Date of Degree

2-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor(s)

Colette Daiute

Subject Categories

Educational Administration and Supervision | Education Policy | Psychology

Keywords

higher education, Iraq/Afghanistan, plot analysis, student veterans, transition, values analysis

Abstract

IN AND OUT OF UNIFORM:

THE TRANSITION OF IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERANS INTO HIGHER EDUCATION

by

Vienna Messina

Advisor: Professor Colette Daiute

With the exit of US combat troops from Iraq in 2011 and the subsequent drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, much public attention became focused on the reintegration of veterans of these wars into all aspects of civilian life. Record numbers of returning veterans enrolled in higher education. Abramson (2012) reported that, since 2009, when the Post-9/11 GI Bill became effective, more than 860,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had used its generous provisions for further education and projected that, by the end of 2013, that number might reach more than 1,000,000. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, more than sixty percent of student veterans who were enrolled in higher education attended two and four year public institutions.

This study explores the transition of student veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from the culture, discourses, and practices of military life into those of academic life in public higher education. The study is designed to consider transition as an activity-meaning system, a research approach in which the unit of analysis is the interaction of cross-context relationships and perspectives among stakeholder actors having varying interests, these stakeholders being both persons and institutions (Daiute, 2010; 2014). Although my primary interest in this study is student veterans' interpretation of transition, as this does not occur in a vacuum, I have sampled meanings expressed by other stakeholders with whom they interact.

Considering student veteran transition as an activity-meaning system places focus on the dialogue of the institutional perspectives of the military, veterans advocacy organizations, public institutions of higher education, and of student veterans themselves with their own unique perspectives, across contexts disparate enough as to constitute separate cultures. I regard institutional policies and individual activities as enactments of cultural values. The design affords the opportunity to explore the interplay of these values, both implicit and explicit, in narrative materials expressing the perspectives of all the involved stakeholders.

Choosing a sample of culturally determined materials, the study analyzes military websites and training materials; the websites of public institutions of higher education as they address student veterans; and the websites and publications of veterans' advocacy groups for values expressions. In relation to these values expressions, I examine the interviews of twelve student veteran participants from a large northeastern urban public university as to whether they uptake, resist, or transform these institutional values in their cross-context narratives about their experiences of military and academic life.

Results indicate institutional stakeholder tensions with some widely divergent values expressed among them. Military values expressions focus on living a purposeful life guided by ideals, selfless service, and teamwork. Advocacy values expressions focus on addressing psychological trauma as a paramount concern in veteran transition, the superiority of peer to peer support, and service through giving. Academic values expressions focus on acting as liaison to veterans' benefits and resources, diversity in learning communities, and the construction of knowledge. Student veterans' values expressions interact with these in diverse ways.

The student veteran narratives predominately reflect uptake of military values across both academic and military contexts, with relative silencing of those of advocacy and especially those of academia. Values in military and advocacy materials are expressed explicitly while those of higher education are generally implicit. Because of the implicit nature of academic values expression, learning what's important and how to fit in academia may present a more challenging, developmentally complex task for student veterans. A plot analysis of student veteran narratives reveals clear disjuncture in the focal issues addressed across contexts and the use of full resolutions in military narratives and tentative resolution strategies in academic narratives, leaving those narratives open and subject to revision through further experience and reflection.

I discuss the implications for psychological and educational research and practice of my findings that student veterans may continue to be guided by military values while participating in academic life and may be challenged in understanding and adapting to academia, a culture whose values are often less transparently expressed than those of the military.

 
 

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