AU has garnered a lot of attention lately for its growing student veteran population. Last year, GI Jobs magazine selected the university as a top Military Friendly School for 2012, while the White House recognized AU student John Kamin for his work helping veterans get back to work.
Veterans services administrator Valerie Verra has seen the number of student vets and their dependents on campus jump from 80 to over 220 since taking her post within the past two years.
“People were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and AU was being identified as a school that would be very good for veterans,” she explained. “It was in Washington. It had a really good School of International Service and School of Public Affairs. These are things that were of interest to the vets.”
According to Verra, one part of veterans pursuing their educations at AU includes connecting with other vets on campus who are dealing with the work, family, and reintegration challenges that many often face.
School of International Service junior and 11-year Coast Guard veteran Chris Evanson is an outreach co-chair for AU Vets. He believes his organization supports student vets in their academic efforts while also helping them to feel at home in college.
“I see AU Vets as a bridge,” he said. “We have a veteran community and a student population, let’s bridge those two networks and make them a cohesive entity as part of the overall student population. So the vets are able to integrate themselves in the community and feel normal again, and the students are able to learn something about the vets and understand that they have a lot to offer.”
As part of building that bridge, AU Vets and the university partnered to recognize Veterans Week this year in the lead up to Veterans Day. The week saw everything from a flag raising ceremony on the quad and a Military 101 campus educational session to a student vets reception and, finally, the week’s marquee event held Friday evening in the Kay Spiritual Life Center – Theater of War.
The internationally-performed event included a dramatic reading of Sophocles’ ancient Greek play Ajax about a war vet returning home and dealing with the psychological and physical wounds left from battle. A panel discussion with veterans, a veteran spouse, and an AU Counseling Center clinician followed to explore the issues facing today’s veterans and their families.
According to director David Bradley, Theater of War is an avenue to span history and realize the shared human experience that confronts much of the military community.
“People have said that Greek plays were made to answer the question, ‘How do we live together in difficult times?’ Theater is a nice way to do that,” he said after the performance, which featured AU freshman Grant Saunders alongside actors from the acclaimed television series The Wire.
“I think it was really good,” said Verra, whose efforts largely brought the successful event to campus. “The vets that I know, the ones that I’ve spent time with, they would be glad to see that the community appreciates what has happened to them.”
If you ask Evanson, all this recent attention for AU and its veterans – from last year’s recognition to this month’s Veterans Week – shouldn’t come as anything new for the university. He nods to the campus plaque remembering students and faculty lost in World War II, the more recent 9/11 memorial, and the fact that the military occupied Camp American University during the first world war.
For him, these are signs to say that AU has always been a logical choice for students returning from the Armed Forces to the classroom.
“You don’t have to walk far here on campus to see that there’s a large veterans presence,” he said. “This institution is actually steeped in military history.”