EMU conference focuses on everyday challenges facing returning veterans

by Angela Ahlijian, Published November 03, 2010

YPSILANTI - Christopher Parker, Marine Corp. infantryman and a freshman at EMU, knows first hand what it is like to come back from military active-duty in Iraq.
At 18 years old, Parker joined the Marines directly after graduating high school.

"Sometimes I look at other high-school aged kids and know they haven't seen any of the things I have seen," said Parker. "When I was on the bus home, I remember feeling relieved and happy to just be okay. The first few weeks were really surreal. I appreciated every little thing like just going to McDonald's."

While Veterans Day (Nov. 11) serves to remind us of the sacrifices made by all veterans, a growing number of veterans find readjusting to everyday life can have new, sometimes traumatic challenges, including going back to school.

While Parker said that he didn't have negative issues readjusting, he knows some veterans who do.

    To provide assistance with these issues, Eastern Michigan University's Department of Leadership and Counseling will host the John W. Porter Chair of Urban Education Conference: "On the Front Lines of Readjustment: Challenges Faced by Veterans and Their Families" Friday, Nov. 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Student Center. Cost for attendees is $15. This seminar is free for EMU students and U.S. veterans. For more information, visit emich.edu/coe/chair. This event is for everyone.

    "There about 450 student veterans receiving GI benefits in the University," according to Shaftone Dunklin, director of veteran services at EMU.  

    "I hope the campus community, faculty and staff will gain a better understanding of our veteran population and their experiences and needs," said Dunklin. "I hope they see the richness these veterans bring to our campus community."  

    Veterans returning from duty are entering campuses across the nation. As of August 2007, more than 1.2 million recently separated service members have used education tuition benefits through the Montgomery GI Bill or the Reserve Educational Assistance Program.

    The conference features keynote speaker David DiRamio, a United States Navy veteran who is an associate professor of higher education administration at Auburn University. He has authored numerous publications, including an article on issues facing this generation of veterans attending college and a book on how campuses can help student-veterans succeed. DiRamio has a new book scheduled for publication in summer 2011 that applies six well-known theories and models of college student development to the phenomenon of the student-veteran, including examining ideas about cognitive, psychosocial and identity development.  

    According to a post by Devika Choudhuri, associate professor of counseling in Eastern Michigan University's Department of Leadership and Counseling, issues veterans confront include integrating back into life with civilians, mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and possible service related disabilities. The continuing conflict impacts veterans, as well as families and communities. In an academic community, it is important to explore and discuss the many perspectives surrounding these elements.

    During DiRamio's interactive discussion, attendees will be invited to discuss their education, mental health, social and political aspects of veterans, service members and their dependents in the EMU Student Center.  

    Cherrill Williams, an EMU student and Army veteran, plans to attend the discussion. She hopes faculty, staff and students gain a better understanding of what it is like for military veterans to make the transition from military life to civilian life.

    "Faculty and staff are dealing with people who are from a totally different place. Their (veterans) mindset is used to following directions," said Williams. "I think this discussion will allow them (faculty, staff and students) to ask more questions because they are not able to ask as detailed questions in the classroom environment with the limited time they have in class. I hope it's an eye-opener for them."

    "The college experience so far has been underwhelming. I was expecting a much bigger struggle in college than I am having," said Parker. "I appreciate what I have and look at things in a positive light. I take advantage of the GI Bill because I know now, after having seen so much poverty, that I am not entitled to anything in life. It is all a privilege"

Angela Ahlijian

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