UMBC Women Who Rock: Amelia Meman (a birthday tribute)

UMBC Women Who Rock is a 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.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Amelia Meman, GWST major & Women’s Center staff member extraordinaire 

Birthdays are my most favorite of holidays. I love birthdays, and I’m not just talking about my own birthday, I’m talking about all birthdays. I love the celebration of life which is why you’ll often hear me say to the birthday person, “Thank you for being born.” And, today, it’s Amelia’s birthday. Happiest of birthdays to you, you brilliant feminist killjoy.

Life-giving and killjoy? Yes and I’ll get to that.

I first met Amelia in the spring of 2013 when she and several other Gender + Women’s Studies students would take over the Women’s Center lounge for “lunch bunch” in between their morning and afternoon classes. They would swoop in with their feminist theory and activism and the whole place would come alive with laughter, pondering, and thoughtful conversations. Consequently, I was excited when Amelia reached out to me over the summer to interview for an internship through the Honors College. The Women’s Center hasn’t been the same since.

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Meet Amelia!

In her two years working in the Women’s Center, Amelia has come to be one of the hardest working people I know. She is wicked smart. She cares deeply about the quality of her work. She takes self-initiative to include commissioning herself to be the Women’s Center’s artist-in-residence. She is also a good friend who is genuinely committed to the well-being and support of those she loves. After she graduates and I think back on Amelia’s time in the Women’s Center, I’ll think of laughter. The laughter that comes from underwater animals, a blog post created entirely through gifs, and the reenactment of Leslie Knope and Burt Macklin misadventures.

And, just as importantly, I’ll think of the cracks and the fissures Amelia has taught me to see. In preparing to write this post, I explained to Amelia that I use the UMBC Women Who Rocks series to explore the ways in which the featured woman has challenged me to reconsider the assumptions and stereotypes I hold and I asked Amelia how she believes she’s challenged me. Her reply, “My challenge is that I always challenge people.” Touché, Amelia. As a self-identified feminist killjoy, I should have seen that one coming. She went on to wonder, though, if always recognizing and pointing out problems is unproductive, but conclusively ended with “the only way for change to happen is to recognize the cracks and fissures.”

There’s nothing more I can do than to whole-heartedly agree with her. For example, it is in the embracing of the imperfect that led Amelia to envision what is now Critical Social Justice. When Amelia looked around at social justice movements and thought about her experience at UMBC, she saw gaps and inequitable hierarchies, missed opportunities to engage in critical conversations, and a sense of apathy. Instead of just ignoring those issues or complaining about them, she considered an alternative that sought change. An alternative which in just two short years has been a transformative experience for the Women’s Center and has excited many UMBC students about the role they can play in social justice movements.

As I’ve written, back spaced, written some more, and back spaced again, I have felt challenged throughout the entire exercise of writing this post about Amelia. For someone who means so much to me (and on her birthday of all days), I wanted this reflection to be perfect, but I kept seeing its faults and all that it wasn’t. It’s a reminder to me how perfectionism can be limiting. A perfect sentence that is never written is just an unwritten sentence. So I back spaced some more and wrote again and this one particular image of Amelia kept coming to mind. It’s an image of Amelia crying and being frustrated with herself. She’s just finished up an activity at summer STRiVE (where she was a participant and I was a coach) and she doesn’t like what she’s learned about herself. In this activity that was solely centered in privilege and power and the haves and have-nots, Amelia took it all and loved it. In the debriefing of the activity, though, she was quick to see the cracks and fissures of her own actions. For someone who lives and breathes the practice of social justice, she was surprised by the ease in which she placed those values aside for a game and that scared her. Amelia could have easily hid her feelings or pretended like she was just acting out the part of the big bad capitalist. But she didn’t. She owned every part of her actions and recognized the cracks and fissures in an effort to create change within herself. And, in that moment I was never more proud of her.

Amelia and the Women's  Center staff at last year's Lavender Celebration.

Amelia and the Women’s Center staff at last year’s Lavender Celebration.

Being a killjoy takes honesty, vulnerability, and courage, especially when looking at oneself. In my identity as a feminist and advocate for social justice I know there’s been times I’ve been more than shy about recognizing where I still need to learn and grow and be challenged out of fear that I wouldn’t belong. In an effort to be perfect, I’ve turned my eyes away from the imperfections shutting down the chance to let change and growth to their thing. Through Amelia’s quest to be unapologetically worthy of the space she takes up she has helped create brave spaces within myself to feel at home in my contradictions while taking strides to engage in the what’s, how’s and why’s of those imperfections. Amelia has given me the opportunity to stay connected to my imperfections and to name them rather than distancing myself from them. It’s the distancing that kills us, whereas the joy comes in living yourself into the solutions. As we wrapped up our conversation, Amelia reflected on the courage is takes to say this thing, this person, this Me may “be problematic and I still love you.” So yes, back to my point of being live-giving and a killjoy. Amelia has shown me how to be both.

When my friend, who met Amelia last November at the National Women’s Studies Association conference, recently found out that Amelia is graduating in May she instantly replied “What are you going to do?!” For someone who only briefly met Amelia this is a testament to the good work she does and most especially the important space she takes up in my heart. I replied, “I don’t know… Cry?” And, maybe I will a little, but during her time here at UMBC, Amelia has challenged me to examine my own cracks and fissures and that has helped me become a better supervisor, a better feminist, and a better me. So, I will also be filled with joy. The joy that can only come from the honesty and vulnerability it takes to freely be me in all my faults and perfections.

So, on this day, and every day, Amelia Meman, you are a UMBC Woman Who Rocks. Happy birthday. Thank you for being born.

Amelia and others from the Critical Social Justice Student Alliance - a student organization that stemmed out of the energy and passion of Critical Social Justice

Amelia and others from the Critical Social Justice Student Alliance – a student organization that stemmed out of the energy and passion of Critical Social Justice

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)
Susan Dumont (featured October 2014)
Jahia Knobloch (featured January 2015)
A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability (February 2015)

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