The Veterans Book Club has been providing a safe and welcoming place for veterans from campus and the community since 2015. Three or four times a year, Librarian Rhonda Culbertson and Dean of Library Services Vicki Bloom host the book club on campus. The initial focus of the book club was to provide a safe and welcoming space for student veterans who were transitioning into college life after the military and give them the ability to bond with others over books. The first book they read was about how to improve veteran services on campus. Since then, they have read poetry, short stories, long-form journalism, graphic novels, and everything in between. Whatever the medium, each book has touched on a subject that most veterans, especially student veterans, can relate to. The club has also had several different facilitators over the years, some of whom were the authors of the books themselves. While reading a book on the Veteran Affairs Healthcare system, the club was able to Skype with the author who was a physician.
There is a wide range of veterans who frequent the book club. Vicki commented, “I think it’s interesting because you get all of these different people’s perspectives. We’ve had someone from the Gulf War and we’ve had someone from the recent War on Terror. We’ve had people who have been in combat and who have not been in combat.” The book club even attracted the attention of former Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, pictured below. Despite the nature and location of their service, everyone’s perspective is listened to and respected. “It’s not just veterans,” Rhonda pointed out. The club includes students, faculty and community members with no personal military background who are interested in history and learning more from our veteran community.
When asked about the most inspiring and interesting moments in the Veterans Book Club, Vicki had this story to share: “One very moving moment was when a man talked about his Vietnam War experiences. He told us that he had never told people some of the things that happened because the way he was treated when he came back negatively affected him. But he shared them with us.” Rhonda has developed a greater appreciation as a result of the book club: “I’m one of those many Americans who have zero connection with the military or veterans in my own life. Just getting to know these folks has impressed me on such a high level.” Although Vicki has a personal connection to the military, participating in the book club has deepened her understanding of the veteran experience: “You get a real sense of the comradery that occurs and why they feel so close to the people that they served with.”
Rhonda and Vicki both defined their community engagement as a way of allowing others to have a different viewpoint of college and of IU South Bend. “I think it breaks down this ‘ivory tower’ concept and shows us as real people,” Rhonda commented. “It also promotes lifelong learning, because you can always learn from reading whether you agree with the material or not,” Vicki continued. Although some of the topics are hard to discuss, and the stories told are sometimes difficult to share, “it’s just really good books and really good conversation.” All are welcome to the next Veterans Book Club meeting on March 26th. This meeting will take place 5:30pm in the Franklin D. Schurz Library and will feature Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. For more information and to get a copy of the book, contact Rhonda Culbertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.