Last week, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center held a conference titled “Narrative-Making in the Aftermath of War” as part of a year-long interdisciplinary program on the human impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Held in the McCune Conference Room in the HSSB, the two-day conference hosted faculty, student veterans, military dependents and guest volunteer participants who spoke on their experiences in recent wars.

IHC Director Susan Derwin, a professor of German and comparative literature, said the event was held in an effort to shed light on the difficulties veterans often face when reintegrating into society and the importance of expression and writing during this transition.

“This is a conference that is devoted to exploring the impact of writing and the role of writing in helping veterans reintegrate in the aftermath of war. It’s an exploration, a conference with people who are involved in helping with that integration,” Derwin said. “It is a conference that includes scholars and artists, mental health professionals and veterans. Everybody is thinking about the role and impact of narrative making and how it can help in the process. I’ve been teaching a course on this campus for several years.”

Derwin currently teaches a writing course that aims to aid student veterans and military dependents at UCSB by encouraging exploration of their pasts through writing. Derwin said forms of expression such as writing serve as an important tool for veterans coping with traumatic experiences.

“It’s very useful [for the veterans] to get their memories out of their head and onto the paper. They’ve enjoyed exploring in the workshop writing that enables them to think of both difficult times. They’ve enjoyed or found it compelling to write from different perspectives,” Derwin said. “[The event has] been devoted to exploring the impact of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the soldiers who fought in them, the community affected by them and the countries that have been affected by them.”

U.S. Army veteran Victor Orta, a UCSB alumnus from the class of 2010 who served in combat in Iraq, shared a story from when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. Orta recounted the event from the perspective of his squad mates as well as a personal point of view, which included a brief blackout period.

“[People] hear on the media that today, so and so got hit by a roadside bomb. But [they] never actually see what’s going on and how it sticks with us for the rest of our lives,” Orta said. “People who have heard [my] story can now relate to what they to see on the media. People can now visualize the story I told, which is a common occurrence there in Iraq.”

Third-year economics and accounting major Michael Chavez described the difficulties and challenges he encountered as a military dependent. Chavez said his family’s involvement in the military was a huge factor in his life growing up.

“My brother went into the military when I was 14. With my father gone, I became the man of the house. It was hard and stressful because my mom was worried about him and was always thinking the worst,” Chavez said. “I was the person she would always talk to and it made me emotionally strong to deal with that pressure. It opened my eyes to the world, and I became a man sooner than normal people would have because of all these things I had to go through.”

Chavez said he hopes the event will impact the community in a positive way by educating the campus on student veteran stories and struggles.

According to Orta, one of the biggest challenges for veterans is the transition out of military service and back to civilian life, especially considering the potential loss of financial security. However, Orta said veterans’ past experiences give them strength and resilience as well as an appreciation for life.

“Don’t see veterans as victims. Even though this happened to me, I’m not a victim, I see myself as a stronger person. I went through something that could have killed me and I’m still here,” Orta said. “There is real stuff going on throughout the world. You don’t even know that there may be veterans, who have gone through those ‘real experiences,’ sitting right next to you in that classroom.”

Orta said he always envisioned himself eventually attending UCSB throughout his time in Iraq.

“I remember sitting in Iraq with a buddy of mine, it was like 120 degrees outside, and he was telling me how beautiful the UCSB campus was,” Orta said. “So he was describing UC Santa Barbara to me in 2005 Iraq and ever since, it has been a goal of mine to have to go to that school. I made it my next mission.”



A version of this article appeared on page 1 of April 29th, 2013′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.