Originally, fighting to add a veteran-friendly class to UC Santa Cruz’s curriculum was difficult for lecturer Dennis Tibbetts. With the support of Rep. Sam Farr (D-Santa Cruz), Tibbetts was able to create a UCSC class that became a source of knowledge about veterans for students and a place for veterans to feel welcome, called American Combat Veterans.
City on a Hill Press: How did you decide to teach at UCSC? Do you enjoy teaching here?
Tibbetts: My family wanted to leave the cold in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the warmth of California. I approached a few different college campuses to include a veteran awareness class into their curriculum, but I wasn’t having any luck. Sam Farr was very interested in a class of this kind being provided in his district. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me to the UCSC campus and Merrill College was interested in the course. Teaching here is great! These are the best students I’ve had in a long, long time.
CHP: Do you think veterans awareness is important at college campuses? Why?
Tibbetts: I think it’s important to create a presence when there’s an absence. It needs to be incorporated into the curriculum. Vietnam veteran stories weren’t in the curriculum [at different colleges I have taught at], almost as if they weren’t welcome. We have been at war for the past 10 years. This takes a toll on our country and our psychology as a country. War is so brutal. It takes a toll on the people in uniform and their families.
CHP: Do you think UCSC has a high level of anti-war sentiment?
Tibbetts: I have been teaching on this campus since 2002, and believe that the atmosphere here has changed from being unsophisticated to a more sophisticated campus. Previously, the students here perceived the military as being against the gay community because of its “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. I am in favor of gay individuals serving openly, but the students went about it in a way that wasn’t very productive. It seemed like the students were using the DADT policy to attack the military in a way that didn’t have a lot of impact.
Recruiters on campus are trying to recruit educated individuals, contributing more good people to the military. And good people change the culture in the military. I didn’t understand the protest against this. Good people will only make the military better. The military has to have really good people to be leaders — otherwise changes don’t happen. Even the Dalai Lama says that we need ways to defend people and ourselves.
CHP: How do you think this affects veterans in our community?
Tibbetts: Veterans have offices and infrastructure here to make them feel welcome. But a place in the curriculum is very important. It gives them an avenue. They can come to the class and always know it’s there. Who are they? What do they do? This [American Combat Veterans] class can help answer these questions for the community.
CHP: How do you think that learning about veterans and active military members benefits the students on this campus?
Tibbets: If you are 18 or 19, we have been at war for half of your life. There’s a lot of tragedy and sacrifice going on, a lot of money being spent. Even though it’s been going on for 10 years, the subject remains pretty untouched. Our society makes it easy to disconnect, but I believe as a citizen of democracy it is our responsibility to know who we are fighting and why we are fighting them. We can’t be disconnected.