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!
Jahia Knobloch, UMBC First-Year Student
I love when I meet people and get that instant feel-good-feeling. The feeling of wanting to get to know the person more. The feeling of knowing this person is going places. The feeling of excitement of knowing this person is going to bring good conversations, good reflections, good challenges into your own life. I got that feeling before I even met Jahia earlier this semester while we were communicating over email. While Jahia probably doesn’t want me to share with the internet worlds that she missed our first meeting, she did… and she wrote me an apology saying that her recent hunger strike had left her exhausted and preoccupied. Oh, I’m sorry, come again? Students miss meetings with me on a regular basis but never because of hunger strikes. I instantly wanted to know more about this new student at UMBC.
When Jahia and I finally had the chance to meet, she filled my office with such positive energy. We talked about her interests in social justice, feminism, and activism. I learned more about her hunger strike which also included an art performance that took place in a campus residence hall lobby. In later meet ups, Jahia went on the share more about her childhood and upbringing. She holds dual citizenship in Germany and the U.S. and very early on her parents instilled in her the importance of travel. She described herself as an adventurous spirit and reflected on how traveling allowed her to recognize her privileges. When she was eight years old, Jahia was diagnosed with childhood rheumatoid arthritis and spent a great deal of time in physical suffering until her body was able to respond to medication. She remembers feeling what it was like not to be able to do what others could easily do and understanding what it means to desperately want something. These formative feelings and understanding of life, ability, and disability shaped her into becoming the young woman she is today. Jahia’s adventurous spirit is also complemented by a deep awareness and commitment to civil rights and activism. Her mom is a civil rights lawyer and she joined in marches with her family to include protesting the war in Iraq and marching in support of voting rights. She is actively involved in the protests in Baltimore and UMBC related to the events around Ferguson, Eric Garner, and the Black Lives Matter movement. At UMBC, Jahia is a Gender + Women’s Studies major and is involved with Critical Social Justice and serves on the CSJ Student Advisory Board (check her out in the SAB’s newest CSJ video on brave spaces).
For those of you who have been reading my UMBC Women Who Rock series, you know by now that I use the space not only to highlight awesome women but also to unpack some of my own assumptions and stereotypical narratives I have about gender and being a woman. As I reflected on what assumptions I might be able to explore something Jahia said to me in our last conversation stood out to me. She said, “I want to inject courage in every girl here.” She shared this bold statement in the context of how often she finds women in her life feeling afraid to make waves and ensuring their actions won’t make others mad. Jahia explains that she can’t be that kind of woman and how she wishes other women would have the courage to life unafraid. This is a narrative I know all too well in my own life.
Through not only the lens of gender but also the intersections of my whiteness and being raised Catholic, courage and I have a complicated relationship. Being a white Catholic woman means a lot of things for me. It included being socialized to be “nice,” to follow the rules, to sacrifice, and leave things uncomplicated. All very non-courageous things (to me at least). It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I really allowed myself to explore my voice, to stand up for myself, and find the courage to be bold, say no… and say yes. Perhaps that’s why I am so unapologetic about my fandom over the Hunger Games and Divergent series. Katniss and Tris have a courage that speaks to me and leaves my heart aching with desire to be bold. They, and most certainly, Jahia, create a counter-narrative that beckons me, and other women to be brave, recognize their own importance, and consider pathways that exist outside of others expectations.
I wish I could have had a Jahia walking down the hallways of high school with me and in my classes in college, injecting courage into my voice, my values, and my understanding of myself. UMBC is lucky that we have Jahia and that it’s just the beginning of her journey her with us. As we were wrapping up our conversation, Jahia told me, “I’m not afraid of anyone… I’m not afraid to stand up.” And, that’s why Jahia Knobloch is a UMBC Woman Who Rocks!
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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