After a two-decade career in the Army, Jesse Herman is working toward a degree at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and is working to make the university a more welcoming place for veterans as a facilitator for the Office of Military & Veteran Services’ new Veteran Ally training program.
The training provides an overview of the different branches, reviews various roles, explores the strengths and challenges veterans bring with them to the classroom and offers ways to effectively support and engage student veterans.
For instance, student veterans typically are older than the average college student and are comfortable with hierarchy.
“We tell participants about people like myself who were there forever and a day and were used to being in charge of hundreds of people and don’t want to be talked to the same way you would talk to a 19-year-old,” Herman said. “We also explain that junior service members are not used to advocating for themselves. I’m not proud to say this, but I would often tell military members, ‘You are in receiving mode.’ In other words, ‘Just shut up and do what I tell you.’ Well, if someone has told you that for the past four years, and those are formative years, it can be hard to break that cycle, and it’s up to instructors to help them.”
Adrienne Davis, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, said Veteran Ally training has changed how she teaches and interacts with veterans. She encourages student veterans to speak up and challenge ideas in class. Davis also is more mindful of her vocabulary. For instance, in her military wills unit, she no longer uses the word “soldier,” which refers exclusively to members of the Army, interchangeably with the term “service member.” And she has worked hard to more clearly define her goals and expectations for students.
“Jesse taught me veterans are used to meeting objective goals, but in academia, students often are evaluated on subjective criteria,” Davis said. “So I’ve learned that I need to make the criteria transparent and to better communicate.”
So far, Herman and Jen Goetz, the university’s first veteran student services adviser, have met with staff and faculty from several schools and departments and have launched a veteran student orientation program. Goetz credited Herman with helping to boost the profile of the Office of Military & Veteran Services, which is entering its second year.
“Jesse has seen it all and is eager to share those experiences and insights with others in meaningful and inspiring ways,” said Goetz, who served in the Air Force and graduated from the Brown School in 2016. “Our student veterans know they can lean on him to help in their transition to civilian life. And our faculty and staff know he’s a great resource in their efforts to support that transition as well.”
This is just the beginning, Herman said, as the student veteran population continues to grow. Resources through programs such as the GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon program are here, and so is the will.
“We all know through the news that veterans face many barriers to success like PTSD and substance abuse, but they also bring a lot of strengths that we value on a college campus, such as the ability to work as a team and to persevere,” Herman said. “But my main point is: Don’t assume you know how veterans act or vote because your grandfather was a Marine. Every student is different, and it’s on our community to learn how to identify and dignify these folks.”