By Katie Guyot
When Ryan Stewart ’08 was serving as an armor officer in northern Iraq, he never imagined that five years after enlisting in the U.S. Army in April of his senior year, he would return to the Hill to take the position of director of class giving.
Considering his new title, it’s only fitting that he is now working to give the College the benefit of his and fellow veterans’ experiences in the armed forces.
Stewart started contacting veterans in the Kenyon community at the beginning of the semester, hoping to form connections between veterans from a variety of eras in recent military history. He has since received over a dozen responses, and the Kenyon Veterans Association plans to introduce itself to campus with an upcoming panel for a Veterans Day event sponsored by the Center for the Study of American Democracy.
“I had kind of been toying with the idea for a while,” Stewart said. “You know, just trying to band together to share our experiences, because it certainly is unique. When I got back to Kenyon, with the resources of my position, I was able to find other Kenyon vets, and that’s in the broader alumni community.”
Stewart decided to begin the project after discussing the idea of a veterans group with Campus Safety Supervisor Gregory von Freymann, a veteran of the Gulf War, as well as Stewart’s longtime friend and former rugby advisor.
“He had mentioned one time that he felt like Kenyon really didn’t do much with its veterans,” von Freymann said. “And, you know, I’ve been here for almost 18 years, and Veterans Day kind of comes and goes here. It really isn’t something that’s really talked about or celebrated. ﾅ I think [a veterans group] would be great for the community, because it kind of covers all bases: it covers not only students ﾗ because we do have students that are veterans ﾗ [but] all the way up to admin or staff people, and other community people.”
Stewart believes veterans can contribute to Kenyon’s academic mission by sharing their perspectives with the wider community. In Iraq, he found that the political science he had studied in college influenced ﾗ and was influenced by ﾗ his wartime experiences, giving him a new viewpoint that he would like to share with Kenyon’s academic sphere.
“It was very interesting,” he said, “because you read about Plato, Aristotle, the Virtues, how the world should be and what’s worth dying for, and there were many times when I stopped and asked myself, ﾑwhat is over here worth dying for?'”
The association had an informal meet-and-greet at the Kenyon Inn on Friday, Sept. 20. Kale Barber ’16 was the only current student in attendance.
Barber entered the Navy after high school in order to pay for college. The summer before boot camp, he attended a writing program directed by a Kenyon alumnus.
According to Barber and von Freymann, Kenyon doesn’t tend to attract many veterans as students or send many graduates into the armed forces. But, Barber said the College has been eager to accommodate his needs since he applied Early Decision in 2010, even after he had to defer for a year to complete his time in the Navy.
“You think of a lot of state schools, and sort of vocational schools, technical and IT jobs, and you think that those are the ones that really cater to that demographic,” Barber said. “While it’s true that Kenyon doesn’t really put their name out there in that way ﾅ I don’t think any of those other institutions cater to the veteran demographic as Kenyon does.”
Kenyon participates in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Yellow Ribbon Program, meaning the College grants financial aid to student veterans in addition to the funds provided by the GI Bill.
Assistant Professor of Arabic Jennifer Nichols, who wrote her dissertation on veterans learning Arabic and is working on a book based on her research, says Kenyon could do more to build its veteran community and to provide servicemen and women with the educational background necessary to become officers.
“I really feel that Kenyon has a lot to offer students who may be what we consider nontraditional, in that they may be a little older when they come to Kenyon,” Nichols said.
Nichols has long wanted to start a group to support veterans at Kenyon. She and Stewart met for the first time last Friday to discuss their expectations for the association.
For now, the group is still in its planning stages.
“I really hope that we can become a resource for Kenyon, but also a resource for each other,” Stewart said. “We welcome anyone who’s interested to tap into us, to help in the classroom or discussion.”