Sue Doe, Lisa Langstraat, eds. Generation Vet: Composition, Student Veterans, and the Post-9/11 University. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2014. 242 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-87421-941-8; $24.00 (e-book), ISBN 978-0-87421-942-5.
Reviewed by Suzanne Kahn (Columbia University)
Published on H-War (May, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
This fascinating collection of essays put together by Sue Doe and Lisa Langstraat considers the question of how to teach introductory writing to veterans on college campuses. Largely written by composition teachers, these essays address the challenges and opportunities inherent in this project, covering such topics as how military training shapes veterans’ experiences in the classroom, how teachers should approach PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) in the classroom, and what the value of service learning is for veterans. Expertly weaving together intellectual and pedagogical questions, this book is remarkable for how it speaks to dilemmas faced by all teachers whether or not they teach composition or have veterans in the classroom.
An example: in “Faculty as First Responders: Willing but Unprepared,” Linda S. De La Ysla tells her own story of addressing a troubling essay written by a student veteran. The essay about the effects of the student’s military experience on his view of the world raised concerns about the writer’s possibly violent tendencies. Initially, De La Ysla felt unprepared to address her student’s essay—unaware of exactly what resources were available to her or the appropriate response. She writes, “At the time of this incident ... the only option for which I felt prepared at all was to direct C. J. for psychological support. And even then, I didn’t know what the boundaries were, or even how to broach the topic” (p. 107). De La Ysla recounts how eventually the essay brought her into contact with campus psychologists, the faculty advisor for the student newspaper in which the student published the essay he wrote in her class, the college’s Behavioral Intervention Team, and a network of other institutions within the college.
What struck me about De La Ysla’s experience was how similar it was to my own experiences with students who have experienced other traumas. On today’s campuses we know that we have students struggling with the aftermath of a wide range of traumatic events and psychological disorders that affect their work in the classroom. Faculty members are often pushed into the role of “first responder,” without the training to take appropriate action or a comprehensive knowledge of the resources available to students.
I am first and foremost a historian of the American social welfare regime, and I write about the military because so often key features of the American social safety net developed first for veterans and their families. From retirement and widows’ pensions to the funding for education, federal social welfare programs often developed in response to veterans’ needs and demands and then were expanded to reach civilians as well. Doe and Langstraat’s collection shows this pattern happening again on college campuses. Veterans have unique needs, yes, but these essays also suggest innovative ways that the social and educational safety net on campus can be improved for all students. For example, Anne Shrivers-McNair writes about the different perspectives full-time faculty tenured/tenure-track faculty and graduate students and contingent faculty brought to discussions of course design. Her essay suggests that when it comes to curricular design, all teachers should be given a role in identifying students’ needs, especially since these needs are likely to change as a result of external circumstances and therefore demand real-time response. Likewise, Tara Wood’s contribution, “Signature Wounds: Marking and Medicalizing Post-9/11 Veterans,” suggests intriguing ways that professors can learn from disability studies scholarship. Wood cautions against over-medicalizing our students’ struggles.
Doe and Langstraat’s collection is aimed at teachers of composition and veterans, but all of us considering the challenges contemporary colleges and universities face in designing curriculum that speak to their students and training professors to respond to student needs can learn something from this valuable collection.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Suzanne Kahn. Review of Doe, Sue; Langstraat, Lisa, eds., Generation Vet: Composition, Student Veterans, and the Post-9/11 University.
H-War, H-Net Reviews.
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