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Composition Forum 28, Fall 2013

From the Editors

Christian Weisser, Michelle Ballif, Alexis Hart, and Roger Thompson

This volume marks the third special issue of Composition Forum. Readers may recall our first special issue in Spring 2006: Volume 15, focusing on Composition and Location, guest edited by Christopher Keller. Owing to the success and interest in that special issue, we offered a second in Fall 2012: Volume 26, addressing Writing and Transfer, guest edited by Elizabeth Wardle. We thank our readers for the many positive comments and reviews of that issue, and we are particularly pleased that it has been cited so frequently in recent conversations within the field about transfer. With this third special issue, we hope to make the specialized focus a more frequent offering in Composition Forum, while also recognizing a topic of utmost importance and relevancy: Veterans and Writing. Guest Editors Alexis Hart and Roger Thompson have compiled an array of insights on the subject of veterans and writing, and to our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive inquiry into the role of writing and Post 9/11 veterans within writing studies. We are honored to provide a forum for this vital conversation. Guest Editors Hart and Thompson provide a summary of the contents of Volume 28 below.

Along with this volume’s special focus on veterans, we also wish to recognize and remember Susan Miller, Professor of English Emerita at the University of Utah, who passed away in February 2013. Susan was a member of Composition Forum’s Editorial Board for more than a decade, and her contributions to this journal, to our editorial staff and readers—and to the field of rhetoric and composition—are just too extensive to chronicle here. Susan was interviewed in 2002 by Anis Bawarshi and Mary Jo Reiff, and that interview appeared in Composition Forum Volume 13.1. Bawarshi and Reiff, who are now Program Profile Editors of this journal, have written a Retrospective on that interview for our current issue. We invite readers to consider these two pieces and to share their responses and memories of Susan on Composition Forum’s Weblog.

We continue to use our blog to disseminate news and updates about the journal more quickly, and we encourage readers to contribute other timely and pertinent thoughts and information to the blog. Add our feed to your newsreader to receive alerts about new volumes of Composition Forum and other news from the field of rhetoric and composition. Please send questions or comments about the Composition Forum website to

From Guest Editors Alexis Hart and Roger Thompson:

At the 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), Marilyn Valentino used her Chair’s Address as an opportunity to acknowledge the rapidly growing demographic of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans entering college writing classrooms. She noted that nearly 500,000 veterans had entered college during the previous year and that many of those new students brought with them the after-effects of war, both physical and emotional. Valentino’s comments, which end with the assertion that “we do have an ethical obligation to react responsibly” to veterans in the classroom, came seven years after a resolution adopted by CCCC encouraging student writing about wars waged by the US Government:

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that we encourage teachers of writing and communication at colleges and universities across the country to engage students and others in learning and debate about the issues and implications of the Iraqi war and any other acts of war perpetrated by the United States of America.
—Resolution 3 of the Executive Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, March 22, 2003, New York, NY

The Resolution calls for debate and conversation about war, and it arises from the desire to have college writers think critically about the worlds they inhabit as students, as citizens of the United States, and as voters in a democracy. The drafters of the resolution, who issued the document within two years of the outset of the “War on Terror,” likely could not have predicted the length of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and they could not have anticipated the number of veterans that would flood two- and four-year colleges after passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the unprecedented and well-documented level of emotional trauma that many student veterans and their family members face, or the significant “military-civilian gap” that would characterize their return to civilian jobs and schools. In other words, the drafters of the CCCC initiative probably did not foresee many of the complexities that would emerge from the organization’s desire to encourage communication teachers to prompt discussion of “acts of war perpetrated by the United States” in their classrooms. According to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) Blue Ribbon Task Force for Military and Veteran Education, since 2009, more than a million veterans have attended institutions of higher education in the United States, “and the number of veterans, spouses, and dependents using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits grew 84 percent from the first to the second year of the benefit” (3). Given the realities of the current influx of veteran students and family members, as well as the lasting effects these wars and their veterans will have on the broader culture, however, we now need to ask ourselves whether we should encourage students to write about war (a topic that has understandably become commonplace in college writing classrooms) and, if we do, whether we are prepared for the types of writing that may emerge from student veterans and their family members. As Valentino’s remarks make clear, we as writing instructors need to consider carefully how an influx of “warrior writers” may alter our composition classrooms and to keep in mind the changing demographics of student writers when deciding what type of writing topics we assign and what kinds of writing support (and personal support) we offer to our students.

This special issue of Composition Forum offers college writing professionals some insight into the attitudes toward writing and classroom learning that many student veterans may have as well as insight about the writing experiences that student veterans may have had prior to entering our composition classes. The authors and interviewees featured in this special issue also suggest some ways in which writing professionals can be attentive to student veterans as writers and as individuals with stories to tell outside of the traditional classroom. In many cases, our contributors include the words of veterans themselves, and they actively engage with the complex range of experiences veterans and their families have when making the transition from military to civilian life. That transition is often underscored in writing classrooms, where close faculty-to-student interaction and peer engagement frequently result in disclosure of personal lives and professional experiences outside of school. If we believe, as many of us do, that writing functions as more than academic and job preparation, then attuning to the narratives of experience that animate our students’ work and work habits is necessary to facilitate meaningful writing experiences in class.

Accordingly, we begin the discussion with Molly Moran’s interview of psychologist James Pennebaker as a way to begin our consideration of how we, as composition specialists, can acknowledge and respond to personal experiences veterans may disclose in their writing. Pennebaker’s research on the ways in which writing about emotionally charged events can help to alleviate the negative health effects of trauma is among the most-cited work on trauma and writing, and his long-standing interest in written expression has allowed him to cross the disciplinary divide between writing studies and psychology (he chairs the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin). In 2008, he spoke about using writing to facilitate recovery from trauma in a featured session on writing and healing at the CCCC, and while Pennebaker’s research establishes clear benefits to writers who learn to compose coherent narratives about traumatic events, he urges compositionists to be cautious about having students write about their emotional upheavals (whether related to war or not) for graded class assignments. Former CCCC’s Chair Marilyn Valentino also encourages writing instructors to be mindful of the types of assignments they design as well as the genres of texts they ask students to engage with, especially in light of the increasing numbers of student veterans (many of whom have witnessed emotionally charged events) entering our classes, and she particularly urges WPAs to include training on veterans’ issues in their faculty development schedules.

The first essay provides WPAs and writing instructors a brief taxonomy of Post-9/11 veterans and highlights transition challenges these former military members often encounter when returning to civilian life. Sue and William Doe employ the concept of “residence time” to suggest ways in which civilian employers and college professors can value the workplace literacies of veterans in order to facilitate a gradual transition from military service to civilian workplaces and classrooms. In the following essay, drawing on interviews of ten Marine student veterans, Corrine Hinton focuses more specifically on how former service members describe the experience of transitioning from the training and writing situations they encountered in the Marine Corps to the learning and composing expectations they faced in college composition classes. Hinton then calls for a complication of the novice-to-expert paradigm that informs many approaches to teaching academic writing in higher education. Michelle Navarre Cleary and Kathryn Wozniak also draw upon interviews with student veterans in their article, in which they “propose Malcolm Knowles’s six principles for adult learning as an asset-based heuristic for investigating how writing programs and writing teachers might build upon existing resources to support veteran students.” In the final essay, which moves outside the classroom proper, Eileen Schell offers writing professionals an overview of three existing community writing groups for veterans and provides recommendations for beginning, conducting, and sustaining such writing groups.

Schell’s careful articulation and explanation of the value of forming writing groups outside the traditional classroom provides a touchstone for Darren Keast’s program profile. Keast describes his motivation for proposing and developing a “veteran friendly” composition course that would fulfill the established outcomes of the first-year composition program at the City College of San Francisco, and he notes that “[m]aking room for these students, some of whom [will have been] on the battlefield just months or even weeks before arriving on campus, [requires] modifying existing approaches.” His profile is a reflection on one model for rethinking composition in light of war.

The final two pieces provide resources that composition instructors may find useful in developing curricula. Mariana Grohowski reviews two Web-based projects that highlight the voices of student veterans transitioning from the military to higher education and calls upon readers to be more attentive to hearing these voices, not just listening to them. She considers ways in which these projects or new ones modeled on them can be incorporated into composition classrooms. Lydia Wilkes, in her review of two print memoirs, also encourages writing instructors to bring the voices of veterans into composition classrooms in an effort to encourage active participation “in the democratic experiment, [use] present circumstances to prepare students for the future, and [foster] clear thinking in a tumultuous time.”

This collection aims precisely at moving our discipline toward “clear thinking in a tumultuous time.” While most US military forces have withdrawn from Iraq, and those in Afghanistan are scheduled to end major combat operations in 2014, the effects of these wars will linger for a generation. With the US economy experiencing slow progress and the Armed Forces decreasing the number of active duty members, the number of veterans seeking to earn college credentials is likely to increase over the next few years. In addition, our society will be responding to the effects of these wars—on military members, on their families, on our culture—for decades to come. Military family members will continue to use GI Bill benefits for the foreseeable future, and those with families displaced by war will also find their way to US colleges and universities, populating our classrooms with students whose experiences of war will be inexpressibly different than those of our military families. Given these realities, now is the time for writing teachers to take into consideration the ideas broached in this special issue and to listen carefully to the veterans’ voices that speak not only in these articles, but in our classrooms and our offices.

Works Cited

APSCU. Report of the APSCU Blue Ribbon Taskforce For Military And Veteran Education. Washington, DC: APSCU, February 2013. PDF.

Taylor, Paul, ed. The Military-Civilian Gap: War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era. Pew Research Center, 5 Oct. 2011. Web.

Return to Composition Forum 28 table of contents.