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New program to assist Fredonia veterans’ transition to civilian life
Friday, September 26, 2014

Fredonia is one of three schools in New York State that will begin offering “Serving: Standing Down,” an innovative reading/discussion program designed specifically for veterans to assist them as they transition from active duty to civilian life.

“Serving: Standing Down” is part of “Talking Service,” a national initiative that the New York Council for the Humanities and other state humanities councils developed with the Great Books Foundation to offer veterans an opportunity to reflect on their service through a variety of texts and guided facilitation and also talk openly about their challenges and future aspirations.

"Veterans bring experiences to our classrooms way beyond what the typical undergraduate understands," says Ralph Blasting, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and project director for the program. "That enriches us, but can be difficult for the vet sitting next to a freshman. This program will provide a place where veterans can share both their military and their campus experiences with one another."

At Fredonia, “Serving: Standing Down” is being implemented by the College of Visual and Performing Arts in collaboration with the Office of Veterans Affairs. Spearheading that effort are Mark Mackey, director of the Office of Veterans Affairs; Benjamin Hartung, former director of the Office of Veterans Affairs; Professor Emeritus Stephen Rees, a Vietnam era veteran; and Dean Blasting.

Discussion sessions will focus on selections – ranging from poetry about the conflict in Iraq to personal essays about serving in World War II – contained in “Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian,” an anthology produced by the Great Books Foundation specifically to support this initiative. Under the guidance of a skilled facilitator, the group reflects on big ideas and themes of the readings as well as the military service of its members.

Mackey, who served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, will be the facilitator of the Fredonia sessions to be held every Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m., from Oct. 1 through Nov. 19, in the Veterans’ Lounge in Nixon Hall.

"For this first time out, we're focusing our program on Fredonia students and employees who are returning from service and receiving veterans' benefits, as well as veterans from the local community,” Blasting said. “The discussions will help veterans and their family members to support one another in the transition to civilian life. And it will help us, as a campus, to learn how we can better serve our returning veterans and their families," he added.

“Our campus has a great counseling center that has been specially trained to help student veterans,” Mackey added. “I believe ‘Standing Down’ will give the students a chance to express their feelings and hopefully help them. I myself have been diagnosed with PTSD and am a true believer in the only way to deal with it is to talk about it. Those that keep it in will never be able to get over it.”

Through the program, student veterans will know that there are other people in similar situations facing the same kinds of challenges, Mackey explained, and they will also know that they are not alone. “I know personally it was rough at first for me getting out of the Army and going into the classroom with young kids.”

The Fredonia program is being offered at no charge to veterans and their family members receiving veterans’ benefits. To register, contact Mackey at (716) 673-3423 or Enrollment in the first group is limited to 20 members.

“We are very pleased to be among the first in New York State to serve our veterans on campus and their families through this program,” Blasting said. “I have a son-in-law, who is in the army, and I’ve become more aware of the need for veterans’ services.”

Syracuse University and Monroe Community College are also hosting “Standing Down” programs, drawing up their own syllabus from readings in the anthology. Other “Talking Service” programs are also being introduced in eight other states this fall.

Leah Nahmias, program officer with the New York Council for the Humanities, said the Fredonia Veterans Affairs office offers various kinds of support to veterans, including help with benefits, but a program that uses the humanities to respond to the unique needs of veterans will be new to the campus.

According to the New York Council for the Humanities, institutions of higher learning are a “good fit” to host the program because they have the infrastructure – space, veterans service offices, faculty advisers that work with veterans and a ready pool of potential participants that may include Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – already in place, Nahmias said.

“Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian” features writings about military experience that span generations. For veterans who have a hard time putting into words their own experiences, there is often the feeling – upon reading a piece of literature – of “this says what I’ve always wanted to say but I’ve never been sure how,” Nahmias explained.

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