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Do's and Don'ts of interacting with student veterans


It’s not surprising that it’s sometimes easier for veterans to talk to each other than to civilians who may not fully understand their experiences. But on campus, it’s important that civilians and veterans can communicate as members of the same college community. Sometimes veterans get frustrated because they are asked insensitive or inappropriate questions. Likewise, other students may feel uncomfortable talking to veterans because they don’t know what is appropriate and what is off limits.

Below are some tips from the University of Minnesota for respectful communication:

How to welcome veterans to campus:
• Welcome them home
• Express your appreciation of their service
• Offer to help with their transition to (or back to) campus
• Support with patience and listening
• Understand that the transition home is a process and can take time

Good ways to start a conversation:
• What was your job and where did you go while in the military? (Remember: while many do, not all veterans serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
• How are you and your family doing?

Topics to avoid when speaking with a veteran:
• Pressuring a veteran regarding specifics about their service they choose not to share with you
• Minimizing the challenges a veteran might face
• Making assumptions about any veteran’s political or foreign policy views
• Singling out a veteran without prior approval (let them choose who they tell about their distinction as a student veteran)

Inappropriate questions:
• Did you kill anyone?
• Did you see anyone die?
• Are you glad that you’re back?
• Do you have to go back?
• Do you think we are winning over there? Is it all worth it?

Remember, even when approached respectfully, student veterans might not want to talk about their deployment, which is completely understandable. Reaching out is still important, and you’ll most likely find there are many other things to discuss.