For lent this year, I am giving up silence.
By speaking up as a veteran and for veterans, regardless of their social status, I am apparently committing a subversive act. I am confronting a status quo that not only has both actively silenced veterans, but has also cavalierly ignored them altogether.
Two days after Veterans Day in 2015, the president of of my alma mater convened a Town Hall for marginalized student groups with a university provost and an undergraduate dean. Student veterans groups were not represented and university administrators displayed no “intensive and inclusive” effort to reach out to this protected population, despite there being at least three active groups on campus at the time; Duke Armed Forces Association, Duke Law Veterans, and Duke Divinity Veterans Partnership. For reference, the university has had a legal responsibility to be aware of protected veterans as early as March 24, 2014, when the Final Rule on VEVRAA took effect.
The Bias and Hate Taskforce was formed that same month “to carry out a broad review of Duke’s policies, practices, and culture as they pertain to bias and hate in the Duke student experience.” This “intensive and inclusive” review included a series of “listening sessions,” none of which indicate any direct connection with student veterans associations active on campus at the time.
Listening sessions were convened at schools for faculty and students as well, including environment (March 2), business (March 22), policy (March 24), law (March 29), nursing (March 31), and divinity (April 4). While the sessions at schools themselves may have been inclusive of student veterans there, other sessions did focus on protected populations, including LGBTQ (March 3), African American (March 7), female (March 9), Muslim (March 11), and Jewish (April 13) students. No mention is made of the student veterans groups active at the business, law, or divinity schools, nor the Veterans Advisory Committee within GPSC, which
Meets to discuss matters dealing with veterans affairs in higher education and to draft policy recommendations that address the unique administrative needs of Duke graduate and professional students who are or have family members or friends that are former or current members of the US Armed Forces.
Furthermore, some of the listening sessions were conducted at sites with particularly active student veteran contingents, such as the business (March 22), law (March 29), and the divinity schools (April 4), the latter of which founded the university’s Student Veterans of America chapter. In fact, it was a divinity professor who served as the Chair of the Listening Tour working group (Final Report, p.59), but this person made no apparent contact even within his own school’s student veteran groups or individuals.
An Office of Student Affairs administrator has voluntarily adopted unpaid responsibility for veterans since before I arrived in fall 2010. This office had a Listening Tour session on March 31. The Vice President for Student Affairs is named as the party responsible for appointing the Bias Response Advisory Committee, (Final Report, p.23) who, with the unpaid volunteer controlling university resources, was made aware of multiple veteran concerns in 2012-2013 academic term. However, Student Affairs made no apparent effort whatsoever to apply the “intensive and inclusive” standard for reaching out to “traditionally underrepresented” groups on campus to student veterans. (2016 AAP, p.15)
Despite all the above, in May 2016, the Taskforce ended its work and entered an Implementation phase by publishing a “Final Report” which covered numerous protected classifications but left out any mention of veterans or veteran status.
The Everyday Discrimination Scale, outlined on pages 19 and 65 of the Final Report, was emailed to 4,544 students on March 21, 2016. It allowed for responses that included;
- Ancestry or national origin
- Another aspect of physical Appearance
- Sexual orientation
- Education or income level
- Physical disability
- Shade of skin color
- Political orientation
There are neither explicit nor implicit options above suggestive of “Veteran Status.” Veteran status is the only protected population not covered by the Taskforce’s Final Report.
Veteran Status was not added to the university’s Discrimination Grievance Procedure policy until November 7, 2016, after the taskforce completed its report. (first page, third paragraph) “Gender expression” did not appear prior to this date either, but unlike veteran status, it is dealt with in detail by the taskforce. (Final Report, pp.29 & 35) It may be argued that “gender expression” became enforceable under Duke’s Harassment policy as early as the report’s publication on April 30, 2016, nearly seven months before “Veteran Status” finally appears in Duke’s grievance procedures.
The total omission of protected veterans in the Taskforce’s work represents what the United States EEOC calls “disparate impact,” describing activity, like a listening tour or recommendations of the Taskforce, which results in “a different and more inhibiting effect” on a protected population. This profound oversight, from the top administration on down, creates limited access to resources and programs which most protected populations receive but which are effectively denied to protected veterans.
It is not always individual silence that harms veterans. It is often the silence of institutions and social groups. In situations in which the veteran community is divided, as I’ve experienced as a student, those veterans with the most difficulty often suffer the most. They receive the least resources, they face the stiffest challenges, and they stand to be the most alienated not just by the wider civilian community, but, worst of all, by their fellow veterans.
It is the responsibility of people and their institutions to protect the least of us. Silence is no longer an option, it is a betrayal.
 The Forum is also listed as a “community conversation” resource at https://spotlight.duke.edu/taskforce/campus-resourcess/
 According to university hosted site https://spotlight.duke.edu/taskforce retrieved December 3, 2016. A test on Archive.org to determine the age of this website found that it was first saved in March 2016; https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://spotlight.duke.edu/taskforce