CJP Students Host Silent Witness Project on Campus

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Michael McAndrew, a graduate student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, hangs dog tags from a tree branch.

Pass by a particular tree outside the main entrance to the cafeteria and you might hear the distinct tinkling of a sound similar to wind-chimes in the Fall breeze. Pass by closer and you see the sound comes from a myriad of dog tags resting on the branches.

The dog tags commemorate Unit- ed States veterans’ lives — lives lost each day of the year due to war veterans committing suicide. Michael McAndrew and Katrina Gehman, two graduate students at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, have undertaken an independent project to raise awareness for veterans suffering from PTSD related traumas.

Every single day of the month of November, they will hang twenty-two dog tags on a branch which signifies the number of veteran’s deaths from suicide which occur every day in the United States.

In an email sent to all students, McAndrew and Gehman state that, “Not all casualties of war are left on the battlefield. Coming home from war can be as difficult as going to war.”

And that point is the focus of the project. On Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day, in Common Grounds, Gehman will present her research on the project, a task that has a personal connection for her.

Gehman, having had friends return from stints abroad and subsequently seeing the silence that followed when topics of war surfaced in conversation, felt motivated to work on this project in tandem with McAndrew in an attempt to raise awareness for the situation.

Dog tags hang from a tree branch on the EMU campus in honor of the Silent Witness Project.

Dog tags hang from a tree branch on the EMU campus in honor of the Silent Witness Project.

This has been a succesful attempt because awareness has been raised. Jared Christophel, Senior, says of the project, “There are a bunch of [relevant world] issues today people don’t even realize exist because of a lack of awareness.”

He thinks the dog tags idea is a good method for drawing attention to an issue previously not recognized. Gehman gave a brief synopsis of her presentation, some of which included the disconnect between the veterans themselves, the government, the military, the media, and the families of those who are serving or have served. All of these factors, plus more unmentioned contributors, play into the neglect felt by many veterans, which can lead to alcoholism and suicide. According to Gehman, grief is a necessary step in breaking out of trauma. And grief is the one thing that veterans have a hard time coming by.

There has to be acknowledgement of the deeds done during a military term. But because of the perhaps false media coverage idealizing the life of an infantry soldier, or marine, people who have never served any military time cannot perceive, and thus cannot provide adequate help, to those returning from terms of service.

The grieving period is neglected, therefore the veteran falls into dangerous habits of excessive drinking and perhaps other inadequate coping mechanisms.

This is not the case for all veterans. But it is an easy route for many to fall into.

Gehman, in order to relate the experience to EMU students, said it is similar, in a way, to what a student experiences on a cross cultural trip. The U.S. military is a culture unto itself.

Those entering must learn the new culture, adapt, and return home. And with learning and becoming part of a new culture comes the obligatory culture-shock period.

Veterans need just as much, if not more, time to readjust to a previous way of life. And EMU’s campus, being a pacifist community, can make a large difference in the grand scheme.

“Pacifist communities such as EMU can sometimes distance themselves from the military, which can potentially lead to a lack of compassion for those who suffer within it,” said Gehman.

But to see a pacifist community embrace the thing which it is perceived to stand against shows the real level of compassion within a community.

In Common Grounds on the evening of Nov. 11, Gehman will present her full project presentation.

-Chris Yoder, Staff Writer; photo credit, Michelle Mitchell


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