A new Veterans Humanities Initiative seeks to better understand the experiences of veterans through community events.
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While many universities are divesting from humanities initiatives, the University of Missouri isn’t backing down. This spring, MU is launching the Veterans Humanities Initiative, a series of community engagement events aimed at helping the university community and general public better understand the experiences of veterans through storytelling, creative writing and scholarship.

The initiative is led by the Center for the Humanities, a research center recently created within the MU College of Arts and Science. The center is dedicated to advancing humanities research, collaboration across disciplines and public scholarship — with the ultimate goals of deepening intellectual exchange and better understanding the human experience, particularly for underserved populations like veterans.

“One of the main missions of the Center for the Humanities is to engage with the community by bringing arts and humanities to populations where arts and humanities don’t traditionally have a prominent role,” said Phong Nguyen, co-director of the Center for the Humanities and a professor in the MU College of Arts and Science who is leading the Veterans Humanities Initiative. “Our main goal with this initiative is fostering an open dialogue with veterans and military connected individuals by creating programming for them and listening to — and learning from — them.”

The initiative’s kickoff event is a partnership with the Missouri Humanities organization, and many of the initiative’s engagements will be free and open to the public. The first event, “Military Service/Literary Solace: A conversation with Veteran Writers,” will take place April 18 at 6 p.m. at the State Historical Society of Missouri. A panel of four prominent veteran writers, representing three different military branches, will discuss how writing helps them reconcile with their military experiences.

“The event will showcase how one’s life experiences in the military can inform artistic work, and vice versa,” Nguyen said. “The experiences of veterans are sometimes quite extreme, so individuals from both our university community and the general public are invited to learn from and benefit from hearing about these experiences.”

Lisa Carrico, program director for Missouri Humanities, said bringing veteran writers together through MU’s initiative will allow them to build camaraderie by relating to what other veterans have gone through.

“By inviting veterans to open up, we as civilians can hear their perspectives and gain empathy and understanding, which is what the humanities is all about,” Carrico said. “The humanities plays that connector role, and by giving veterans a platform to tell stories that often go untold, we encourage the preservation of stories and can feel more connected to our friends and loved ones who have served.”

As part of the initiative, other 2024 events will include writing workshops for veterans and their families, as well as a public lecture discussing the history of the military’s approach to post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health.

Keith Glindemann, director of the MU Veterans Center and member of the initiative’s committee, added that the initiative is a great opportunity to engage veteran students in community outreach.

“MU has a strong support network for student veterans,” said Glindemann. “This initiative adds to that and is a chance for us to showcase some of our talented veteran students who are writers. As I previewed some of the writings, I was amazed at the creativity expressed.”

The MU Center for the Humanities’ Veterans Humanities Initiative is a multi-part series of engagements that seeks to understand and process the Veteran experience through creative writing, scholarship, and storytelling. Offered in collaboration with MO Humanities, many of the engagements are free and open to the public. To learn more about joining the Veterans Humanities Initiative as a participant, please contact Phong Nguyen at nguyenpv@missouri.edu.