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Creating Inclusive Spaces for SIS’s Military Students

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William Hubbard on military deployment in Puerto Lempira, Honduras.

SIS is proud to have many military students and student veterans in our community, as well as a number of faculty, staff, and alumni with military backgrounds. This Veteran’s Day, we spoke to Staff Sergeant William Hubbard (SIS/BA ’11) and SIS professor Terra Gargano about the importance of veterans in higher education. We also discussed how SIS and AU are working to support military students and student veterans on and off campus.

Waging Peace through Service

Hubbard has worked to promote inclusive campuses for student veterans like himself since joining the United States Marine Corps in 2006. For Hubbard, the decisions to enlist in the military and to attend SIS happened around the same time. He ultimately chose to attend SIS because of the school’s strong commitment to service, and continued his military service as a member of the USMC Reserve.

“Even the name of the school is unique,” says Hubbard. “There are a lot of schools of foreign affairs, but the School of International Service, both in name and in practice, was one of the only ones that had such a heavy focus on serving others.”

Ever since President Dwight D. Eisenhower called on SIS to “wage peace” in 1957, students, alumni, and faculty have embodied this charge differently. For Hubbard, he seeks to wage peace through his military service, where his skills and training oftentimes support peacebuilding and humanitarian work overseas. This includes his deployments to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and most recently, Afghanistan.

Over the last five years, Hubbard has been serving military-affiliated students through his work at Student Veterans of America (SVA), first as vice president of government affairs and now as the organization’s chief of staff. “Balancing a civilian life—such as going to school or having a full-time job—in addition to a military background has been challenging but also rewarding,” says Hubbard.

Hubbard, a registered lobbyist, has testified in front of Congress on higher education policy and veterans’ issues. He even played a crucial role in the passage of the “Forever GI Bill” that enhanced and expanded veterans’ and servicemembers’ educational benefits.

Building Inclusive Spaces for Military Students at SIS

As program director for the International Relations Online (IR Online) program at SIS, Professor Terra Gargano has supported students both as an administrator and faculty member in a program where 39 percent of current students are military affiliated.

Gargano, who is married to a veteran, noted the importance of AU’s Veteran Services Office in providing support and resources for student veterans on campus. She also explained the role SIS’s faculty plays in helping military-affiliated students accomplish both their professional and academic objectives.

Gargano explains that military students and student veterans often have unique difficulties adjusting to higher education and may require individual attention when transitioning from a military training environment to an academic one. In addition, military students, especially those who are active duty or in the reserves and can be transitioned or deployed at any time, may require accommodations for submitting assignments and completing coursework.

Despite the challenges that these students face in higher education, Gargano says that servicemembers bring a unique set of experiences to an international affairs education: “Because of the nature of what we teach at the School of International Service, it is often a benefit to have the experience of students who have been on the ground in conflict situations or have experienced first-hand some of the issues that we're talking about in the academic coursework. Making sure that military-affiliated students have an opportunity to share their experience when they want to in our classrooms can certainly enhance the learning of all students.”

Becoming a Leader on Veteran Inclusion

At both SVA and here at AU as an advisory member on the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, Hubbard continues his work to make campuses across the country more inclusive for student veterans and military-affiliated students.

“Developing a campus environment that both understands and reflects the experiences of those who serve in the military is a key component of making campuses a more inclusive space,” Hubbard explains. “Understanding what the concept of veteran inclusion is and figuring out ways to make it meaningfully apply to their campus—that’s the best thing that any university can do.”

In Hubbard’s opinion, AU is doing very well as a campus when it comes to veteran inclusion, noting President Burwell’s commitment to supporting student veterans, their families, and their allies on campus. Hubbard hopes that AU will take a leadership role in this space and encourage other universities to take on similar practices to support veterans on their campuses: “I think the opportunity that exists at present is for AU to really become a leader—if not the leader—in student veteran inclusion for the country.”