Veterans Initiative

VETERANS FIND RESONANCE AND COMMUNITY IN CLEMENTE

Over the next five years, a million veterans will return from deployment overseas. Many of them will return with physical and emotional challenges that make transition back to civilian live particularly daunting.

The Clemente Veterans’ Initiative was developed specifically to support struggling veterans who wish to find meaningful ways to re-engage with their families and communities, to foster civic engagement, and to serve as a bridge to higher education. The Initiative was launched with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Teagle Foundation, and generous individual donations. Exploring questions of war, civic duty, family, and heroism it offers veterans a chance to put personal experience into a broader perspective. And it reinforces a critical sense of community.

Mask Project

Established in 2015, two new Clemente Courses in Seattle and Phoenix are helping veterans like Terry Powell connect to their intellectual lives. Terry, who grew up moving all over the world in his military family and served 16 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, thought the classroom was out of reach for him at age 58. Instead, as a student in the Clemente Course for Veterans in Seattle, he's found a new sense of camaraderie, in class and even at home.

"I'm really into books because of Clemente," he says. "Recently I was sitting at home reading and I looked over and saw my four-year-old grandson sitting with his legs crossed just like me, holding his book just like me. He was doing what grandpa was doing."

“The secret magic in this program is that there is soul.
We get in touch with ourselves on a deeper personal
level and although some may feel like fragments or
pieces, we use language to once again find or embrace our identities, who we are.”
     —Clemente Graduate, Class of 2016

"Veterans are deeply changed by their military experience, whether or not they've been to war," says Jeb Wyman, academic director of the Seattle course and editor of the forthcoming book What They Signed Up For, a collection of interviews with veterans. "One of those changes is a profound sense of community with other veterans."

Clemente offers students a way to recreate this sense of community in civilian life, and at the same time, allows them to reconnect with themselves. The curriculum appeals to military and veteran culture – Herakles, The Iliad, WW I and WW II as well as contemporary war poetry and literature by men and women – while at the same time incorporating texts that offer new, non-military models for community engagement and life choices: Plato, John Winthrop, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson. It also helps prepare veterans for other college classrooms, a critical issue for those who may feel estranged from their younger classmates or out of place in the civilian world. Research shows that 88% of veterans drop out of college in their first year and only 3% ultimately graduate. Many choose not to start college for fear of failing and the potential of having to pay back Veterans Administration benefits if they do not finish the classes.

Philosophy

This makes Clemente especially valuable, according to Joan Sisco, executive director of Veterans First, host of the Phoenix class, which is dedicated to women veterans. "A lot of military come home not physically or mentally ready to go to college, especially if they are dealing with PTSD," she says. "In Clemente classes they are encouraged to engage in discussions and learn to express themselves. The professors guide them to open their minds and think differently so that they have the confidence to complete their education."
“This program has helped me start to learn again. I have a TBI and learning has been very challenging for me. I feel like the nerve endings in my brain have started growing again.” Clemente Graduate, 2017

“Part of Clemente's success has been the
large number of female veterans in attendance.
That is often a rare sight, and therefore makes
a huge impact in how we can contextualize our
identity. But also supports and emboldens
females to speak up and be heard about things
that are usually exclusive to being female
veterans and not just the veterans experience
overall. Being a minority within a minority, it
gives us a voice and also gives our veteran
brothers a perspective that they often don't get
exposed to.“
     --Site Coordinator for the Seattle Course,
     and a Clemente Graduate, Class of 2016.