How Rutgers helps faculty talk to student veterans
Training faculty and staff in military cultural competence lies at the heart of veterans services at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The key reason? “Military culture can be like a foreign culture to civilians who haven’t served,” says Ann Treadaway, director of Rutgers’ Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services.
She has heard from veterans who have said that, since the shift online during COVID, faculty have assigned more work and sped up the pace of classes to compensate for not being face-to-face.
So, Treadaway has been encouraging faculty to be more flexible about courseloads to better accommodate the multiple responsibilities of student veterans. Many of them are older, are parents, and are also juggling full-time careers or—thanks to the COVID pandemic—looking for work after losing a job, she says.
More from UB: Promoting veteran student success at Ohio State
“A traditional college-age student isn’t helping a five- and a 10-year-old with virtual learning,” Treadaway says.
How to talk to a service member
Cultural competency training is also critical because the media often “oversensationalizes” the military and those who serve, she adds.
Some civilians assume ex-service members are natural leaders, that they hold certain political beliefs or that they are likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, Treadaway says.
A simple solution is to know the correct terms for members of different branches of the military. For example, a soldier pertains only to someone who has served in Army, and Marines expect to be called Marines.
Or, all members of the military can be referred to properly as “service members,” she says.
It can also be a misstep to thank a service member for their service. Veterans may see it as something someone says but doesn’t really mean, Treadaway says.
“A veteran wants you to show them in your actions that you mean it,” she says. “When it comes down to faculty, it’s show me you understand that I am a single mom with three kids at home. Show me by not automatically assuming that I think a certain way because of my past experience.” …
Another mistake is asking veterans where they were “deployed,” which implies someone has seen combat. Of course, not all service members fight overseas as many serve in support positions in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“It could feel like a value judgment that service doesn’t matter unless you did deploy,” she says.
A more polite question is to ask a veteran “where were you stationed?” she says.
“If a veteran thinks it’s going to impact the way someone sees them, they’re not going to disclose their military background,” Treadaway says. “They don’t want it to have a negative impact on grading or how they’re treated in class.”
Veterans drive campus diversity
Research has shown that students with combat experience are more likely to identify their professors as leaders but less apt to bond with traditional college-age classmates.
Service members who worked in finance or as clerks were likely to behave like traditional college-age students, Treadaway says.
More from UB: How 5 colleges are giving students a bilingual boost
“Or you maybe you have a student who sits in the back of the room and it seems like they don’t care,” she says, “Someone who has been deployed might sit in the back because they want to see all the door—it’s a security measure.”
Since the COVID outbreak, Treadaway has created a digital version of her office as a classroom in the university’s learning management system. It’s a place where veterans can connect and participate in workshops on anxiety, stress management and exercise.
“Student veterans and service members are incredibly diverse and contribute to the overall diversity of an institution,” Treadaway says. “When you’re in the military, you don’t get a choice who you serve with, you serve with people from all walks of life and you have to rely on each other.”