Group works to connect WVU faculty, student veterans

MORGANTOWN – There are a lot of misconceptions about veterans and West Virginia Green Zone is working to improve the environment for veterans on campus.

“In my mind the best thing it can serve is tearing down stereotypes of veterans,” Ed Olesh, WVU Veterans Club president, said. “Every movie you see vets are always combating PTSD and digging foxholes in the back yard. That’s not real life and that’s not what PTSD is.”

The group connects faculty members and student veterans to enable WVU to work more effectively with its student veteran population, Tom Sura, English professor and faculty advisor said.

Sura said his own journey into veteran issues began several years ago when a veteran advocate told him that English 101 and 102 — mandatory classes — were stumbling blocks for some veterans who had been away from an educational environment for too long.

Sura said during his research into what “veteran friendly” meant he discovered the issues surrounding veterans were complex and he found them compelling. He later met Howard Davidson, a veteran, who asked for his help with Green Zone and “the rest is history.”

The group combines academic research on student veterans with real lived experiences. Sura said veterans are encouraged to corroborate or challenge the findings of research with their experiences.

The groups are kept small and the discussion informal — both as a courtesy to veterans. Small groups to help those bothered by large crowds and the informal nature of the conversation helps stimulate it. Oftentimes language that is considered obscene in an academic setting is expected and normal to a veteran, Sura said.

He said the face-to-face interaction is valuable and just as valuable are the conversations that happen after group meetings.

“People get a chance to talk and to understand in a way that doesn’t happen with text on a website,” Sura said.

Both men agree the conversations help and the reception by faculty and staff has been positive.

“The people that volunteer to come already realize that vets have given something and they want to make sure they’re accommodating because they realize that sacrifice,” Olesh said.

He said Sura has done an amazing job and opened a lot of eyes about issues facing veterans.

Student veterans bring a lot of strengths to the institutions and classes they are part of, Sura said. Veterans tend to be older than a traditional student. Veterans also tend to be goal-oriented and mission-driven and many have leadership experience.

“They can be tremendous assets in a classroom or institution when given the opportunity.”

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