Citation: Gonzalez, C., & Elliott, M. (2016). Faculty attitudes and behaviors toward student veterans. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 29(1), 35-46.
Why Is This Study Important?
There is a growing presence of student veterans on college campuses. Many veterans who return from active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other recent areas of conflict are enrolling in postsecondary education. Physical and/or psychological injuries including such diagnoses as PTSD, TBI, and depression are requiring disability based accommodations in college settings.
Student veterans with disabilities face unique challenges in the college environment. Research on the experience of student veterans in college has identified barriers such as being uncomfortable in crowded auditoriums and having a feeling of not fitting in on campus. Some student veterans have expressed discomfort with interactions with faculty who voice liberal views on military issues. To date, research has focused on student perspective and experience, but what do we know about other factors? How do faculty experiences and attitudes influence this interaction?
Carlene Gonzalez from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Marta Elliott from the University of Nevada, Reno conducted a study to explore this topic. They wanted to know more about what predicts how military -related issues are treated and supported in college classrooms.
Research Methods in a Nutshell
The authors surveyed college faculty from two campuses, one a community college and one a four-year university. They sought out faculty who taught courses that met general education requirements (e.g., English 101) since that would increase the likelihood of getting input from faculty who were teaching student veterans.
The researchers developed a survey instrument with questions for faculty related to three broad areas: (1) how much contact they had had with the military throughout their lives, and including close friends and family in the military; (2) information about on the job contact with student veterans including how they viewed student veterans in comparison to other students; and (3) the manner in which the military came up in class.
Some Key Findings
Contact with the military. Not surprisingly, the more contact with the military a faculty member had experienced throughout his/her life the more often military issues came up in class. These faculty were also more likely to be supportive and willing to help student veterans if needed.
Faculty perceptions of veterans. Faculty who indicated they thought highly of veterans (e.g., they were more deserving of a college education given their military service) were more likely to bring up military issues in class and be willing to provide support.
Institutional differences. Faculty respondents from the community college reported being more willing to help student veterans and support their success.
Unrelated faculty characteristics. Equally important in the findings of this study was the fact that gender, age, job rank, years teaching, political party affiliation, fiscal conservatism, and social conservatism were not related to the manner in which military came up in class or the faculty member’s willingness to help student veterans in their classes.
The authors identified some possible weaknesses of the study. They noted the sample size was small (n=160) and they considered the response rate to be low (51%). There was a possibility they had overrepresented faculty who had served in the military or worked in a community college setting. They also observed in retrospect that the survey questions had perhaps not been subtle enough to distinguish between positive and negative student experiences in the classroom. They merely asked faculty about the frequency in which military issues came up in class.
The authors recommend some approaches to addressing the issues identified by the study. Provide training for faculty and staff on topics related to military service. Greater awareness of topics such as mental health and transitions from military to civilian life can serve to enhance campus sensitivity to these issues. Identifying individuals as campus liaisons for student veterans helps students navigate the postsecondary environment by having an informed and supportive network. Increase faculty awareness and sensitivity of non-visible disabilities that may be experienced by student veterans. One strategy the authors recommend is to include a statement in class syllabi encouraging student veterans to privately self-identify to instructors. The authors caution that the goal of training should be to increase faculty sensitivity and awareness of these particular student issues, and not an attempt to change faculty members’ opinions regarding the military.
Want to Know More?
Read the full report of findings as well as additional suggestions for enhancing the college environment at: https://www.ahead.org/publications/jped/vol_29
Scroll to issue 1 and select your format of choice (Word, PDF, MP3, Daisy).