginalized population? This is a question I ask myself often as I do this work.
Not all of the questions I ask myself are focused on student veteran and military service members. I often wonder what the responses to veterans’ needs in college tell us about how we support other student groups. Historically, why has the same level of response and resources not been afforded other student populations on college campuses who are marginalized and/or underrepresented? For example, a number of institutions have created offices focused specifically on student veterans and military service members in very short periods of time. How is that response different than it has been for LGBTQ support services? Or, is there an increased focus on disability support services because veterans are returning with war related disabilities? And, if so, why is that the reason for an increased level of attention?
As I write this I have to consider my own positionality and consider how my privileged identities influence my own responses to these questions. Why don’t I focus more on addressing these questions or what makes me hesitate to ask more of these questions? I am in a position to affect change yet I only discuss these thoughts with a small group of people I believe will agree with me or have similar questions. The answer is quite simple actually. It’s safer not to take that risk for fear of being viewed as someone who doesn’t support our military or who doesn’t want to maintain the status quo. But taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zone is something I encourage others to do and it’s time I do that myself. As someone with many privileged identities I can avoid risks and know what I do will be seen as important. My work has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm and I receive positive responses from people regularly commending me for doing such important work. I do think the work I’ve done is important and I hope it has made a difference. However, moving forward I recommend the following to myself and others:
• When addressing student military members concerns consider how different social identities intersect with their military identity.
• Consider who is at the table when decisions are being made about how best to support student veterans and military service members.
• Conduct research that takes a critical look at how the current state of affairs is different for each veteran depending on their personal circumstances and social identities. For example, how does GI Bill funding increase access to college for some but not others.
• Think holistically when creating support services and programs for military students.
• Do not be afraid to challenge the status quo and ask the critical questions. For example, who is and is not included in our perception of who a veteran is or is not.
I don’t have the answers for most of these questions and would welcome hearing from others who would be willing to share their insights and perspectives. Please feel free to contact me at crumann2@unl.edu .

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3 thoughts on “Serving student veterans and military service members in higher education by Corey Rumann

  1. Barton Buechner says:

    Corey, You make some excellent points here. I am in the process of finishing a PhD program at Fielding Graduate University, with dissertation focused on mentoring of student veterans. In the process, I have also been involved in starting a group called “Veterans Connections,” which has been promoting dialogue among a broad spectrum of students about the various social justice issues associated with the veteran experience. I share your thinking that institutions of higher education can potentially benefit from the expanded perspectives inherent in the presence of this increased number of students with service experience on campus. They enter as learners, but their presence reflexively impacts the existing institutional culture in academia, and elsewhere in society…if we learn how to listen to their stories and reflect on what they tell us.

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    • carolyn says:

      As a veteran myself and a student attempting to do a dissertation on veterans in the post secondary environment, I believe both your posts have excellent points. However, as a veteran I want to know if the leaders of our colleges see any positive presence of student veterans. I feel all the research makes veterans out to be unstable individuals sitting in a classroom waiting for that moment to explode. What assets do the service members bring to the classroom? what do the professors see as positive interactions in the classrooms? The more I read about the transition programs and ‘needs’ of the veteran the more disheartening I become. I would like to do my dissertation on the assets of veterans in post secondary education, any ideas?

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      • Hi, I have been a VA certifying official for 7 years and I can say that I have seen my campus go from seemingly having no awareness of Veterans attending my school to having everyone excited to participate in anything that will be helpful to Veterans. Teachers love the Veterans because they are good students, and I enjoy that I get to know the Veterans as individuals and I miss some of them when they graduate.

        I just began a doctoral program and I am trying to come up with a dissertation idea myself. Please email me at sunburst717@aol.com. Maybe we can help each other out as we go though the process. 🙂

        I haven googling “veteran dissertations” and finding many interesting topics about transitions back to school, ptsd, narratives of veteran stories, and other things.

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