Dear Survivor

As part of our 2015 Take Back The Night post-event, the Women’s Center hosted a “Dear Survivor,” letter writing activity. Inspired by the Dear Survivor Project and the book,  Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence students and UMBC community members were invited to craft their own “Dear Survivor” letter or message. Here’s a sampling from just some of the powerful messages written by UMBC community members.
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UMBC’s Take Back The Night 2015- A Visual Recap

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Thursday, April 16th was UMBC’s 3rd Annual Take Back The Night speak-out and march. We had an amazing turn out and we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s hard work and support!

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We had signs that were made by community members, staff, student organizations, and Greek life!

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Jess and Megan setting up our TBTN Banner!

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Setting up T-shirts for the mini Clothesline Project Display

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Right before the Speak-Out

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Staff member, Yoo-Jin Kang and Peer Health Educator, Kayla Smith, were the student emcees and march leaders this year!

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Community listening to the Speak-Out

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The march made a huge impact on campus.         We were even invited to march through the dining hall!

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IMG_1352 After the Speak-out, the community was invited to hang out together, craft for a cause, and enjoy some lemonade and cookies before leaving the event.

IMG_1547IMG_1550What an awesome night!

Just a reminder for those who might not have been able to attend, there are many resources available to you, both on and off campus.

Here are some links: 

Voices Against Violence

UMBC Counseling Center

UMBC’s Relationship Violence Response and Prevention Program (RVAP)

UMBC’s Title IX Coordinator and Info

Women’s Center at UMBC

I Am

A reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Bria Hamlet

I’ve got a gap in my front teeth,
I make a mess when I eat,
I’m always late,
I’m hard to date,
I think Eminem is my soulmate

I rock an afro with piercings,
I exaggerate my feelings,
I watch YouTube instead of TV,
I choose to stray from normativity

You’ve just read my spin on Mary Lambert’s song “Secrets.” The melody has been stuck in my head for hours now. She sings about herself, throwing out the good, the obvious, the hidden, and the complicated. She tells us that she doesn’t care how the world perceives her and what they have to say about who she allegedly is.

Girl, I feel that.

I am really, really getting comfortable with no longer explaining myself to everyone. If I didn’t personally harm or wrong you, you get no explanation. I am giving myself permission to wear red lipstick to work, listen to Nickelback and then the Roots on the way, all while sporting a tailored skirt and Converse. Let me live.

BriaAs a Black American woman, I am subjected to harmful and negative stereotypes constantly. If someone isn’t policing my blackness, they’ve surely fixated on my hair. The next target is my complexion, followed by my clothing, and their personal favorite, my diction. I can’t just be Bria, I must be whoever you all think Bria is supposed to be. I am really tired of making everyone else comfortable. I don’t have to make “figuring me out” easy. I’m not easy.

And you, stop being lazy.

The Telling Our Stories project has given the members of the UMBC Women of Color Coalition (myself included) the opportunity to reclaim narratives that were written without them. It has challenged us to think critically about labels and microaggressions. We’ve discussed where these stereotypes come from and then participated in workshops to unearth the true natures of who we are. We are sisters, artists, intellectuals, comedians, introverts, extroverts, and progressives. We are ourselves.

I will now and forever continue to be unapologetically myself.

I’m Bree, the new volunteer of the Women’s Center!

Originally posted on breeumbc's Blog:

After many months of calling the Women’s Center my home, this semester,  I felt that I wanted to give back to my community by helping spruce up the new place with my assistance  to the Women’s Center needs. I am already a part of two of the groups sponsored by the Women’s Center: Women of Color Coalition and Critical Social Justice Student Alliance. At the beginning of this Spring semester, I heard about the Women’s Center needed more helping hands with all the semester programming going on and I inquired about what more I could do. Once Jess, the director, and Megan, the coordinator, heard my enthusiasm toward the prospect of volunteering for the center, they put me on board with some different tasks to help reach the campus about the Women’s Center and it’s mission to provide a space and give a voice to those that are marginalized in…

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Wish I could be [seen] in your world

A reflection written my staff member, Yoo-Jin Kang 

As an Asian-American woman, I’ve always struggled with finding people who look like me in the larger media. You see, May is Asian Pacific Islander month, and regrettably, I am not sure who I can expect to be featured during this month because I am so unfamiliar with Asian historical figures and their contributions.

Growing up in the United States education system, I had always learned about other important figures in our country: white presidents (except our current one!), famous white men who made *amazing* contributions to our society, and the few African-American historical figures who were brought up as part of our history lesson, like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. What I didn’t consciously realize for a long time was the lack of Asian representation, across the board, throughout my entire schooling and life. Why was this the case? Could it be that Asian Americans did not make useful or noteworthy contributions or impact to our society? Could it be that the only famous Asian American that I would ever know about would be figure skater Michelle Kwan?!

Of course not.

I can’t help but think about how the paradox of the minority model stereotype  fits into this lack of representation and recognition. This stereotype can be truly harmful because it can create a silencing and minimizing effect on the contributions, successes, and voices of Asian Americans who are “expected to do well” anyway, and so it’s not such a big deal. Growing up,  I couldn’t help but feel a quiet voice that told me that no matter what I did, I would not get recognition for it as a individual person, but would be praised because:

“Oh, you Asian people are so good at _____” or “have always been great at _______.”

Not only was this isolating for me… it also contributed to this liminal feeling I had of not being considered white, but not being labeled as a “person of color.” It took until college for me to realize that I, too, belong, and that my struggles were also worthy of speaking up about.

When I think about television shows and movies, this is where I feel the most isolated from the people who supposedly “represent” me in the media. Often, if I ever saw a character who looked similar to me, I noticed their role often consisted of stereotypical characteristics that only perpetuated already trivializing cultural beliefs.

Often, we seemed to be lumped with characters that had little personality — characters who seemed to serve one purpose: The math/science whiz. The person at the computer/phone navigating directions, while all the other characters were out kicking bad-guy butt. The repressed and studious best friend. The fetishized “oriental” model (often with chopsticks in her hair). Or the person with the broad “Asian” accent who spoke broken English, often seen working at a Chinese restaurant. Even when there was “representation” of an “Asian” character, I couldn’t relate to them at all.

Moreover, the term “Asian” is so broad. As an ethnic group, “Asian” encompasses so many regions, all with many similarities and differences in culture and values, and I can’t help but think that it’s harmful to lump so many different regions with one word, when we don’t recognize and pay attention to our differences. This May, I plan to learn more about not only my heritage, but also about the different cultures and contributions that make up the pan-Asian community. I hope you will join me and I challenge you to also recognize when a character of color, in any form of media, is being used as a trope rather than a valued person. 

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[P.S. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews for the new show, “Fresh off the Boat“.                 On one hand, I hear people who love the show because not only are they seeing a family that might look like them, they are also identifying with some of the immigrant and often humorous experiences that are portrayed in the show. On the other hand, I hear about people who highly dislike the show, stating that it fulfills stereotypes about Asian immigrants, specifically with the notion that Jessica Huang (the mother) is a “tiger-mother“. It’s interesting to note that due to the scarcity of representation in our media, we often feel that when we do see people who look like us…we want/ expect them to be perfect. There is a fine balance to be made between respecting and honoring a person’s culture and background, as it influences who they are, and completing erasing a person’s racial identity to make it more accessible for a whiter audience.]

Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives: A Reflection on Activism and Social Media

This reflection by Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers, was written for and originally shared on the ACPA’s Standing Committee for Women blog. It has been republished on our site with their permission. For more on ACPA SCW, check out their website.

 

When the Women’s Center at UMBC at celebrated its 20th anniversary, the staff wanted to make a commemorative quilt. Each student organization and department the Women’s Center partnered with over the years made a square that was patched together into a quilt that was unique to the history of the Women’s Center. We indulged in this practice to honor America’s rich history of quilting and patchwork. For centuries, quilts have told stories and were uniquely linked to their creators, who most often were women. The process of quilting encouraged women to share their stories and build community with other women. This felt like an appropriate nod at history as we celebrated our own. With this experience, I’ve especially enjoyed this year’s Women’s History Month theme of Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.

As our country has evolved so has the medium for telling our narratives. We now rely on various social media platforms to share our stories as we Instagram brunch with friends, share the latest viral blog on Facebook, and tweet our experiences throughout the day. What was once threaded and woven is now tweeted, liked, and hashtagged. And, while there may not be a beautiful quilt at the end of the day, many student activists of today are nonetheless weaving together an important story that will impact the future of women’s history. This is the story of the campus sexual assault movement happening now on college campuses.

Over the past year, I have been a part of a study with three other student affairs professionals exploring the strategies employed by activists involved in the movement to address sexual violence prevention and response on college campuses. Through observing online forums and the 23 interviews of both current students and recent graduates, a powerful story of activism unfolded. Our findings are rich and extend well beyond our original research question, but as I contemplate this year’s Women’s History Month theme, I am compelled to share the ways in which the participants used social media as a tool to weave together their stories and experiences as a medium to demand change on campuses and within our nation that support survivors of sexual assault and condemn sexual violence within our institutions of higher education. Participants in our study described using social media in several intentional ways, two of which I’ll explore here: to connect with other activists and as a tool for reducing power dynamics present in other spaces.

Sharing Their Stories with Others: Social Media as a Connection to Other Activists

Activists described the power of social media in helping them connect to other survivors and activists which supported a shift in momentum related to addressing sexual violence. By connecting with other activists, their story was no longer one of isolation but one that weaved into a greater context of support and validation. Several participants highlighted the power of solidarity when sexual violence related hashtags trended on Twitter such as Wagatwe Wanjuki’s #survivorprivilege which provided a forum to express their experiences. Moreover, one participant, Lynn*, captured the importance of this solidarity between and among activists from a variety of places. She said,

“There’s just a wonderful solidarity of knowing that you’re not alone… And when you see, as painful as it is to find other people who have been through what you’ve been through, there is an incredible level of empowerment that comes from knowing that somebody else has that experience, and that you’re not crazy.”

Creating New Spaces to Share Their Story: Social Media as a Tool for Reducing Power Dynamics

Closely related to the connection and solidarity activists felt from shared spaces online, some activists also identified the importance of online spaces as environments where power dynamics were reduced allowing their story to be told and heard. Some LGBTQ activists used online space because they did not have to out themselves in face-to-face settings. Other activists identified the importance of using social media as a forum where a variety of perspectives might be shared and validated, especially those that are historically marginalized. Vee, a participant who identifies as a queer woman of color, explained Twitter as community in which “I can breathe a sigh of relief, where I can get the validation I need.” When sexual assault stories highlighted by mainstream media often tell only the narrative of young, cisgnedered white women, the need for this counterspace online becomes even more important in ensuring all voices and stories are woven into the movement. Peter, another participant in our study, highlights this point:

“And if we’re talking about at risk communities, marginalized communities, communities that have been historically marginalized are not welcomed into the same spaces and so to a lot of people the only thing that they have access to and the only way that they are able to participate is through social media because of that anonymity that’s allowed that isn’t allowed for if you put your name to it.”

There is a power in hearing women’s stories. While remembering and recounting tales of our ancestors’ sacrifices and dedication is important, there is also great power in the stories being woven now. The story for these survivors and activists is still a work in progress, but during this Women’s History Month, I celebrate their efforts. Unlike a quilt which must be fully completed for the story to be told, social media is allowing me learn from activists across the country in real-time about their experiences, needs, and challenges. Their stories are already being woven into my practice as a student affairs professional and I am all the better professional for it. This will be a story not only tweeted, blogged, and hashtagged, but one that will be woven into the fabric of our national history.

*Although many survivors in the current campus sexual assault movement are choosing to publicly use their names and identities in their activist work and/or with media outlets our study uses pseudonyms to ensure confidentiality for all of our participants.