The Clemente Course in the Humanities has empowered disadvantaged groups across the country through free, accessible, and accredited seminars since 1995. An NEH grant enabled the organization to launch the Clemente Veterans Initiative (CVI), hosting Dialogues on the Experience of War for struggling veterans in Phoenix and Seattle and veteran students at Antioch University Midwest and Indiana University, South Bend. The seminars combine history, classical and contemporary literature, and art that encourages veterans to reflect upon their journeys to war and back so that they might successfully transition to a second career of service.
“This program has helped me start to learn again. I have a [Traumatic Brain Injury] and learning has been very challenging for me. I feel like the nerve endings in my brain have started growing again.”
Combating isolation within the veteran community was one of the project’s primary objectives. Clemente works with community partners serving veterans to recruit participants who could benefit most from the program and brings veterans and civilians into dialogue with one another. For example, the Phoenix group was comprised of nine women veterans in a transitional housing program who had experienced homelessness. Several readings were written from the perspective of veterans’ family and community members, and participants were encouraged to invite guests to share in the experience. “Even having a few civilians come to these classes instantly changes the dynamic,” explains Jeb Wyman, who directed the Seattle Dialogues. “It allowed the vets to see themselves having these kinds of discussions in a larger community.” Wyman has been tapped by Humanities Washington to give a talk entitled “Coming Home: How the Humanities Help Soldiers Find Meaning After War” throughout the state.
The program’s impact continues to expand. A second NEH grant enabled Clemente to bring an extended version of the program to Boston, Massachusetts, Charleston, South Carolina, and Providence, Rhode Island for 2019. And Clemente has made the reader and study guides created for the Dialogues available to all 30 Clemente sites across the country, as well as community centers and libraries that have expressed interest in hosting their own programs for veterans. Through these initiatives, Clemente has made serving veterans across the country an integral part of its mission.