Celebrating our Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.

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Returning Women Student Scholars celebrating the end of the semester and our December graduates at the pinning celebration.

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. It is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners. Happy Graduation!!!

Ariel Poirier, Newcombe Scholar

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Ariel and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I became a full-time student at UMBC in the fall of 2016. Before this I was working through my associates at AACC and completed that with a degree in general studies and photography. My major at UMBC and what I’ll be graduating with is environmental studies and geography! I’m so excited to finally end this long journey to my Bachelor’s degree.

My future plans are to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I had a great experience interning with them last summer in Jacksonville, Florida. I also plan on returning to school within the next few years to earn my Masters degree in ecology.

My advice to returning women students is to connect with your professors! I had such great relationships with my professors and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been bold and introduced myself. This goes a long way with building a rapport and establishing trust. Another thing I would say is to try not to become discouraged! You’re here for a reason!

Laura Newman, Tydings Scholar

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Laura and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I was a UMBC dropout in 2004 when I could not continue as a student. I spent years struggling with mental health issues and my family has told me how they had thought I would never be capable of going to school again. A genetic test called GeneSight helped determine what medicine to take and I quickly began to recover. I went to communtiy college for a semester and got As and gained confidence to return to UMBC. My grades have been above 3.5 my whole time here. I am proud to be graduating and already employed full time. I hope to be an inspiration to anyone who has struggled with the balance of mental health and school.

My advice to returning women students is to connect with the Women’s Center which provided me amazing professional development support for me as I began to transition into a full career. Additionally, the scholarship program provided me additional financial support and helped me work an internship that led to an awesome job. The Women’s Center had helpful workshops, including salary negotiation and helpful tips on Google apps. I was surprised how much I learned!

Lauren Hall, Newcombe Scholar

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Lauren and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Stay tuned for more from Lauren in her own words. In the meantime, let’s celebrate Lauren who is graduating with a degree in English Literature. We’re excited that Lauren will be staying on campus as she pursues a Masters in the Art of Teaching for secondary education beginning this spring. Happiest of birthdays to her son who is very excited to be celebrating his birthday on Lauren’s graduation day!

 

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

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No, You’re Not “So OCD”

Harini Harini is a student staff member at the Women’s Center and is also the co-facilitator of Between Women.

 

You have entered a chat with: Friend

1 message from: Friend

Did you hear what happened in class today?

 

1 message to: Friend

Yes! That girl just had a complete breakdown during her final, I can’t believe it!

 

2 messages from: Friend

Yes, oh my God!

What a schizo. I swear, she’s does this kind of stuff just to get out of taking tests.

 

2 messages to: Friend

I mean, she was upset, but do you think you should call her that?

I think she was just stressed out. You’re being kind of mean, don’t you think?

 

1 message from: Friend

Why are you being so sensitive? I was just expressing my opinion. Stop being lame.

Friend has left the chat.

 

Language policing is a heightened issue in the age of social media; communication has never been so accessible, but what can accompany the blend of different identities on one interface is thoughtlessness. All people seem alike on the internet, so it can be all too easy to subconsciously adopt the vocabulary of others, whether on the internet or in spoken word.

Those with mental illnesses and learning disabilities forge their own subculture among peers in person and the internet. A shared experience that dramatically impacts daily life is definitely something to bond over; but as with any marginalized group, there is a group with privilege that, knowingly or otherwise, co-opts the culture of the target group. Specifically, neurotypical people have a tendency to hijack mental illnesses and disabilities and use them as adjectives to describe themselves, more commonly described as ableism. Examples of this include claiming that you’re “so OCD” when your room is messy, or that having lots of energy makes you, “so ADHD.”

Do you know what makes you “so OCD?” Having obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Using mental illnesses and learning disabilities to describe traits and actions of neurotypical people only furthers stigma of already marginalized groups. People who seek professional help for very real issues can feel invalidated by their neurotypical peers, who portray mental illness, learning disabilities, and quirks as interchangeable. Neurotypical people regard mental illnesses and learning disabilities as an open buffet, where they can claim whichever parts are most appealing and leave behind the rest. Neurodivergent people do not have such a luxury: they are forced to live with all aspects of their identity.

Another way in which disabled culture is infringed upon is through “inspiration porn,” a concept in which a disability is exploited for the sake of inspiring able-bodied people. People with actual disabilities aren’t any different from those without, apart from that one aspect, but they seem to be the prime target for starring in any sort of inspirational campaign, as if saying, “if a person with prosthetics can be an athlete, why can’t you?” When the meaning of this sentiment is dissected, it appears to offer a challenge for able-bodied people, stating that anything a disabled person does, an able-bodied person should be able to match, if not surpass. The perceptions toward neurodivergent and disabled people are paradoxical in that able-bodied/neurotypical people view the former as a tragic form of inspiration, but also have no qualms about encroaching on their culture and needs.

People without ADD/ADHD take Adderall, a stimulant, to pull all-nighters when they forget to study for a test or finish an essay. Their abuse of the drug led to restrictions in attainment for those who really need it; a paper needs to be signed by the primary physician, which is delivered to the pharmacy, processed by the pharmacist, and finally the prescription is refilled. This has to happen every single time the medication needs a refill, all because neurotypical people claimed something intended to help those with a disadvantage they never experienced. What neurotypical people use to give themselves an extra edge in school, neurodivergents require to function on a level akin to them.

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No, please. Stop.

Those with very real mental health issues and learning disabilities are given accommodations to level the playing field; so when neurotypical people steal elements of neurodivergent culture, those accommodations are essentially nullified. Stigma increases, illnesses are invalidated, and no progress is made in furthering mental health awareness.

Saying you’re, “so OCD,” to describe being a neat person demonstrates a staggering lack of understanding of what OCD really is. Substituting “OCD” with a physical ailment demonstrates just how nonsensical this is. “Oh, I’m out of breath from running. I’m so asthmatic!” Unless you have asthma, this just sounds ridiculous. So why say it with mental illnesses?

Having a mental illness isn’t a quirky personality trait; emulating a mentally ill or disabled person doesn’t make you a Manic Pixie Dreamboat (because infringement isn’t gender-exclusive). Being mentally ill simply means your brain chemistry is altered in a way that affects your daily life. The Women’s Center’s own Jess wrote a blog about why she vowed to stop casually using the word “crazy,” which has both ableist and sexist implications. The common use of the word “crazy” in labels is usually in conjunction with some aspect of femininity: Crazy Cat Lady, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, etc. The same goes for words like “insane,” “lame,” “crippled,” and countless other words that are believed to be innocently used because they’re not being used to describe a disabled or mentally ill person. The connotation still remains, and so does the implied meaning that these negative adjectives are traits describing or indicative of a differently-abled person.

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If you’re neurotypical and an ally to those who are neurodiverse, you have a responsibility to stop doing this. Police your own ableist language and catch yourself if you’re about to say something along these lines. Using schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. as an adjective to describe personality traits is harmful for myriad reasons. However, allyship is not limited to just fixing your own behavior. If a friend or family member speaks like this, use your privilege to correct them and explain the toxicity of their actions. Change begins on an individual level, but its effects can run deeper than imaginable.

 

For more information about ableist language and neurodivergent culture, feel free to check out these resources!

Too Busy Being Black

Briscoe

Briscoe Turner is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. She is a sophomore Psychology major and Writing minor and a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center. 

 

Author’s note: This blog is a reflection of my constantly evolving thought process on how intersectionality unveils itself in my life, specifically in regards to my racial and gender identities. Hearing Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan’s, insights helped me more clearly articulate my thoughts.

I recently came across a Huffington Post interview where Daily Host Correspondent, Dulcé Sloan, stated, “I Don’t Have Time To Be A Woman, I’m Too Busy Being Black.” Her words resonated with me because she so boldly and clearly laid out a sentiment that I had been trying to articulate for years. I first began to wrestle with this idea– that I was too busy dealing with the social implications of my Blackness to fully address the oppression I face as a woman–when I came across the term intersectionality in high school.

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Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality describes the overlap of our oppressed identities that result in multiple levels of social injustice. I understand that my race and gender operate together, one having an effect on the other, but for some reason, I have felt a greater need to defend my worth as a Black person before I get a chance to defend my worth as a woman. I so vividly remember the various racial microaggressions and slurs I have had to endure throughout the years, but many of my memories surrounding sexism are limited to holding my own against boys during middle school recess basketball games and correcting the occasional uniformed “period jokes.” This is partly due to the fact that I grew up in predominantly White suburbs where my gender stood out less than my Blackness.

In my classes, there were plenty of other girls, but I was normally one of the few, if not only, Black students. This left me constantly feeling the need to prove that I was just as smart and articulate as everyone else, while also asserting the fact that intelligence runs deep in the Black community to avoid tokenism. I also had to defend my Blackness to members of the Black community to avoid being labeled White. Growing up, there were various internal and external battles that I fought in terms of validating my racial identity, that I did not as intensely experience when forming my gender identity. This is not to say that I don’t value my womanhood and understand that there are numerous systems working against me because of it. I just believe that I am often unfairly held back from fully reaping the rewards of feminist victories due to my Blackness.

My experiences have led me to believe that my race is the aspect of my identity that brings me the most joy as well as the most hardship, but I seldom give as much weight to how my gender factors into this strange mixture of pride and oppression.

In a context greater than the neighborhood that I grew up in, I think that this thought process stemmed from my feelings of division and exclusion within the Feminist Movement. In her essay “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Audre Lorde presents the idea that, “There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist.” In conversations about the goals of the feminist movement, I have had to assert the fact that Women of Color are impacted by sexism differently than White woman.Image result for black woman respect gifs

Yes, I can relate to daily instances of sexism, but because I am Black, these instances become intensified. For example, if I am passionate about a topic or asserting myself, I am not only acting on emotional impulses associated with femininity, but I am somehow now the “angry Black girl.” Additionally, Black women are often left out of major dialogues relating to gender equality. In fact, there are many instances where our contributions to the Feminist Movement have been left unacknowledged. Our experiences simply are not the same, and until that is understood, the Feminist Movement will continue to exclude a wide array of women who would be a great asset to the furthering of the cause. Not feeling validated in a group that is supposed to be fighting for your equality is discouraging.

In comparison, I have found a sense of understanding and unity within the Black Lives Matter Movement that makes me believe that my experiences are validated in the fight for justice. Black Lives Matter was founded by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, with the intent of “placing those at the margins closer to the center.” They realized that most Black liberation movements are led by Black, cis-gender, heterosexual men and wanted to make space for the experiences of Black women and Black queer and trans people. A movement with Black women at the core is something that is reaffirming to me.

With that being said, no movement is perfect, and I should look at how other movements approach the issue of diversity. Based on my experiences with the Feminist Movement, I can imagine that there are many movements where people feel stifled or unheard.

The disconnect between wanting to be more involved in the Feminist Movement and not feeling entirely welcomed is something that I struggle with but am actively trying to reconcile. I am a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition, a bi-weekly discussion group at the Women’s Center, where I am able to have open dialogues with other Women of Color about our diverse experiences and how we fit into the fight for gender equality. I find that this group has allowed me to connect with people who have similar sentiments as myself. It is spaces like this where I feel that my voice is not only heard but valued. I have come to realize that although my gender is not always at the forefront of my personal understanding of how I am perceived socially, it is a part of my identity that is essential to understanding the impact systemic structures of oppression have on me as a whole.

For more information about the ideas discussed in this blog, check out these resources:

Audre Lorde: “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”

Black Lives Matter: Herstory

 

 

After Pittsburgh: Hate Crimes, Gun Violence, and Toxic Masculinity

Truth be told, I’ve been avoiding writing about the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I didn’t want to read any of the numerous articles that were shared, I didn’t want to engage with the flood of posts on social media, and I didn’t want to talk. Except it’s more than not wanting to do any of those things; I felt that I couldn’t. I couldn’t acknowledge what had happened because I was scared I would fall apart. I couldn’t read my friends’ posts because every time I saw them, I was hit with a pang of fear for their safety and for my own. I couldn’t afford to make this tragedy real, because doing so meant grappling with the hard questions.

What do we do now?

Why does this keep happening?

How do we stop it from happening again and again and again?

Who’s next?

In the back of my mind, I knew that I would eventually have to face these fears and questions. I chose the Women’s Center blog as the forum to struggle with them because I recognized the capacity of the people around me to support me as I do so. That said, I don’t intend for this to merely be a personal reflection. There are larger societal factors which continue to influence the culture of violence in this country, and those need to be addressed.

 

Baseline Information

First things first, let’s look at the numbers. There is no specified definition of the term “mass shooting” nor is there a government agency that keeps track of them. This makes data collection difficult, so many activists have had to rely on media outlets or nonprofits that have taken on the task. As a result, it is easier to identify trends. Here is a really useful video explaining several of them.

Despite this gap in the data, we do know that America has more guns than any other developed country–even when adjusted for population size–and, consequently, more gun deaths. It is important to note that a very small proportion of gun deaths occur from mass shootings, even though they happen so frequently. This is because the leading cause of gun deaths is suicide, followed by homicide (which is defined separately from mass shooting). The specifics are even harder to pin down when it comes to the shooter’s identity, but there are two key trends: the first is that a majority of the shooters are white, and the second is that all but three of these shooters in the last few decades have been men.

 

Masculinity and Violence

It’s no coincidence that nearly every mass shooter has been a man; it’s a symptom of how society teaches gender. From an early age, we’re taught that men are supposed to be strong, physically aggressive, and that roughhousing is just what boys do. For example, if a boy chases a girl around the playground and pulls her hair, we say that he likes her. This dismissal of boy’s actions teaches them that violence is natural and an acceptable outlet for negative emotions. Think about the playground scenario from a different perspective: what I see is not a little boy expressing positive feelings about a girl, but rather him acting on the negative feeling of frustration that he can’t have her. We don’t just teach boys violence; we teach them a desire to control everything except their emotions.

When we get older, and these actions become more serious (such as sexual violence), we as a society still focus on women as victims. We do not, however, focus on men as perpetrators of this violence. As one of my friends put it, “we teach women not to get raped instead of teaching boys not to rape.” At the Women’s Center, we recognize that sexual violence affects a multitude of people, and that there is no one way a survivor should look; however, this is still a heavily gendered issue, and much of that has to do with patriarchy. With this in mind, we need to consider how we as a society teach and reinforce masculinity. Arguments like “men can’t help themselves” and “boys will be boys” are endemic of both toxic masculinity and rape culture–which often reinforce one another.

Within this context, let’s return to the issue of mass violence. A key piece of the conversation that often gets left out in the media is the history of the perpetrator. For white shooters in particular, people are quick to search their past for mental illness or redeeming qualities, but they often gloss over a common thread, which is a history of commiting domestic violence, interpersonal violence (IPV), and/or sexual violence. For example, it came out that the man who killed over 50 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in October 2017 had abused his ex-girlfriend when they were together. Closer to home, the boy who shot and killed a classmate at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County had expressed anger that she had rejected his unwanted advances

Conceptually, this link makes sense. Much of these acts come not from a place of desire, but a place of needing to have power. We teach men that to be masculine means having control and authority over others, so many men view these violent acts as a means of maintaining control over their partners. It’s horrible, but when we don’t teach men a socially acceptable way of expressing negative emotions (and tell them that to be emasculated is to lose status in society) they often turn to violence. Furthermore, if a man views his partner as an object to be controlled, it’s unsurprising that he could view groups of people he’s prejudiced against or feels have wronged him the same way.

Moreover, we continue to normalize and stoke this misogynistic anger in online communities and forums where many men who feel entitled to have a sexual partner, and cheated that they do not, blame women for their problems and often celebrate men who hurt women. In fact, several of these men have used guns against women they do not know, and explicitly stated this misogynistic reasoning. It’s important to be mindful of the way we interpret the numbers here. Because mass shootings make up such a small portion of the gun violence in America, there are very few abusers that actually go on to commit those atrocities. On the flip side, many mass shooters have a history of violence, and it is necessary to understand that correlation. Their possession of assault weapons only makes their acts of violence all the more deadly.

 

Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes

Hate crimes have been on the rise over the last few years, across lots of different marginalized groups. An FBI report indicates that overall hate crimes have increased by 17% and that anti-Semitic hate crimes have increased by 37%. Based on data collected by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Semitic hate crimes comprise about 11% of hate crimes overall, and 58% of hate crimes against religious groups. For comparison, Jewish people make up about 2% of the United States population, and 0.2% of the world’s population. So why are we so targeted?

It would take an entirely separate post to delineate the long history of violence and persecution against the Jewish people, but it is practically as old as the religion itself. Even in modern history, there are countless examples of anti-Semitic violence, many of which have been forgotten (this article lists just a few over the last hundred years). Many people who commit these acts are fueled by hateful rhetoric they see online.

Most of this anti-Semitic rhetoric stems from ancient stereotypes that still persist today. From Shakespearean villains to old movies to today’s political campaigns, anti-Semitic tropes have a long and ugly history. Samantha Bee did an amazing job of explaining that history and how it’s connected to today’s politics in a segment on her show. Essentially, the use of dog-whistle politics is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but its implications and allusions to deep-rooted stereotypes are like a language that sends a clear signal to those who already speak it.

 

Where do we go from here?

I really wish that I could conclude this piece on a positive note. I wish I could point to some positive trends that indicate understanding and acceptance are on the rise, while fear and violence are fading away. I wish I could, but I have nothing to point to. Instead, as I finish writing this blog, I get an email notification from the UMBC Police Department alerting the community of yet another display of anti-Semitism on this campus.

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I’m tired of this. I’m tired of anti-Semitism being dismissed in progressive movements that advocate for diversity and acceptance. I’m tired of Nazis being referred to as “very fine people” and of free speech being used to defend them. I’m tired of centrists trying to hear “both sides of the story,” as though hate should be treated as a valid political ideology. I’m tired of social media executives bending over backwards to promote community guidelines, but doing nothing about literal neo-Nazis using their platforms. I’m tired and I’m angry. I’ve heard too many Holocaust jokes, had too many stereotypes hurled in my face, and seen too many concerns about anti-Semitism get brushed aside.

I don’t want to see any more swastikas drawn on bathroom walls. I don’t want to be scared for my safety when I go to see one of my favorite shows, and I don’t want to see people–especially people on this campus–use anti-Semitism as the punchline of a joke. Jewish people cannot and should not be the only ones fighting this bigotry. We need people who aren’t Jewish to step up and show some support. Find organizations that combat anti-Semitism, educate yourself on Jewish history and culture, and confront this hatred when you see it. You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room, but we can’t take any more of your silence.

 

Sources/Further Reading

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/stephen-paddock-las-vegas-domestic-violence-fantasy-boston-bomber-orlando-shooting-a7993186.html

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/07/556405489/the-relationship-between-domestic-violence-and-mass-shootings

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/searching-for-motives-in-mass-shootings

https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/oct/06/newsweek/are-white-males-responsible-more-mass-shootings-an/

http://www.phillytrib.com/news/majority-of-mass-shootings-carried-out-by-white-men/article_8b8b0145-c512-525a-8a7d-256bfb3a959f.html

https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a23088401/domestic-violence-coercive-control/