May 28, 2021 - News

Tampa-area university to offer the country's first 4-year veterans' studies degree

Illustration of a mortarboard with a camouflage pattern on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Starting in the fall, students at St. Leo University in Pasco County, Fla., can major in a veterans' studies degree to learn how to unpack and analyze the veteran experience.

Why it matters: It's the first university in the country to offer a four-year degree on the topic — and it's targeted at veterans and civilians alike.

  • Civilians might not have any other way to learn deeply about military experiences, especially in higher education, according to professor Ernest McClees.
  • And veterans can process their experiences and understand others in a way that creates self-love.

Flashback: St. Leo, which started as a military academy in the late 1800s, welcomed veterans returning from Vietnam as many other universities shunned them, McClees recounted.

  • Now, almost 45% of its student population is "military-connected," meaning they are either in the military, have been in the military, are a family member of a military service member or a veteran.

The program starts with a foundational course, looking at who veterans are, what it's like to serve and become part of the culture of the military, then transition back into society. Other courses include:

  • Legendary Warriors, a global and historical look at how veterans have been represented in literature, art, political speeches and other forms of media.
  • Native American Warriors and Veterans, a look at how Native Americans serve in high numbers compared to their small representation in America, and what it's like to serve your country and your tribe.

What you might learn: The concept that all veterans are plagued with trauma and PTSD is a fiction perpetuated in pop culture, said professor Karen Hannel.

  • It turns out veterans tend to experience the same or even less trauma than civilians, Hannel and McClees say.
  • After being in the classroom 28 years, Hannel has found veteran students are the ones who take the lead in "putting anxiety in its place." "They can be great leaders in the classroom who might be studying with that," she said.

The bottom line: "I think this gives someone a chance to fully understand their experience in a broader scope and be able to accept their place in the transition and their place in a larger society," McClees said.


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