It was a head-turning moment — an epiphany really.
On a warm morning in June 2022, Karen Gavigan, then interim director of the School of Information Science, and Christine Shelek, the previous director of the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy, headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Metrolina Conference. The conference was for librarians from across all of South Carolina and North Carolina.
On that June morning a member of the Wilkes County, North Carolina, Public Library System began speaking about the county’s veterans book club. While in North Carolina, Gavigan and Shelek heard from members of the veterans book club, and they were automatically intrigued.
“It was just very powerful hearing them share their lived experience. It is cathartic for them to talk about it,” Gavigan said.
During the drive back home, the idea of, “Can we make this happen in our community?” stuck in their heads. Gavigan and Shelek began thinking seriously about the idea of a veterans book club and thinking of their connections that could make this possible.
The University of South Carolina is No. 1 in the nation for its Department of Veteran and Military Affairs. What better way to bring it all together? Gavigan was determined to bring this idea to life.
She called a meeting with Elizabeth Hartnett, program coordinator for the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy, Grace Salter, former director of outreach and engagement for Veterans and Military Affairs at the USC, and Jared Evans, director of military engagement and veterans initiatives. She proposed the idea of having a veterans book club for the campus. Everyone was on board.
“I asked the office of Veteran and Military Services to name this club because they deal with active duty and veterans every day,” Gavigan said. “And they came up with Words and Warriors and that could not have been more perfect.”
The School of Information Science serves as a sponsor for Words and Warriors. Gavigan, Hartnett, Salter and Evans all serve on the board for Words and Warriors. When the time came for the first meeting, they were all nervous about the turnout.
“Our expectations were exceeded,” Gavigan said. “We had men and women of all different ages come from different branches of the military. Some were active-duty; others were veterans from different time periods. It was just so cool and very powerful,” Gavigan said.
There are over 400,000 veterans in South Carolina and eight different military facilities throughout the state. The audience is there for Words and Warriors to be a comfort zone for many of the university’s own veterans and their active-duty and veteran friends.
“Words and Warriors has provided a platform for our department to continue to emphasize and highlight the university’s commitment to serving our veteran and military population,” Evans said.
On March 17, Words and Warriors hosted its third meeting and first ever guest speaker, Lowndes F. (Rick) Stephens, who graduated from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications in the early 1960s. He is now a Distinguished Emeritus Professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Stephens retired in 2011 after a 37-year career as a professor. Stephens served in the Reserves for 23 years and received various awards during that time.
Stephens referred the group to the role of the media in times of war. He led the group discussion, sharing his experience of media in his time of service, and invited others to do so as well.
“It’s important that we continue to provide settings where veterans and military service members can come together in a comfortable atmosphere to discuss topics that impact us all,” Evans said. “The diversity of service we see from those who attend and the robust conversations we engage in have been an incredible value-add. that can positively impact our veterans and shape new narratives for our community moving forward.”