May 23, 2018

Servicewomen and female veterans sought for SIU service project

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Women have long been a vital part of the United States military and a service and research project at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is underway to preserve their stories.

Bobbi Knapp, associate professor of kinesiology with cross-appointments in sociology and women, gender and sexuality studies, has partnered with the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Arlington, Va., for this special oral history project.

Female veterans sought

All women who currently are or who previously have been part of any branch of the U.S. military are invited to participate. That includes women who have served or are serving in the U.S. military, whether active duty, reserves or National Guard.

In addition, women from military organizations, such as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) from the World War II era, are encouraged to share their stories.

Participants can reside anywhere. Those who live in the region will be interviewed in person, if possible, while others will be interviewed by telephone.

A little time preserves the record for posterity

Knapp and graduate students in her Gender and Sport course began interviewing female veterans this spring about their experiences in the military. The interviews will continue this summer and wrap up by the end of the year.

The oral interviews take just about an hour to complete. Then, both the taped interviews and written interview transcriptions will be sent to the Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, where they’ll be stored in the archives and shared with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. Thus, these stories will preserved for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

Knapp will also analyze the narratives, exploring the ways the women develop and maintain their identities as military service members.

To participate in the project or learn more

Any female service member or veteran who is interested in participating, or who would like more information, may contact Knapp at or by calling 618/453-3324.

Email is the preferable method for contact as participants will need to complete some paperwork prior to the interview.

Previous service/research project paved the way for project

In conjunction with a service learning fellowship Knapp had at SIU two years ago, she and graduate students in her gender and sport class conducted interviews with current and former female military members in conjunction with a different service/research project. For that study, 28 women from across the country were interviewed. The focus was on how involvement in sports prior to joining the military impacted their military service.

“What we found with the previous project was that there were a number of positive impacts the women who had previously been athletes experienced upon joining the military due to that previous athletic experiences, including mental toughness, ability to engage in teamwork, experience with leadership roles, physical preparedness and the ability to deal with large numbers of women in often-small living spaces,” Knapp said.

These interviews were also recorded. Transcripts and oral interviews were sent to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation archives and were incorporated into the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

Knapp focusing much of her work on gendered experiences in the military

Conducting and studying the initial interviews led to more questions for Knapp and her students, so this year’s project is addressing “another aspect of the larger puzzle,” Knapp said.

“We’re exploring how women begin to identify as military members, how they maintain that identity over time and how they negotiate that identity with that of a woman in a culture that still, at times, sees the two as opposing concepts,” she said.

Knapp said much of her work these days, including research, service and teaching, is shifting direction toward a focus on military gendered experiences.

She also recently joined a research group with the Service Women Action Network (SWAN) from Washington, D.C., whose goal is to better understand issues servicewomen and female veterans face in order to advocate for solutions. The group’s current research involves analyzing mental health services for women veterans.

Original project led to award

Knapp was chosen to present information about the 2016 service learning/research project at the Midwest Sociological Society Conference earlier this spring.

She also received the Jane Addams Outstanding Service Award at the conference. This award is presented in recognition of someone who “embodies the passion, dedication and activism of Jane Addams through efforts to improve the status of girls or women” either through a sustained record of service or for more intense short-term efforts, according to the society’s webpage.