STJ Ph.D. Student Leads Reading & Discussion Group for Veterans

Ph.D. Student Leads Reading and Discussion Group for Veterans

STJ Article, Thursday, March 17, 2016

Adding to St. John’s University’s support of military veterans, Sheeba Varkey ‘18Ph.D., a doctoral fellow in the Department of English, has launched a free monthly reading and discussion program for vets in the Institute for Writing Studies. “Serving: Standing Down” runs from February 17-April 14, 2016 and consists of six sessions each Wednesday from 7-8:30 p.m. in the University Writing Center.

Participants in the group read weekly excerpts from Don H. Whitfield’s anthology Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilianand use discussion of the text as an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and the challenges and opportunities of transitioning into civilian life after service. “The participants talk about the literary text, and each week there’s a theme, like assimilation or combat,” said Varkey. “They relate their own experiences to the text, and talk about generational difference in military experience.”

The group is part of a New York Council for the Humanities program in partnership with The Great Books Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Varkey, at the encouragement of Anne Ellen Geller, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of Writing Across the Curriculum, applied for the grant as scholar-facilitator. Varkey’s interest in the topic arose because her brother, John Thampi ‘05BSEd, ‘15MSEd, is a veteran. He assists the discussion group by helping to build its website and Facebook group.

Said Varkey: “I think I expected, based on my pedagogical experience, that I would have to guide the discussion explicitly, especially if participants aren’t necessarily students of literature. I think what I see instead speaks to the power of literature to open up dialogue and provide a space to engage in discussion on some difficult topics. The participants have a lot to say, and connect in amazing ways to the literature pieces and to their own experiences.”

St. John’s University, a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program, has a long-standing commitment to serving military veterans. The University recently opened a Veterans Success Center to support veteran students as they transition from military service to University life. The University ranks among the top military-friendly universities in the country.

“Serving: Standing Down” is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. For more information, visit or e-mail The group also has a Facebook group and a private YouTube channel that allows participants to tune in to the discussions remotely. “The online interest is also a new avenue that I didn’t expect,” said Varkey. “People [view the live sessions from] places like Missouri wanting to see and engage with the material on their own terms.”


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