What Does It Mean to be a ‘Veteran-Friendly’ University?
The focus of my dissertation is studying student veterans at U of L and learning about the writing they did in the military, the writing they’re doing in college, and what (if any) connections or tensions they’re seeing between the two. What I’m finding, though, as one does in empirical research projects, is that everything is more complicated than it seems. When I say student veterans, I really mean veterans, active duty, and ROTC students and at U of L they vary greatly in age and military experience. Also, what, if any, writing they did in the military is completely dependent on what position(s) they held. And since we know that writing in college is also extremely diverse, the number of potential connections or tensions ends up being limitless based on each student’s personal experience. Add to that the writing they’ve done in other workplace environments or for personal projects/needs and well… I’m glad I’ve been able to set up hour-long interviews with my participants. There’s A LOT to talk about!
Part of the puzzle also includes asking what offices and services student veterans are interacting with on campus. Are new student veterans utilizing the R.E.A.C.H. Student Veteran Mentorship program? Are student veterans seeking help at the Writing Center? Are they talking to their professors about writing? What about family, friends or other types of mentors? In other words, what, if any, resources are they drawing on to make sense of the perceived “shift” from military to academic writing? (Note: There’s another tricky false narrative there—there’s no direct “transition” from military to academic writing. It’s yet another wrinkle in the fabric of this dissertation.)
By far, the biggest challenge of this project is recruiting participants. Interviewing just about any student population can be a huge undertaking, but I’m finding that it’s even harder with adult students who may have jobs and families off campus. Moreover, many student veterans don’t wish to identify as veterans or let their military lives mingle with their academic lives, making it even harder to convince them to talk to me about how the two might actually be closely intertwined.
My hope is that when I get to writing the heart of my dissertation I’ll not only have something to add to the conversation in our field about teaching student veterans, but I’ll also have some actionable information for teachers and administrators across our campus. What encourages student veterans to utilize the Writing Center or R.E.A.C.H. tutoring and mentorship? What keeps them from drawing on those services? How can instructors forge supportive relationships with student veterans, especially those who struggle their first year? What can we do in our classrooms to show that we value all students’ previous writing experiences, including those of student veterans, rather than privileging “academic writing?” Do any of these things even matter to the average student veteran? Why might they matter to us anyway? With a little luck, as I continue to interview as many student veterans as possible, I’ll be able to hypothesize about some answers to these questions.
Ashley Ludewig is a 4th-year student in the Ph.D. program. She presently serves as the President of the English Graduate Organization.