Columbia Veterans to Mark Veterans Day with Campus Reading

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Photo by Mark Franklin                       
Friday, November 11 is Veteran’s Day, and Columbia veterans are marking the occasion with various on-campus events. One of those will be a reading on the steps of Low Library at 10:15 a.m.; it’s organized in part by Army veteran Andrew Miller, a current student in the Writing Program and the Online Managing Editor of the Columbia Journal. We spoke with Miller about the event, the veteran community at the School of the Arts, and how storytelling offers an opportunity for veterans to share their experiences with the civilian population.
Tell us a bit more about how you’ll be marking Veteran's Day this year.

The reading on the steps of Low is being organized in connection with the graduate Writing Program in School of the Arts; the College of General Studies and its GSSC (student council) who helped fund last year’s event and are involved this year’s as well; the Student Veterans of Columbia (“MilVets”), who have also played a crucial role in funding and planning; and the deans of the School of General Studies (GS), who are always supporting and encouraging events like these: GS’s Dean Awn, who is well-known for his personal involvement in making Columbia a great place for student veterans, and artist and US Marine Corps veteran David Keefe, the Senior Assistant Dean of Student Veteran Initiatives. A lot of people have come together to make this event happen.

You’re working with a General Studies student, Andy Hurt, who is also a veteran. Tell us about your respective military backgrounds.

Andy’s a great friend and peer, in his early 30s like me, who served in the Marine Corps for 12 years. For my own part, I served as a captain in the Army, and completed six years of active duty. After meeting, Andy and I realized we both shared a passion for writing, literature, and discussions about that infamous buzz-term: the civil-military divide. We came at it philosophically, practically, and even cynically, and decided, as writers, that one small thing we could do about it was to have a reading on Veterans Day.
What kinds of work can we expect to hear at the reading?

You’ll have to come and see for yourself. Last year we shared poetry, a moving essay about the difficulties of truly growing beyond an identity tied to military service, a hilarious piece about—something I shouldn't put in writing: a vent, an appeal. Expect, this year, to feel provoked, appalled, entertained, saddened, maybe even emotionally drained. Expect to learn something.

There’s also a panel happening that day. What will be some of the topics under discussion at the panel?

The panel is being operated by CUCR (Columbia University College Republicans). Last year, CUCR’s panel emphasized representation among veterans, and was open to all students. I hope this year’s is similar.
How would you describe your experience as a veteran at the School of the Arts?

You never know who may have served in the military. When I came to the School of the Arts in the fall of 2015, I discovered that the three other veterans in the Writing Program were people of color, and two were women. That’s more diversity than you see in the military itself.

I'm quite overwhelmed by the number of opportunities for student veterans at Columbia. The College of General Studies and the MilVets student organization have become very, very good and very experienced at helping veterans with their unique struggles and unique interests. I think that there are already some exciting new developments on the way via GS and MilVets. And I’ve never felt unwelcome as a graduate student in SOA.

These planned events seem focused on the relationship between writing and the veteran experience. Tell us more about what that relationship means to you.

Wars are contradictions. People who fight in wars aren’t automatically good or evil, heroes or criminals. There’s plenty of both out there, to be sure. If Americans are to sincerely appreciate the luxury of citizenship without the obligation of a military draft, I’d like to make it as easy and accessible as possible for them to do so—through writing. I think veterans who are able to share have an obligation to. The contradictions of war are too heavy to be borne solely by those who are fighting them. Writing is one way to help a community understand what some of their members have experienced, participated in, and have been affected by.

Any other veteran-focused events on campus to look forward to in the near future?

Later on Friday, the MilVets of Columbia will be operating a float in the NYC Veterans Day Parade. The CUCR will have their panel that evening. And, on December 8th, there’s going to be another literary reading, in which SOA alumnus Matt Gallagher ’13, an Army veteran, will be involved. Events will also appear on our website as they’re announced. 

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.