Northeastern graduate making female veterans feel less ‘invisible’ with help from the George W. Bush Presidential Center

person wearing army uniform
Tracy Threatt’s research found that female veterans were often “sitting on the sidelines and silenced.” She’s looking to change that. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As Tracy Threatt was researching websites for veterans service programs at different colleges, she noticed that the veterans pictured were very diverse—except for one thing.

“I asked my supervisor, ‘do you see a woman in here?’” recalls Threatt, a counselor at Central Piedmont Community College, who received her doctorate in education and leadership from Northeastern University in May.

The answer was, “no.” 

headshot of Tracy Threatt
Tracy Threatt. Courtesy photo

“So, I said, ‘that needs to change,’” says Threatt, who is now bringing awareness of female veterans to the national stage. 

The 59-year-old U.S. Navy veteran was recently named as a scholar in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

“This program will be phenomenal in so many ways—for the networking, and to be among those other leaders and to learn from them, and to contribute what I can contribute,” Threatt says.

Threatt currently works with veterans as a counselor and advisor at Central Piedmont CC, one of the largest community colleges in the state of North Carolina. 

But school wasn’t always a comfortable place for Threatt, who was diagnosed with a learning disability later in life.

“I was the worst student ever. I wasn’t being productive,” Threatt says. “I finished three-and-a-half years of college and absolutely hated school.”

So she decided to join the Navy as a junior enlistee in 1988.

“I convinced my mother I was going to join the Navy and get discipline, then finish college,” Threatt says.

In the Navy, she got more than discipline, however. She got confidence.

“The leadership side pulled out,” Threatt says. 

Moreover, the ranking system and the ability to move up the hierarchy even without a college degree appealed to her. 

“I became Ms. Navy,” Threatt says. “I just loved everything that it stood for.”

Threatt served seven years of active duty. Then, while also serving in the Navy Reserves, 

Threatt kept her promise and returned to school. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and became a certified rehabilitation counselor. 

About a decade later, while working at Central Piedmont CC, Threatt decided to get a doctorate from Northeastern. The focus of her research was female veterans who transitioned out of the military and into college. 

“I wanted the women to tell their stories,” she says. “I wanted to hear what they would say.”

Through her research, she found that female veterans were “sitting on the sidelines and silenced,” as Threatt describes it.

“Even in my office, women vets wouldn’t come in until they see I’m female,” Threatt says. “Female veterans feel as if they are invisible, so they act as if they are invisible.”

Thus, Threatt says few women veterans identified as such—many of them feeling that they would be stereotyped as having post-traumatic stress disorder or as having experienced sexual abuse.

Threatt says most veterans services are geared toward men. There’s also a lack of information about female veterans. Threatt says she is disturbed by how many homeless women are veterans—yet there are few statistics documenting the issue.

“There’s lots of research and literature on veterans,” Threatt says. “There’s not a lot of research focused on women veterans.”

These issues, and others, are familiar to Andy McCarty, director of the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Servicemembers and Veterans at Northeastern. He said there are about 650 veterans and servicemembers across Northeastern’s 13 global campuses. Getting connected with women veterans has been a priority.

“We want to engage with them, offer support from them, get them involved in a thriving veterans center, but that’s been a challenge for us,” McCarty said. “We would love to get them involved, come in, take leadership roles.”

Threatt wasn’t involved with the Dolce Center as a student—she attended classes at Northeastern’s Charlotte campus—but as a counselor for 1,200 veterans, Threatt has come up with ideas to help female veterans succeed in higher education. It coordinates well with her Bush Center honor.

In addition to attending leadership conferences throughout the year, the scholars work on a project for the benefit of veterans. 

Threatt says she wants to develop a “welcome aboard” resource packet for female veterans entering college, and establish a mentorship program where female veterans can learn from each other and be connected with community resources.

She is particularly glad that the Bush Center breaks up the roughly 30 scholars into cohorts where scholars act as “accountability managers” for their peers’ projects.

“I think that this program will help me because I have a lot up here, and I have to narrow it down,” Threatt says, tapping her head and laughing. “It’s going to make a difference in so many women’s lives. I’m super excited about the final product.”

So is McCarty.

“We’re excited about what Tracy’s doing so that we can learn from her and learn how to better support female vets on campus,” McCarty says.

Cyrus Moulton is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @MoultonCyrus.