UMBC Women Who Rock is a new blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.
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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Susan Dumont, Office of Student Life’s Coordinator for Fraternities & Sororities
Goodness, if the semester was a Half Ironman, I’d be somewhere out there on my bike, at some mile marker that makes the finish line still feel very far away. I’ve been working on the concept for the post since mid-September and here I am, a month later, re-opening this document trying to get to the finish line. Susan Dumont’s voice is here with me though, repeating the refrain that I heard her say often before she completed her first Half Ironman this summer: “I like doing things that I don’t know I’ll be successful in. I want to find out what’s really possible.” This blog post certainly isn’t my Half Iron(wo)man but I’ve appreciated the motivation nonetheless.
This feeling of having someone else’s goals and work ethic inspire and complement my own instead of perceiving them as a direct threat or source of competition feels really different for me. Maybe because Susan and I both hail from all-girl high schools, my mind has drifted back to my high school days many times while working on this blog post. The smartest girls were also the most athletic girls. They were also the most popular girls. But in my experience, the cool girls knew they were cool and that cool factor usually made them pretty mean.
Cue Mean Girls and Queen Bees. They made sure you knew they got the highest grade in the class and when you were still struggling on that math problem they rolled their eyes at the impossibility of why you just didn’t get it. This “us versus them” climate made the first few years of high school pretty miserable and at times, I still feel anxious just thinking about running into them again one day. I know somehow, they’ll take me back to those high school days where I never felt good enough.
When I mentioned this to Susan, I thought she would affirm my experience with similar stories of the all-girls school mean girl. She couldn’t, though. She went on to share how her high school experience developed her self-concept and provided empowering experiences for her. She went on to share about her time at Lake Forest College which was greatly impacted by her involvement in Greek Life. Not only was she in a sorority but Susan was instrumental in starting the first nationally affiliated chapter on her campus. She feels proud about creating a legacy that has shaped the sorority community at Lake Forest to have healthy national organizations. Susan began her adventures with triathlons in grad school. This is when she first connected with professional triathlete Linsey Corbin who along the way has modeled a philosophy for Susan to build the life you want and to bring good, healthy, challenging people along with you. Now that’s a counter narrative of the mean girl!
Currently, Susan is in her second year of Law School at University of Maryland, Baltimore. All of last year, I would follow her Facebook posts and chat randomly with her about how busy she must be as full-time staff member at UMBC, law student by night, and triathlete in her “free” time. I looked on from a distance with awe about how she was doing what I thought was impossible. Then over the summer, we found ourselves reflecting on the law class every graduate student in a Student Affairs program has to take. It was one of our favorite classes which is often not the case for most student affairs professionals. After our conversation, the idea of going to law school got into my head. I wanted to learn more and explore the possibility. I made a mental note to follow up with Susan about it. I never got to send that email, though. Instead, a few days later, there in my inbox was an email from Susan inviting me to one of her law classes in the fall. Without that email, I don’t think I would have picked up that LSAT study guide or visited that civil procedures class or logged onto the UMB’s law school website and signed up for an admissions day visit.
At this point in popular culture, almost all of us have heard about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I’ll be honest and say, I only got through parts of the book, but my take away is similar to my experience in high school: lean in at the expense of other women and fight for those few coveted positions at the top. To counteract this idea, I spend a lot of time thinking about how women can lean over for each other and themselves. How can we change the culture in a way that we’re all benefiting and moving forward rather than just a few of us racing to the top?
Susan exemplifies ways in which we can all lean over for each other. Susan never confirmed my doubts that I wouldn’t be able to handle law school. Rather she pulled me aside invited me to lunch and said you can do it too. She’s challenged the way I’ve been socialized to expect that other women are going to treat me crappy, gossip about me, or make sure I know that I won’t ever be able to great as them. She leaned over and assured me that making space for me to pursue my own talents and create my own dreams, wouldn’t diminish her own. Susan encouraged me to set needs new heights for myself and that’s why she is one of UMBC’s Women Who Rock!
Who are the UMBC women in your life that inspire you to think outside your expectations and assumptions? What are the counter narrative stories they’re sharing with us allowing UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be? Comment below and maybe you’ll just find them featured in a future UMBC Women Who Rock post.
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Check out other UMBC Women Who Rock:
Amanda Knapp (featured August 2014)