Monday marked a national holiday that has traditionally passed unnoticed on EMU’s campus. However, two students are hoping to change this by starting a dialogue between veterans and EMU. The event was organized by Michael McAndrew, a student at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, and Katrina Gehman, also a CJP student.
According to Gehman and McAndrew, the event was to be “an evening of dialogue and reflection, to honor those who have paid the ultimate price of war.” The night also included a presentation by Gehman, which summarized her findings on the difficulties veterans face as they attempt to reintegrate into society, and how those difficulties could lead to suicide.
The event was attended by 30 to 40 people, primarily graduate students from CJP, professors, and community members, although there was a small group of undergraduate students as well. Gehman began the event by speaking briefly about ways in which her background as a Mennonite had made her uncomfortable when dealing with the topic of those who served in the armed forces. However, Gehman rejected this traditional fear of the military, saying, “If pacifists or Mennonites are reluctant to interact with(former)military personnel due to a fear of keeping their own identities intact,that to me is a tragedy–because both veterans and civilian pacifist folk have a lot to learn from each other and can both help each other learn how to work for positive change in the world.”
She then went on to present research which highlighted the relationships between veteran’s organizations, community members, and social groups, which play a role in reintegration following military service. After the presentation, Senior Aaron Erb expressed his support, and affirmed that many points struck home. Erb was also impressed by the nature of the event. “The presentation was very technical. She [Gehman] collected a lot of information.”
After Gehman finished, McAndrew, a veteran, took the stage and briefly shared about how he personally dealt with problems of reintegration and suicide following his time in the military. McAndrew said that he hoped stories like these could help the EMU community understand and support veterans returning home. McAndrew said, “what I hope comes from our conversation is a sense of the great injustice that some American veterans who have taken their own lives feel, and what we as a community, and as individuals, can do to heal this hurt and honor their dignity.”
The night culminated in a vigil, centered around a campus tree which was hung with over two hundred dog tags, to represent the twenty-two veterans who take their lives every day. Following the event, Gehman expressed her hope that the night would start a conversation on campus. Gehman said that the dialogue could “begin a conversation with a mutual sense of understanding, which is vital for reducing politicization and therefore a polarization of identities which only serves to further divide people.” The sentiment was echoed by McAndrew, who said that he hoped the night would be helpful in “encouraging a more active conversation about what it means to be a citizen of a country that is at war all over the world.”
McAndrew and Gehman will continue the conversation throughout November with noon meetings, which they say will “honor and remember those who have suffered and served.”
-David Yoder, Co-Editor in Chief
Tags: David Yoder