Awesome Women’s Center @ UMBC Things of 2013

It’s the end of 2013 and with that comes the Person of the Year, Best of lists, Top 10, 20, 30 and so on lists to mark the highlights of the past 365 days. As I’ve scrolled through the various lists related to women and feminism (here and here), I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. It reminded me that for all the times I wanted to pull out my hair or lay on the ground in defeat over stories related to rape culture, victim blaming, and women of color rendered invisible time and time again by mainstream white feminism (just to name a few), that there were also amazing moments in 2013 that simply made me so damn proud to be a woman and a feminist.

As the fall semester wraps up and winter break is in sight, I’ve also found myself reflecting on the past 12 months in the Women’s Center at UMBC. I’ve been thinking about the events and programs we did, who came through our doors looking for support and compassion, and the learning and activism that occurred within our little corner of UMBC. I’ve also been taking stock of where I’ve grown as a feminist leader and supervisor and where I can (and will) grow more. I’m reflecting on where I felt challenged and why and where I also felt confidence and why. The several Women’s Center staff members have flashed through my memory over and over again as I recall the moments they worked with passion and thoughtful diligence.

It has been a long year but a good year and with that here is a list of just some of the Awesome Women’s Center Things of 2013.

What would you add?

The Return of Take Back the Night
For the first two years I was at UMBC, I found myself getting on a shuttle and going to someone else’s Take Back the Night

UMBC Take's Back the Night

UMBC Take’s Back the Night

(TBTN). Very few students would brave the shuttle and we were missing the chance to create very public space at UMBC that addressed sexual assault on our campus and acknowledge that there are many survivors among us. That all changed on April 30th when TBTN returned to UMBC after an almost 8 year hiatus (big thanks to a BreakingGround grant and our Honors College student intern, Lexx, for writing the grant). Over 200 UMBC community members attended the speak out and march through campus.  Dozens of students, student organizations, and fraternities and sororities created rally signs in solidarity. Many students bravely shared their stories of incest, sexual assault, and rape as those in the crowd listened and gave honor to their survival, pain, and courage. The energy was fierce and many eyes were opened that day to the reality of sexual assault on our campus and in the world. It was an important day for activism, visibility, and feminism.

TBTN will be back in 2014… save the date: April 15th. Keep up with the latest by following #UMBCaware and #UMBCtbtn

Two Full-Time Staff Members!
This July the Women’s Center moved from having 2 part-time and 1 full-time staff members to 2 full-time staff members. While we didn’t gain extra staffing hours, this shift is significant for us because having a second full-time staff member is integral in providing consistent services and programs in the Women’s Center. Moreover, the search committee was very intentional during the hiring process to be sure we found and hired a candidate that was committed to intersectional feminism and social justice. We found those qualities and skills in Megan and I have continued to be impressed and excited by her ideas for the Women’s Center and our programming, events, and services.

Creation of the Women of Color Coalition and Spectrum
As the Women’s Center continues to focus on intersectionality and social justice, we’ve expanded our group offerings over the past few years. In previous years we added Between Women  and Rebuilding Manhood. This fall we added two new groups: Spectrum and the Women of Color Coalition.

Spectrum is a group from trans* identified students in the UMBC community. The idea for the group was proposed by two students during the spring semester last year during a random conversation that came up between them and a Women’s Center student staff member. The organic and unplanned conversation ignited passion to create a group for the fall, through the support and partnership of The Office of Student Life’s Mosaic Center. That’s one of the things I love about the Women’s Center – our ability to be flexible and meet the needs for students where there otherwise may be a gap. The group has been meeting regularly since September and has provided meaningful safe space for students who identify is various ways along the gender spectrum. Friendships and support systems have been created and opportunities for healing and growth have been nourished. Having this group meet in the Women’s Center has truly been rewarding and enriching to our community.

WoC Reception 10

It was a great turn out of students, faculty, and staff at the WOC Reception in October.

The Women of Color Coalition was one of the first projects Megan tackled when she started over the summer. When the idea for the group was first announced, we were overwhelmed with the response from so many women of color students who were eager to be a part of the group. The inaugural Women of Color Reception was well attended and provided space for networking, validation, and reunions.  So often we speak of the diversity that exists within our student body but less often is there intentional space to speak to how that shows up and exists in the lived experiences of those students. The Women of Color Coalition is just one of the ways the Women’s Center is seeking to provide that space – whether it be a space of celebration, struggle, support, healing, or all of that at the same time.  I’m excited to see how the WOCc continues to grow throughout 2014.

Rad Student Staff Members

Rad Student Staff Members make the Women's Center an awesome place to be!

Rad Student Staff Members make the Women’s Center an awesome place to be!

One of the most favorite parts about my job as director of the Women’s Center is working with amazing student staff members. I love the conversations we have that so often tend to be learning moments for all of us. I’ve been inspired by their passion, challenged to explore the deeper meanings of feminism, diversity, and social justice, and humbled by their life journeys. So, in August when I found out that a fat-shaming and misogynistic meme of a student staff member was spreading throughout the internet like wild fire, my heart sank and fought the urge to go momma-bear-wild on the comment section (don’t feed the trolls!!). While I felt lost and unsure how to bring the topic up, Kelly was already in full gear with her response and her activism. Just a day or two later her story was featured in xoJane and she created a tumblr called We Are What Feminist Look Like With that Kelly became an internet sensation – a rallying call to so many women, so many feminist. I get a smile on my face every time someone new comes into the Center and sees Kelly at the front desk and says, “Oh you’re the one from the internet!” How awesome is it for our Women’s Center community to have such a visible role model for activism in our everyday space?! In a recent google search, Kelly’s name produced 905,000 hits and it’s no wonder why she was featured in BuzzFeed’s 30 Women Who Kicked Ass in 2013.

Not the Childcare Facility on Campus Closing…
but the amazing network of mothers, fathers, and other allies who stepped up to take care of each other and their families. When the childcare center closed in mid-September, I came into my office the next morning to find emails and voicemails of panic from parents who didn’t know what they were going to do. I sent out an email to the Women’s Center mother’s listserv and within moments, mothers were sending out suggestions, making phone calls to inquire about openings at other facilities, and asking what more they could do to help the parents and families impacted by the closure. Individuals from other offices stepped up to provide resources and support for the parents – and most especially for the parents who were students at UMBC. We still have an uphill journey in the work that needs to be done to ensure that childcare on campus return to UMBC but I feel positive that the UMBC Way that called so many to help others through this struggle will see the return of childcare through.

All Things LGBTQ!
This summer we said bye-bye to DOMA and hello to marriage equality in several states, including Maryland on January 1st and just as recently to New Mexico and Utah. These national strides and exciting and it doesn’t negate the work that still needs to be done locally to ensure UMBC students, faculty, and staff have access to a safe and welcoming campus climate. We all play a role in creating that campus climate at UMBC. The creation of the LGBTQ Faculty and Staff Association and UMBC’s Outlist were exciting developments at UMBC in 2013.  In the Women’s Center, we continue to examine the ways we can provide safe space to our community through groups like Between Women and Spectrum, while also doing work related to creating greater visibility to the LGBTQ community on campus. One of my favorite programs of the year was our 2nd annual Come Out Speak Out Project  which provided an outlet for LGBTQ individuals to share their coming out stories and for allies to express how they live out their advocacy for the LGBTQ community. When I first started at UMBC, I wasn’t always comfortable sharing my identity as someone in the LGBTQ community. Through so many of these efforts, though, I feel safer and freer to be me. My only hope is that more and more of our UMBC community members have been able to say to (or will be able to one day) say the same thing in 2013 and beyond.

Graduation and Celebrating the Class of 2013
For some students, graduation is inevitable but for others, it’s a long and winding journey that doesn’t always seem possible. Many

Congrats to Cassandra - one of our student staff members - and to all the graduating students of 2013!

Congrats to Cassandra – one of our student staff members – and to all the graduating students of 2013!

of these students find their way to the Women’s Center and we have the honor of being a part of their journey. Some are older students who are pursuing a college education to give their children a better chance at life. Others are survivors of sexual assault or relationship violence who are in such deep pain that they can’t get to class or focus on their assignments. Still there are more that struggle with mental health issues, finances, lack of family support, and more. Because of this, graduation day is so much more. It is often a celebration of survival when so often that didn’t always seem possible. Awesome is really the best way to describe it.

And, there’s so much more! I continued to be humbled and impressed by the returning women community and our Newcombe, Bryson-Neville, and AEGON scholars. I’m excited that almost 25 men participated in Rebuilding Manhood in 2013. Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Relationship Violence Awareness Month programming continues to be important work we do. We even started this blog in 2013! And with almost 10,000 visits to the Women’s Center space and our programming, I feel deep appreciation for all of our Women’s Center campus partners who helped make so much of what we do a success. Thanks 2013… and watch out 2014, here we come!