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Women veterans of color feel out of step in higher ed. More could be done to help

A Black female soldier sings at a microphone while wearing her uniform. U.S. and military flags are behind her.
Spc. Nathan Hoskins, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
Wikimedia Commons
Shreveport, La., native Spc. Kimberly Taylor, a vocalist for the 1st Cavalry Division Band, moves the audience as she proudly sings "I am a Believer" during the Women's History Month celebration hosted by 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Div. at Camp Taji, March 19, 2007. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Nathan Hoskins, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)

Veterans face unique challenges when transitioning into a higher education setting. That's especially true for women of color veterans, according to a small study recently published.

The study was supported by the Office of Naval Research at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and originally intended to explore the experiences of all veterans. But Rachel Saunders, assistant professor of counseling at the University of Cincinnati, and her colleagues noticed four similarities unique among women of color.

Saunders says that includes their fight for visibility among primarily male peers, marginalized academic identity, a sense of no belonging, and suppressed and redemanded identity.

She says researchers explored, "What does it mean to be a woman of color? What does it mean to be a student? What does it mean to be a veteran? And then...how it plays a role in their transitional experiences and their educational attainment, as it relates again, to those intersecting identities?"

The study is titled "Bended womanhood bended back: The intersection of race, gender, and culture in women of color veterans and their transition into higher education." It included a total of 10 women: six Black, two Latinx, one Asian, and one multiracial woman. Four of them were mothers. Researchers interviewed them, some more than once, to get the full scope of their stories.

"They really didn't feel like they had a place to belong in higher education, that the veterans office was not for them. But also student organizations were not for them, again, because of these different identities and how they all intersect together," Saunders said.

But despite the unique obstacles they face, they were still finding ways to thrive.

Saunders said the women created communities and support systems for themselves off-campus, independent of the university.

"I think that's important to highlight that even though they didn't have a sense of belonging, that they really struggled to feel that they were accepted in these places, they showed critical insight and resilience that evolved because those intersecting identities," she said.

Pointing out the unique challenges these veterans face could play a major in improving the services available to them. University officials can examine ways to target veterans who are in different minority groups.

She said workers on campuses can ask themselves, "Hey, have we thought about this population? If not, what can we do to make sure we are? And if we have been working with them, have we thought about these themes that we're seeing and how we could best support them?"

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.