When thinking about veterans, powerful words come to mind.




But what does it truly mean to serve? How do service members reacclimate to civilian life once active duty ends?

Understanding the complexities of veterans requires a level of thought beyond the surface.

“Consider the societal impact of the GI Bill, how it changed the entire country. Think about the historical link between veterans and Social Security because of the need to protect veterans and their families. Consider the trauma veterans face on a daily basis and the dynamics of military families,” said Jim Dubinsky, co-founder of the Virginia Tech Veterans in Society initiative. “Studying veterans and veteran identity combines the fields of sociology, psychology, history, literature, bioscience — even engineering and physics to name a few. Veteranology is transdisciplinary.”

To promote a more nuanced dialogue about veterans, the Virginia Tech Veterans in Society and the Veterans Studies Association will sponsor “Conversations in Veterans Studies” on May 18 from 2 to 5 p.m.

The virtual event will combine opportunities for formal and informal conversations with veterans studies scholars around the world, including Dubinsky.

“Among our top goals for this event is to engage with our growing community of veterans scholars and provide a lively site for discussing important topics,” said Dubinsky, who also serves as an associate professor and the founding director of the Professional Writing Program in the Department of English.

The Zoom registration link is available here.

Following a brief orientation, the symposium will feature a keynote panel discussion centered on Willard Waller’s historical sociology of veterans. Waller’s 1944 book, Veteran Comes Back Home, aimed to help Americans better understand the vast number of veterans who would soon return to society from World War II.

Panelists will address Waller’s legacy and his book’s adequacy as a guide for the 21st century. The discussion will also address questions such as: What emphases, assumptions, and omissions in Waller’s account should today’s policymakers, scholars, and citizens confront? Which of his ideas have stood up as bases for inquiry into veteran-society interplay through other interpretive lenses?

In addition to Dubinsky, speakers will include the following members of the Virginia Tech Veterans in Society and the Veterans Studies Association:

  • Jim Craig, associate teaching professor in sociology, University of Missouri at St. Louis;
  • Nancy Dallet, associate director, Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, Arizona State University;
  • Eric Hodges, assistant professor of political science, Longwood University; and
  • Bruce Pencek, college librarian for social science and history, Virginia Tech University Libraries.

Following the panel discussion, the symposium will enter breakout sessions. Attendees may choose a session based on the topic of their choice. Topics include: research methods, collaborations, and questions; veteran identity; media representations and cultural productions; patriotism; and publishing in veterans’ studies.

Attendees will then reconnect to continue the discussion before learning details about the 6th annual Veterans in Society conference, scheduled for 2022 at Arizona State University.

Dubinsky and Pencek co-founded Virginia Tech Veterans in Society in 2011 along with then-graduate student Eric Hodges. The Veterans in Society, or ViS, conference series launched in 2013 and encourages research and engagement transcending the boundaries of stereotypes, nationalities, eras, and modes of military service.

The Veterans Studies Association, a co-sponsor of the March 18 symposium, is a nonprofit organization based in the United States. Additional sponsors include the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Center for Humanities.

Through partnerships with veterans programs across the country, the Virginia Tech Veterans in Society initiative calls attention to the value of understanding diversity among veterans, military families, and their interactions with civilian societies.

A veteran himself, Dubinsky said the “Conversations in Veterans Studies” symposium is open to anyone, regardless of background.

“Through this event,” said Dubinsky, “we hope to bring people together for conversations and new lines of inquiry to advance veterans studies.”

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation for the symposium, contact Joe Forte at 540-231-2677, 540-358-0859, or joeforte@vt.edu during regular business hours prior to the event.

Written by Andrew Adkins