University of Vermont

University Communications

Iraq War Veteran Turned Poet Highlights 5th Annual Diversity Initiative Conference

Turner
Iraq War veteran and writer Jon Turner will give the keynote address at the free conference.

The 5th Annual Diversity Initiative Conference “Teaching and Practice in Times of War” on Thursday, March 13 in the Davis Center’s Silver Maple Ballroom will focus on the impact of war and its diverse implications for faculty, students and community practitioners in education and social services.

The free conference, sponsored by the College of Education and Social Services Faculty Committee on Diversity Initiatives and the Dean's Office, kicks off at 3:30 p.m., with plenary and informal breakout sessions on topics that include giving voice to returning veterans and refugees of war, veteran-informed higher education, veteran-informed services, and others. The goal of the conference is to promote dialogue and reflection about a wide range of issues facing higher education related to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The CESS faculty, staff, and students are committed to working collaboratively with the Vermont community to address the important social issues and concerns," said Fayneese Miller, dean of the College of Education and Social Services. "The decision to focus on war and teaching reminds us that within the UVM community, diversity is multifaceted and rich. And, if we truly are committed to preparing students ready to embrace notions of social justice, we will need to present them with the materials that will allow them to think critically about war."

Highlighting the event will be keynote speaker Jon Turner, an Iraq war veteran who served as an infantryman in the Marines from 2003 to 2007 before returning home to write about his experiences in a variety of publications including Warrior Writers, a veteran-focused arts organization dedicated to creativity and wellness through writing, painting, photography, and a host of other mediums to reflect their war-time experiences and to articulate them creatively.

“Through creative expression I have been able to address the effects of post-traumatic stress and maneuver through the emotions that are a direct result of my time in conflict,” said Turner, who was deployed three times and received a Purple Heart. “I’m looking forward to speaking at UVM and really enjoy the student demographic. Students who have friends that went to war think they will be the same when they come back, but it’s not the case. My focus in the past was on my wartime experience, but that was difficult to re-live every day and as I began to heal, art became a catharsis and medium to deal with my emotions. It’s a model that can work for students or anyone who has had conflicting emotions with trauma. They can adopt it as they see fit to benefit their own needs.”

Turner, who will help conduct a workshop at the conference, recently published a book of poems titled “Reasons to Find a Stream” that examines the difficulty of healing from war-time experience and the re-integration back into society. “I write because I have to write, and if I deny myself that I’m denying my experiences that allow me to progress and move forward,” said Turner, who first started keeping journals in Haiti. “You can walk around with these thoughts and try to deny them, but they never go anywhere unless you allow that voice to be heard and create something with it.”

Information: Cynthia Reyes, creyes@uvm.edu, Susan Roche, sroche@uvm.edu.