A 2014 Women’s Center Reflection

A Reflection by Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers.

As our world transitions into the winter holiday spirit, I am less than eager to celebrate this year. I am sad, angry, and feeling hopeless in the wake of grand jury decisions that are rooted in deep injustices and a system that does not work for all. When I look back on 2014, I’m tempted to just call it a wrap. Nothing positive to reflect on this year, folks… let’s pack it up and move on. Yet, the top lists of 2014 (here, here, and here) keep circulating through my social media feeds and I keep coming back to this reflection, digging for ways to find hope. I found it in re-reading the story of our new Women’s Center logo. Loyal. Constant. Strong and Resilient. Season to Season. Survival. Growth. In the face of injustice, the Women’s Center continues to grow its roots and extend its branches to keep doing the important work of growing intersectional feminism and cultivating critical social justice.


With this as inspiration, my list is easier to write. Here’s some of my favorite Women’s Center moments of 2014. What are yours?

Introducing our new Women’s Center logo to the UMBC Community
In January 2014, we rolled out our new logo. We wanted and needed a logo that would speak to the depth of all the Women’s Center is and can be for our UMBC community. We found it in the Wye Oak tree. What’s just as exciting is that conversations and brainstorming for the logo inspired us to revisit the mission statement of the Women’s Center. After a good run of almost 20 years, it’s about time we update it! We’ve spent a great deal of 2014 reflecting deeply on who we are and who we want to be and we’re excited to do another introduction of our new mission statement in 2015.


It was the inaugural year of Critical Social Justice

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With 17 events and 15 co-sponsors, Critical Social Justice was successfully launched despite the polar vortex and a campus snow day. The theme of Engaging in Difficult Dialogues was explored in various ways throughout the week and called us all to think about the meanings and challenges of social justice from many different angles and across different spaces. The keynote address was brilliantly delivered by Jay Smooth who provided important strategies for engaging in difficult dialogues (check out his How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist video) and the importance of using our privilege to help “carve out a space” for the underrepresented and people rendered invisible in our world (for more on that, check out this awesome video). Later in the year, Reina Gossett came to campus as part of the CSJ line up in the fall and highlighted the lives of trans activists, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson and challenged us to reconsider history knowing so many marginalized people’s experiences are “written outside the archives.”
Just as importantly, every time I talk about Critical Social Justice I feel called to name the fact that a student staff member was the person who first envisioned CSJ. Amelia Meman spent her first semester working in the Women’s Center crafting the idea with support and nuance from our Coordinator, Megan Tagle Adams, to get it to the important initiative it is today. Once again, I’m reminded that the work of social justice doesn’t have to be a waiting game. You don’t need to wait until you’re deemed a leader or figure head or have been cited as an expert. It’s everybody’s work and everybody’s job.

For more on CSJ 2014, explore #CSJ2014 on Twitter or check out the CSJ website. And, get excited for CSJ: Creating Brave Spaces coming to UMBC February 16-20, 2015!


The snow didn’t stop us from Taking Back the Night

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One of my favorite song lyrics sings “this year April had a blizzard just to show she does not care” and that repeated over and over in my head as I watched huge chunks of snow begin to fall outside at this year’s Take Back the Night. Only on this cold night in April, UMBC community members did in fact care so very much. Over 250 community members packed themselves on to Main Street and listened for almost two hours to over 20 students who shared their experiences of sexual assault at the Speak Out. They then marched throughout the Commons to help take back the night and spread awareness that rape and sexual assault are not UMBC values and must stop. So take that snow!


The launch of our new roundtable series

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This year we officially said good bye to our long standing film series and instead offered a new roundtable series. Our first three roundtables (in February, September, and November) explored the intersection of race and gender and provided thought-provoking conversations in addition to validation and supportive space for UMBC community members to share the personal ways race and gender influences their lived experiences. With our largest crowd edging over 60 participants, we’re looking forward to what the spring line-up of roundtables will bring!

Presenting at the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference

NWSA 2014
While this favorite memory of 2014 may not directly impact everyone in our community, attending and presenting at NWSA was pretty awesome. First of all… bell hooks and Angela Davis were there and did not disappoint in their speaking of important truths and calls to put intersectional feminist into action. Three Women’s Center staff members also presented at NWSA. Student staff member, Amelia Meman, and our coordinator, Megan Tagle Adams, led two roundtable sessions addressing women of color voices at women’s, gender equity, and sexuality centers. They created important space to recognize the work of women of color working in women’s centers and the barriers they face as they navigate and disrupt the historic and present white-centrism of women’s centers. And, after spending almost a year researching, interviewing, coding, and writing, my research team finally did our first presentations together exploring the activist strategies that students use in their sexual assault activism work. We were able to share the ways these activists are specifically using social media as a tool to create awareness about sexual assault on their campuses and advocate for institutional and legislative changes. Overall, tons of learning to be had by all of us and we hope we’re better staff folks for the Women’s Center and UMBC community because of our learning experiences at this year’s NWSA conference.

Awesome Blog Posts and Staff Members

Fall 2014 Staff Photo
I don’t know about you, but I read every post on this little blog page of ours. We spend each staff meeting assigning writing deadlines to student staff members, and I’ll be honest, sometimes, I feel like writing is one of their least favorite assignments. Then, they post these amazing stories about their lives and important reflections about their experiences (I’m not kidding… read this and this and this  and this for starters). They allow themselves to become vulnerable and raw in their writings in a way that truly reflects the spirit and values of our Women’s Center community. Beyond their writing, our Women’s Center staff members show up to work each day with a fierce commitment to making the Women’s Center a better place. They challenge me to grow and push me to be brave. The Women’s Center wouldn’t be us without the important work our students do. I’m thankful for them.

Just as importantly, throughout 2014, our older (and newer) programs and groups continued to serve as cornerstones to the Women’s Center community. We now have a peer-to-peer mentoring program for returning women students and two of our Newcombe Scholars (Amy and Melissa) were featured on the Class of 2014 website. Rebuilding Manhood just wrapped up its 5th cohort experience. The Women of Color Coalition continued to gain momentum and participation. Between Women entered into its third year of providing important space for LGBTQ women’s voices. The Spectrum community met on a weekly basis to provide meaningful and revolutionary space for trans students to simply be them.

Newcombe Panelists - Oct 2014

Perhaps our country is indeed on a brink of a movement of change. If that’s the case, this year’s reflection leads me to believe the Women’s Center community and its members are ready to rise up and be counted in the fight for justice.

Black Lives Matter and Mental Brave Spaces

When discussing the concept and implementation of brave spaces, a lot of the conversation revolves around the idea that these spaces are inherently physical. We speak of transforming places into brave spaces, designating that certain locations at certain times are deemed an acceptable place to problematize and challenge the dominant power structures in society and the influence that they bear on our opinions and beliefs in conversation with others. What we never speak of is when we create these brave spaces within our own minds, grappling with these same concepts in a way that is more self-reflexive than would be in dialogue. Even though the majority of the time, these mental brave spaces do not come tethered to a specific time or location, they are still important to recognize as a valid form of creating brave spaces. The creation of these mental brave spaces are critical in that they allow people to take their individual connection to dominant power structures and problematize those relationships on their own terms. This is not to say that physical brave spaces don’t allow for the same sort of agency in choosing when to challenge oneself, but to argue that creating mental brave spaces allots for a more personal reflection on these dominant power structures at the pacing of the individual.

Before the rally and march for Justice for Eric Garner last Thursday, I was terrified. Not only for my life, but that I would not have the mental capacity to deal with facing the reality of racial injustice and police brutality. The conversation was everywhere, and I was actively engaged in it, but I did not know to what extent I was mentally and emotionally prepared to be a part of the activism in action. I was aware of the issues of police brutality and racial injustice, but I hadn’t ever been a part of something that had the potential to bring harm to me like the rally and march did. After deep and critical thought on the issue, and almost deciding that I could not bring myself to attend the rally and march, I decided to go. This was my mental brave space: challenging the conditioning that I’d had that caused me to fear the police as a black male-passing individual. The rally itself wasn’t designated a brave space, and there were no guidelines set up or enforced that would make it into one, but my complication of the effects of police brutality and racial injustice on me personally were what made me feel as though I was enacting a mental brave space.

Attending the protest is something that I will never regret, but I know that if I had chosen to stay home, if I had chosen to continue to exist in the fictional safety that society has constructed for those who remain complicit within a system, I would have always wondered. I can’t say that I would have regretted not attending, as I will never know, but I can say that I count myself lucky for having the tools to problematize my own fear and uneasiness and view them within the constructs of racial injustice and police brutality. Knowing how to operate within a physical brave space, and thus having the ability to create a mental brave space for myself, I believe that I was well-equipped to see why it was important in that moment for me to overcome my fear and attend the rally and march. Many of those present at the protest, without the knowledge and language of theory, were able to eloquently express the very same ideals that I’d been taught in my classes while seeming to have created mental brave spaces for themselves. Learning to navigate brave spaces, whether physical or mental, and whether taught through theory or self-learned, is a skill that I believe is becoming critical in this transformative time in our lives.

Treat Yo’self!

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Ask any of my friends who know that I’m an avid fan of NBC’s Parks and Recreation and they will tell you that I live by the motto “Treat yo’self!” Not only do I use it as an excuse to splurge on that extra pairs of shoes that I definitely don’t need or to snack on a large side of fries, but this phrase that has become such a buzzword (buzzphrase?) urges me to practice essential self-care that results in the preservation of my physical, mental, and emotional health. Although despite what some may think, it isn’t always easy. Because we live in a fast-paced society that pushes for hard work and productivity, self-care can sometimes be viewed as lazy or selfish. As college students, many of us probably feel guilty when we abandon our textbooks for even an hour to catch up on our favorite Netflix series. (I know I do!) But here’s the truth: self-care isn’t selfish. It’s required for our survival. When we become so involved in our classes and our work and our various time commitments, it’s easy for us to become drained and unmotivated. Self-care is what refreshes us when we need it most. It’s like a fresh glass of lemonade on a hot day; it replenishes our bodies and minds and renews our ability to interact in the world around us.

Because it has been about six months since my last blog post on self-care, I have been reflecting on how self-care has changed over the past year in my own life. Since the start of the new school year, I have been extremely busy trying to balance my time between a full class schedule, two part time jobs, an internship as a student teacher at a local elementary school, and some sort of resemblance of a social life. As much as I enjoy all of my commitments, I have to admit that I’ve felt pretty burnt out and unmotivated at several points throughout the semester. My need for self-care has been at an all-time high. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that self-care is more than just a form of stress relief. While stress relief is meant to lessen the burden of our physical and emotional tension after it has already hit us, self-care is meant to prevent burn-out. It’s an act that should be practiced before we are feeling like we’re at the end of our ropes. My experiences this semester have turned me into a firm believer that self-care should be practiced in some capacity at least every day, even if just for a couple minutes. For those who work in helping professions, taking care of yourself is an essential first step in being able to help others. As a student teacher who happens to fairly introverted, I find myself needing to practice self-care every day in order to just keep up genuine interactions with others. Although I usually get less than twenty minutes for lunch every day, I try to spend that time reading while I eat to clear my mind. Even though it may not be an extensive amount of time, it’s important to sprinkle in a little self-care whenever you get the chance.

In honor of practicing self-care in preparation for finals week, here are some of my favorite ways to unwind and appreciate all that I do for myself:

  • I’m a huge fan of hiking and unwinding in nature. If this form of self-care appeals to you too, Maryland State Parks have some great trails of hikers of all levels.
  • Who isn’t obsessed with youtube videos of adorable lemon beagles doing adorable things?
  • Reading is one of my favorite forms of self-care because it allows me to escape from my busy mind. Here are some free books that you can read online.
  • On Dealing with negativity
  • 33 Quotes to Inspire Self-Care
  • Making a Comfort Box
  • The Quiet Place Project

Want to learn more about self-care? Stop by the Women’s Center between 10am and 5pm on Tuesday, December 9th through Thursday, December 10th to practice the “art” of self-care through open-house events focused on DIY self-care.

Self Care week flyer 2

meelz’s [semi]monthly mixtapes: thinking of all of you

With this playlist, I just wanted comfort and to work through the tangles of relationships. I wanted to explore the complexities of love in individual relationships and in networks of relationships. All of the depth–or maybe the lack thereof–in the joy, the frustration, the passion, the calm, the tears. This playlist rests on the simultaneity of our love and our connection.

Go have a lil’ listen.

crywithemotions

On Self Love and Testosterone

Halloween was this Friday (as if you didn’t already know that– I know, I’m still recovering from my candy coma, too) and I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection on the past year. Most people do their reflecting in January at the start of the new year, but Halloween is my “new year.” I started my medical transition on October 31, 2013, so as Friday rolled around I began thinking about all the things that have happened and who I’ve become since last Halloween.

guhhh…This Halloween definitely paid for my dentist’s vacation.

I am so much happier than I was 18 months ago. I have a group of very dear friends who care about me. I have made my own family and my own home here in Baltimore, and my family’s house back in Frostburg feels much more welcoming. I feel joy again. I’m doing well in school. I feel validated in my work and I feel like I have the ability to make change not just at UMBC, but in the larger community.

If you had told me all of this before I went on testosterone, I would have said, “Wow! It’s amazing all the things testosterone can do for me!” Now, I’ve realized that the testosterone had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t some magical elixir like a Felix Felicis potion. It didn’t fix something that was broken. It didn’t give me friends or make people like me more. All of that was me. I did that.

“Bottled good fortune. Brewed correctly the drinker of this potion will be lucky in all their endeavors…” –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

It’s amazing the things you can discover about who you are and what you’re capable of once you stop putting all your energy into hating yourself. Being on testosterone didn’t make me hate myself less– just like losing 20 pounds isn’t going to make your body image issues go away. It removed the thing I was using as an excuse for hating myself. It’s easy to say, “I’ll love myself once I’m on testosterone,” but I realized that self love doesn’t come in a 10mL vial. You can’t diet your way to self love, either. You have to work towards it and it’s hard, but it’s totally worth it.

What I’ve learned in the past twelve months is that I am worthy of my love unconditionally and let me tell you, that Halloween candy tastes so much sweeter now.

Halloween Costumes: Looking into the Haunted Mirror of Our Past

A collaborative authorship post from Bria Hamlet and Jess Myers

Jess:
You guessed it! It’s that time of the year when the Women’s Center staff crushes your Halloween costume dreams and makes you feel guilty about your costume decisions. Sexist! Racist! Cultural appropriation! We know, we’re just no fun… but someone’s gotta do it.

A Halloween costume that represented Jess' dreams of becoming the first female baseball player in Major League Baseball.

A Halloween costume that represented Jess’ dreams of becoming the first female baseball player in Major League Baseball.

But in all seriousness, this is an important conversation…. one that I wish I would have had with thoughtful intersectional feminists back in my growing up days. I didn’t know what cultural appropriation was in 3rd grade… or if I’m being honest, in college. Halloween costumes I regret include dressing as a Harem Girl and a nagging wife (ugh, just writing those words breaks my women’s center director heart) among others. I feel guilty about these choices and up until now, I’ve done my best to keep these secrets to myself but somewhere along the way these memories have been shared with Women’s Center staff members and together we’ve walked down memory lane of costumes of Halloween past. We’ve used these conversations as an opportunity for us to hold up the mirror for ourselves and others. We are not exempt from histories of making harmful choices in our Halloween gear. By allowing ourselves to look into the mirror of racism, sexism, and cultural appropriation, we hope to diffuse the guilt and defensive that often comes from having these conversations related to Halloween costumes of choice so we can all dig a bit deeper into that critical thought and dialogue.

Plus… what better way to share some of our childhood photos from Halloweens of the 1980s and 90s!

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Bria:
I was an angel, a princess, and a pink Power Ranger in pursuit of candy. Queen Amidala and Mulan searched for the most haunting home decor while Cleopatra and Tinkerbell prepared for horror movie marathons with friends. It all started out so harmless.

Yoo-Jin takes on the "tweeter" side of being a pirate!

Yoo-Jin takes on the “tweeter” side of being a pirate!

I have never taken the time to reflect on how the intent of celebrating Halloween changes from childhood to adulthood. Historically, All Hallows’ Eve has been about terrifying confrontations with the dead, but these days I have been aghast at the overpriced sexism on Party City’s walls. For just $49.99, you can please the patriarchy and unleash your inner sexist all in one night!

Halloween has become a night for adults to indulge in repressed fantasies through costume. I am cringing as I recall the year I decided to costume as Playboy Bunny (before I could even legally be one). I now believe that if this industry wasn’t so hellbent on supplying women with only “sexy” options for Halloween, then women everywhere could proudly say they wanted to dress like that, not that they were left optionless. It’s bad enough that women are oversexualized everyday, and this ‘tradition’ reinforces the idea that any effort put into appearing sexy is to please men. And thus, we welcome you to the Sexy Halloween Costume Industry!

Megan (on the left) with her Wonder Woman sister.

Megan (on the left) with her Wonder Woman sister.

I chose my own costumes and wore them happily. My only regret is the lack of thought I put into the message I sent to the rest of the world. While I hoped my sexy schoolgirl costume screamed “I am poking fun at my all-girl secondary education and embracing my sexuality all at one time!,” I know that was not the case. Truly feminist costumes should leave you feeling respected, empowered, and happy. Although I am still struggling to settle on a costume idea, I am pleased to have the awesome resources below for some feminist costuming inspiration! Check them out!

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What is cultural appropriation?

On Appropriation vs Appreciation
Costume Fails from @Chescaleigh
What Not to Wear on Halloween… a Stuff Mom Never Told You Podcast

Amelia's love for cats started early on....

Amelia’s love for cats started early on….

Daniel in his blue ant costume.

Daniel  as Flick, the blue ant!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Creative!

Feminist Halloween Costumes – a Post from Feministing with so many other cool links
Women in History Halloween Costume Ideas
5 Feminist Halloween Costumes… a video from Stuff Mom Never Told You

Get your Activism On!

Halloween Liberation Kit
We’re a culture, not a costume
How to tell your friend they’re Halloween costume is racist

Oh hey RAs! A Halloween Bulletin Board at your finger tips!

 

Invisible, often liminal- Growing up as an Asian-American Immigrant Woman in the United States

Often when we talk about race in the United States, the classic picture is that race is polarized into two: black and white. Starting from a very young age, I had never truly understood these divisions, and felt confused as to where I fit in. If I was labeled into a color, it was always “yellow” and it was often said as an offensive joke.  I didn’t understand my place…I wasn’t white and I wasn’t black. I remember looking around the demographics of my classrooms noticing that I often felt alone. In history class, we talked about Columbus, the slave trade, and 9/11, but rarely did we ever engage in dialogues about asians, much less Koreans, except in passing when we note that North Korea is still radically separate from its southern counterpart, and the fact that the United States fought in the Korean War.  I remembered a clear moment in my U.S history class when we discussed apartheid in the United States, and I sat in the room wondering which restroom and school, if any, would I have been able to use and attend if we were still in that time? Was I a person of color?

The ever familiar sense of liminality and not quite fitting in was also manifested in my college life through my labeled identity as an “ undocumented” student, or from opposing side’s terms, an undocumented alien. Already, I had felt a sense of confusion growing up all my life in a country where I didn’t always find people who looked like me or understood me or my background. My identity as a Korean-American was treated as a novelty, an exquisite chance for somebody to stumble through the two or three Korean words and Korean people they knew, as well as informing me how much they loved Korean food. Of course, many of these statements were harmless and were not meant to create the sense of separation and isolation that often came as a consequence. Statements like, “So, where are you originally from?” have been scattered throughout my life, and I felt a sense of guilt or confusion as I always explained (much more thoroughly than someone expected) how I lived in Maryland most of my life, lived in Washington State for when I was young, and oh, yes, if this is what you were really asking- my family is from Korea and I was born there.

Overall, I am still exploring my multiple identities and it has been quite a journey. Through my work at the Women’s Center and beyond, where I am surrounded by people who are ready and willing to engage in thoughtful and critical dialogues, I am inspired and gradually feeling that I am worthy and do belong in this space equally.

A really awesome and affirming article from Time, brought a lot of my insecurities and feelings to light, explaining that, this idea that Asian Americans are “tech” oriented and know how to sit in front of a computer, overlooks the disproportionate amount of Asian American tech workers and those in leadership. In addition,  “What it says is this: Asians and Asian-Americans are smart and successful, so hiring or promoting them does not count as encouraging diversity. It says: there is no such thing as underrepresentation of Asians and Asian-Americans. The problem with this belief, historians and advocates assert, is that it not only obscures the sheer range of experiences within Asian and Asian-American populations, but also excludes them from conversations about diversity and inclusion in leadership and non-tech sectors.” This statement rang true in so many aspects as I have had students and faculty alike, assume me to be in a STEM field or that I would be “good at math”, etc. I look forward to bringing to light these cultural stereotypes, assumptions, as well as working to break them, to work to have representation of Asian Americans as the diverse and whole people that we, and everyone else, are.