From combat to college: safe space training meant to ease veteran’s transition into the classroom

Story by Nate Beck, Staff Writer

Wake up. Train. Work. Sleep. Do this six days a week and on Sundays, clean the barracks or go to church.

Jacob Nutt spent the summer before his sophomore year at UW-Eau Claire going through 14 weeks of basic training in Ft. Benning, Ga. But the toughest part was walking back on campus after a three day layover, he said.

So when Nutt’s National Guard unit was called up for voluntary service, he jumped at the chance to go.

“Transitioning from active duty to the university thing wasn’t easy for me,” Nutt said. “They put me in a spot where I said it would be much better if I was in Iraq right now.”

Military Education Benefits Coordinator Miranda Cross-Schindler said the transition from military rigor to college freedom is often a hurdle to success for many veterans.

Cross-Schindler, along with non-traditional student coordinator Bonnie Isaacson are hosting a veteran safe space training session this Tuesday for university faculty and staff. The training aims to educate staff members on how to be an “ally” to veteran students.

Cross-Schindler said vets often have an age gap, injuries or families to worry about on top of school. The session on Tuesday will prod faculty to understand challenges veterans face.

“I think a lot of them (vets) feel like instructors talk to the class as a whole as if everyone is a traditional age student,” Cross-Schindler said. “Ninety-eight percent of the people are going to be, but for the two percent, they feel left out.”

Cross-Schindler said the university plans to hold training sessions each semester. The last session, last spring, was better than she expected — a standing room only crowd of faculty crammed into a 30-seat classroom, she said.

Faculty that attend the course will receive a placard declaring they have been safe space trained, a token Cross-Schindler said will let vets know who to talk to.

Cross-Schindler returned from military service in 2001 and graduated from Eau Claire with two bachelor degrees. She said although her college career went smoothly, many vets may have a tough time re-adjusting after duty.

“You shouldn’t assume all veterans are having issues,” Cross-Schindler said. “This training is dealing with combat veterans who have been in a different type of military situation.”

When Nutt returned from a nine month tour of duty — eight months in Iraq and one in Kuwait — he waited before jumping back into school.

“I think it takes a couple months of decompression, at least for me,” Nutt said.  “You’re community centered. You do everything together, it’s tough going from that to being with a roommate who seems to hate you.”

Nutt worked detainee operations in Iraq. He said he pulled 72 hour weeks, making friends not only with service members, but Iraqis as well.

Nutt said the university should waive cultural credits for vets. He said while working in Iraq he filled three notebooks with Arabic.  His service overseas was more of a cultural education than he could have ever gotten a classroom, he said.

Isaacson said spots like the Veteran’s Center on campus play a part in helping veteran students adjust.

“I think veterans generally settle in well on campus,” Isaacson said. “Certainly there could be some frustrations with transfer of credits through military courses they have taken that don’t transfer into the university here.”

Isaacson said the goal of Tuesday’s meeting is to spread faculty awareness of challenges vets face and work toward being a “listening ear” for vets on campus.

“We try to work off of a model here at Eau Claire,” Isaacson said. “Our motto is: they served, we care.”