UB receives grant from NEH to help veterans create meaningful belonging

BUFFALO, NY – A research team from the University of Buffalo has received a $ 100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a project that will help veterans create and maintain what is often a elusive but critical sense of belonging.

The grant is part of the NEH’s War Experiences Dialogues program, which uses the humanities as channels for veterans to think more deeply about issues raised by their military service and war experience.

UB will work with the Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo County and Erie Public Libraries, and the Western New York State Veterans One-stop Center on the innovative project titled “Developing a Sense of Meaningful Belonging Among Veterans ”.

“Our project goes beyond questions of how Veterans can readjust and reintegrate into society and aims to facilitate rich discussion and reflection on how Veterans find and develop a meaningful sense of belonging after their release, “said Vasiliki Neofotistos, PhD, associate professor of anthropology at UB College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator of the grant project.

Meaningful belonging is about having a shared and common experience that creates a sense of belonging and approval by society as a whole. It is a basic human need that enables people to positively manage stress and discover coping strategies, while contributing to their overall social and emotional well-being.

While the communities created within military units often foster a sense of belonging, finding a resemblance to this cohesion within society at large can be a challenge for veterans, a challenge that could require effort and direction. from outside sources and programs that provide advice on rediscovering that missing person at the end of military service.

This is where “Developing a Meaningful Sense of Belonging in Veterans” can harness the power of the humanities as agents to develop an understanding and appreciation of the shared human experience and obligations that members of the community have. society have towards each other.

“Our intended outcome is to support them in this quest using humanities-based sources so that veterans have a better opportunity to find this meaningful belonging,” says Neofotistos, who will work with co-researchers and colleagues from the ‘UB Lisa Butler, an associate. professor in the School of Social Work and specialist in the care needs of veterans and their families, and Bonnie Vest, medical anthropologist and associate research professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine with expertise in the field the health and well-being of veteran and military populations. Butler and Vest also co-lead Joining Forces-UB, a project dedicated to education and research related to veterans at UB.

“Developing a Meaningful Sense of Belonging in Veterans” begins with a program of readings and presentations organized by a team of veterans and experts in the humanities, social sciences and social work. The program includes historical writings, letters, fiction and video documentaries.

From that foundation, Neofotistos says six student veterans or recent graduates who have been deployed overseas will be trained to conduct a series of monthly discussions through October 2022 that will allow veterans to explore a different theme. each month: loss and suffering, disability, mental health, reconciliation, public memory and reintegration.

These monthly themes are opportunities for rich discussion, critical reflection, and deep engagement on how Veterans can build the supportive structures and social bonds that lead to meaningful belonging.

The first discussion cycle will take place at Hallwalls from September 2021 to March 2022. The central branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library will host the second cycle from May 2022 to October 2022.

In addition to the monthly discussions, the project also includes a photo exhibition and a public panel discussion at the Central Library scheduled for April 2022. The exhibit will feature selected images from “Odyssey: Warriors Come Home”, a photo exhibit that was the product of a Veterans Photography Workshops project, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts 2018. The exhibit features the work of 36 local veterans and ran from September to December 2019 in the CEPA Gallery from Buffalo.

“This is a great opportunity for UB and our community partners to use the humanities, critical thinking and analytical skills they inspire so that they can constructively serve veterans,” says Neofotistos.

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