Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Understanding Student Veterans in Transition

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Understanding Student Veterans in Transition

Article excerpt

According to a recent report by the American Council on Education (2008), upwards of two million military veterans will take advantage of their government educational benefits and attend higher education institutions before 2020. Despite the fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on for more than a decade, colleges and universities often find themselves woefully unprepared for the influx of this unique student demographic. Because the experience of being in the military is distinctly different than that of attending college, higher education professionals should seek to understand the connection veterans make between what they experienced during their military service and how these experiences may or may not relate to how they make meaning of their experiences as college students (Baechtold & DeSawal, 2009). The way in which veterans created meaning for their life in the military is often different than the way they create meaning as students on campus. This dichotomy is a key challenge for student veterans transitioning to higher education. Much of military training forces servicemembers into pre-assigned identities that, while valued in the military, may have little correlation in their new roles as students in higher education. Understanding how this group makes meaning during this transition will help educators offer appropriate curricular and co-curricular support that promotes openness and adaptability for veterans moving from a regimented, external-authority-based environment toward developing self-authorship and establishing a post-military identity (Reisser, 2011).

Literature Review

A conceptual model of multiple dimensions of identity was developed in which a "core sense of self or "one's personal identity" was depicted (Jones & McEwen, 2000, p. 405). The authors addressed intersecting social identities, with particular attention paid to family background, sociocultural conditions, current experiences, career decisions, and life planning. Jones and McEwen offered an alternative to the strict, linear development models of prior identity theories with their model, describing it as "representing the ongoing construction of identities and the influence of changing contexts on the experience of identity development" (p. 408).

Abes, Jones, and McEwen (2007) incorporated meaning-making into their revised model of multiple dimensions of identities, illustrating how meaning-making capacity interacts with contextual influence on the perceptions and salience of students' multiple social identities (2007). Based on an earlier study describing lesbian identity development and meaning making, they created a more complex conceptualization of Jones and McEwen's (2000) original multiple identities model (Abes & Jones, 2004; Abes et al., 2007). To create this conceptualization, they applied several tenants of queer theory, specifically intersectionality and postmodernism, in an effort to capture the complexity of the meaning of a core self in a multiple identities model. Their efforts led to a rethinking of what a "core" sense of self actually meant, since some queer theorists argued against the very notion that identity can be defined or that a core identity even exists (Britzman, 1997) and that identity is comprised of fluid differences, not a unified essence (Fuss, 1989). Jones and McEwen's theory is used to explain how students define themselves within particular social contexts. For educators interacting with students whose past experiences are in conflict with their present identity, like many student veterans, including meaning-making capacity in the model of multiple identity dimensions can provide a lens to understand more clearly how students see themselves (Abes et al., 2007).

Position of the Researcher

A phenomenological researcher's first challenge is to find a topic and question that have both social meaning and personal significance (Moustakas, 1994). …

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