WASHINGTON - The students in the Saturday morning class trickle in and, as they introduce themselves around a table, reveal far more intimate biographies than just name and hometown.
One confesses to demons he struggles to control. Another says he's here to find a community. "Forgive me," an Iraq war veteran begins haltingly. "I have to use notes. I have a brain injury."
The students are participants in a veterans writing seminar at George Washington University, where for two days they immerse themselves in the basics of the craft and learn how to plumb for therapeutic and creative purposes their experiences in places like Iraq, Bosnia and Vietnam. The class is a non-credit weekend seminar open to veterans and their relatives, but the university plans to soon adapt the model into a for-credit semester-long course for student veterans.
This photo taken Oct. 15, shows Joanna Wiese, a doctoral student in counseling psychology, holding a reading titled 'You are not Alone' during the Life After War: Post-Deployment Issues class she teaches at the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City Colleges and universities are beginning to offer veterans-only classes that cater to a populations that tends to be older, more experienced and farther removed from the classroom.
The seminar is part of a trend of veterans-only courses offered at colleges and universities, part of a concerted effort to cater to a population that tends to be older, more experienced and farther removed from the classroom than traditional undergraduates.
Introductory courses on campus life help veterans navigate the unfamiliar terrain of a college environment while academic classes set aside for veterans are designed to help them learn in smaller settings and alongside peers with similar backgrounds. The courses are often peppered with military references and sometimes taught by fellow veterans. "Different institutions are using veterans-specific courses for a variety of reasons, but largely it has to do with ensuring that veterans have a smooth and comfortable transition from the military culture into the civilian culture," said Meg Mitcham, director of veterans programs at the American Council on Education, a higher education association.
Still, not all courses have had staying power. It's not simple to find courses that appeal broadly to veterans of different ages and generations, not all veterans seek to identify themselves as such, and there's not universal agreement that veteran-oriented classes are the best way to acclimate a group that may already feel isolated.
A University of Iowa class, limited to veterans and service members who have previously deployed, requires students to interview service members from a different era and covers everything from college study skills and reading comprehension to drug addiction and healthy sleep habits.
"You have the ability to speak your mind about things that normal people aren't really going to understand. They may see a movie or something, but there's no substitute for being there," said Gene Rovang, a 46-year-old veteran enrolled in the Iowa class. "As a veteran, when you talk about your experiences, it's just very easy to communicate to a roomful of veterans compared to a roomful of civilians. Most people don't have a job where your job is to kill people."