Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Veterans in the Writing Classroom: Three Programmatic Approaches to Facilitate the Transition from the Military to Higher Education

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Veterans in the Writing Classroom: Three Programmatic Approaches to Facilitate the Transition from the Military to Higher Education

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to report on institutional approaches to veteran enrollments in writing classes and to recommend a reorientation of those approaches toward asset-based professional orientation and course development. These recommendations derive from the findings of a 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Research Initiative Grant that funded a two-year study of student veterans in the writing classroom.

Since at least 2003, the CCCC has made public comment on US military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.1 Subsequently, veteran populations- particularly those from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) who are taking advantage of the generous benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill-have surged on college campuses, with over one million veterans and eligible family members using these benefits since 2009 ("One Million"). A spike of veteran enrollments in core courses such as first-year writing (FYW) has followed.2 Because FYW courses are typically small enough for students to interact one-on-one with their instructors and to collaborate with their classmates,3 and because expressive and reflective writing theories shape many first-year students' writing experiences,4 writing classes often function as a transitional space between veterans' military experiences and their college experiences.

Current Landscape

Sue Doe and William Doe have termed this transitional time for service members residence time, which they describe as the amount of time it takes for a person to become fully acclimated to a new environment, and they call on the concept of induction as the process by which veterans transition into residence time ("Residence"). For Doe and Doe, veterans, in moving from military life to civilian life, may experience a more extended period of induction than during their original transition into the military, and so the goal of educators should be, at least in part, to reduce the length of residence time through close attention to the varied literacies of military service members.

Residence time provides a useful framework for engaging with veterans on college campuses in that it emphasizes the sometimes dramatic transitions veterans undergo. While we would emphasize that not every institution or writing program will be affected by a veteran surge, we nonetheless urge writing program administrators (WPAs) to investigate veteran enrollments on their campuses to determine the degree to which these transitions may be taking place in their classrooms. Such a task is not easy. Very few colleges, if any, disclose veteran status to faculty,5 so instructors often only become aware through veterans' self-disclosure as a result of classroom discussion, one-to-one conferences, informal or formal writing assignments, or, in some cases, discussion of accommodation for disability.6 Absent such self-disclosure, many student-veterans remain invisible, especially in classes populated by other adult learners.

Nonetheless, the number of veterans entering our classrooms continues to climb. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that the US veteran population is nearing twenty-two million people, with one million from the current wars now enrolled in colleges and universities (2015 Veteran 18-19). That constitutes nearly 4 percent of students nationwide, though in some geographical locations that percentage is much higher. Further, estimated enrollments reflect only those students receiving GI Bill benefits, and no study has produced reliable data on the number of veterans seeking college degrees after their benefits have lapsed, have been transferred to a family member, or have otherwise remained unused.7 Reflecting the rapid growth of veterans on college campuses, the national Student Veterans Association (SVA) has seen the number of its campus chapters multiply exponentially, from fewer than 50 before 2010 to 950 in fall 2014, with membership doubling from 2013 to 2014 alone (Romney). …

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