Honoring our graduating UMBC moms, parents, and returning students

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With Mother’s Day still in the air and with UMBC’s 50th Commencement quickly approaching, the Women’s Center is reflecting with immense pride on all of the UMBC mothers and parents who have passed through our doors, used our services, and who have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Our moms and parents, whether they are a part of the Returning Women Student Scholars Programs, use the lactation room, or just come in to the Center to hang out, exemplify the eponymous “grit” that is so integral to UMBC’s identity. UMBC moms balance an enormous amount of responsibilities as they work to advance their careers. From partners to full time jobs and from children to parents in need, moms returning to UMBC face unique challenges and require unique support.

Being a parent and being a university student are often identities that are invisible. As most traditional students create their schedules and hope to get into a class with their favorite professor, UMBC moms and parents are striving to create a schedule that enables them to balance family, school, work, and their own self-care. The Women’s Center is a place where we strive to honor the complexities of being a parent and a student through supportive and dynamic services. Our moms and parents have access to scholarships, professional development workshops, our lactation room, and 1-1 support services.

This Mother’s Day the Women’s Center is proud to recognize the mothers and parents who are a part of the UMBC community and who we are honored to serve everyday. As this year comes to a close, please consider making a donation to the Women’s Center in honor of our 25th Anniversary. Your gift goes on to support UMBC moms and make our services even better. 

Give today, and help us support our UMBC moms, parents, and returning students.

Check out the stories of two of our graduating Returning Women Scholars on UMBC News:

Erin Callahan and Natacha Ngea.

Supporting survivors past April

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This past April was our most powerful yet. In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Women’s Center coordinated the annual Take Back the Night event, which 265 UMBC community members attended (click here for a photo round-up). The Clothesline Project reached another 183 people, and 10 new shirts were created by survivors of interpersonal violence.

 

 

The Women’s Center’s mission to support survivors extends beyond April. This year, the Women’s Center has trained 103 students, faculty, and staff in our supporting survivors workshops. Jess and Megan have also devoted over 25 hours of 1-1 support meetings for survivors and those dedicated to supporting them.

As this school year ends, please help us continue cultivating a survivor-responsive campus. We are only $450 away from making our 25th Anniversary GiveCorps goal for the 2016-2017 school year!
Give today and help a survivor access the support they need. 

Writing as a woman: A conversation

In recognition of the other month-long celebration that is April’s National Poetry Month, Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator Amelia Meman recorded a discussion on writing as a woman with her two best friends. Check out the video below, and join the conversation!

Writing as a woman.

It’s something I think about fairly often, because it brings up issues of worthiness, knowledge-making, developing identities, creating dialogues and rhetorical communities, and communicating experience. Writing is, in many ways, the convergence of the private becoming public–y’know, that old feminist maxim. Writing as an act and later as a product contains multitudes, especially in its intersections with identity.

That said, I was eager to talk with two of my best friends, Susie Hinz and Kerrin Smith, about their experiences as writers, as woman, and as women writers (or alternatively writerly women?). A video of our conversation is below. We talk about the intersections of identity and writing, getting over feelings of unworthiness, working through writer’s block, and many other writing-related things.

Susie is a UMBC alum who is working at Maryland Humanities and is also curating a fantastic blog (and possibly publishing a novel in the future). Kerrin is a poet in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program, and you can catch updates on her published work (and her life) on her Twitter.

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This is how we generally feel about writing. (Thanks to Susie for this picture.)

A note: Our discussion is extremely limited in terms of “what it means to be a woman writer,” and we want to acknowledge this. We all have particular aspects of privilege and oppression that affect our identities (gender, creative, and otherwise), and this conversation stems from a particular place of privilege. It’s my hope that this discussion, though limited in terms of perspective, is still insightful and helpful to those watching.

The Rise in Human Trafficking in the State of Maryland

This post was written by Farhan Augustine, a UMBC senior studying Biochemistry. In addition to his work at UMBC, Farhan advocates for the rights of human trafficking survivors and is actively involved in local efforts to create legislation that would protect survivors. 

Human sex and labor trafficking is a hideous violation of human rights that has been quietly growing in our communities for many years. According to some of the statistics, human trafficking is now the second highest grossing criminal enterprise across the world.

Maryland Data TablesAlthough the awareness regarding human sex and labor trafficking appears to be growing, our state of Maryland remains a treasure-trove for human sex and labor trafficking. Maryland is a vital location because many of our highways, especially I-95, provide easy access to some of the most populated communities on the East Coast. Traffickers use many of our local highways to traverse between New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. In fact, National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) reports receiving 531 tips and registering 158 Human trafficking cases in Maryland in the year 2016. Further breakdown of the NHTH data indicates that 77% of the reported human trafficking cases involved sex trafficking, and 16% of the reported cases involved human labor trafficking. Moreover, Maryland’s Judiciary (Administrative Office of the Courts), the U.S. Department of Justice, and Department of Legislative Services advises that approximately 476 violations of Maryland’s Criminal Law, Article 11-303 (MD Criminal Law, Article 11- related to Human trafficking), were seen in District Courts and 256 violations were seen in the Circuit Courts.

Despite being so prevalent in Maryland, human trafficking remains hidden in plain sight. My main purpose in writing this article is to make you aware of human trafficking in Maryland in the hopes that you may become an active and informed member of our society.

Human Trafficking is More Than Sex Trafficking

Maryland Data Charts (1)Many people associate human trafficking with sexual exploitation; however, human trafficking has many different faces, and it plays a major role in dozens of businesses across Maryland. Labor exploitation is another facet of human trafficking. Maryland counts domestic labor, begging rings, traveling sales crews, agriculture and fish farming industries, health care industry, marriage and online dating, commercial brothels, hotel/motel brothels, and online escort services as hubs of human trafficking. As widespread as it is, human trafficking is often undetectable to the untrained eye. “Mail-order brides,” for example are illegal in Maryland under Criminal Law §11-303 and (HB#0276F) which describes “compelled marriage” as marriage in which a person knowingly takes money or uses fraud to compel the other person to marry another person. This crime is punishable with up to 25 years of imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $15,000. A person who knowingly aids, abets, or benefits financially from such ventures or activities is also in violation of the state’s human trafficking laws, and is subject to the same penalties. Thus, human trafficking is more widespread than many people realize and spreading awareness is of utmost importance.

Furthermore, many people are maladroit in distinguishing between smuggling and trafficking. This in part is because of the widespread neo-abolitionist discourses adopted by almost all anti-trafficking efforts, movies, TV shows, and political activities which sets up widespread misrepresentation of victims of trafficking only as young and innocent women who are deceived and forced into the sex industry. The reality is something of a complicated nature and is often perverse for policy and law making purposes. For example, it is true that many women that are trafficked for sex and labor are often forced into such acts. However, the unauthorized international migration, often initiated by women themselves to ameliorate their lives and families, positions them as isolated and distinct victims of emotional, physical, and sexual exploitation that is almost unprecedented and often under reported by victims due to fears of retaliation from the law enforcement agencies. Thus, a simple definition of a trafficking victim that suffers at the hands of individual men: traffickers, clients, and buyers, needs to be broadened to form holistic anti-trafficking policies and laws that do no assume or correlate trafficking with only sex work. The problem with the popular view of “human trafficking = sex work” is that it relies on the construction of human trafficking based on gender stereotypes and denies men and women’s agency by focusing exclusively on sexual exploitation of women that makes other types of labor exploitation almost invisible. Instead it reinforces the patriarchal discourse that all “sex workers” must necessarily be “passive victims” that need paternal protection, and it establishes a single framework for victimhood that most of the exploited undocumented migrant victims cannot meet in the court of law. Thus, it is important to be aware and create laws and policies to distinguish between people that intentional engage in sex work purely for their own economic gains, and separate those from the people who are forced and coerced into modern day sex-slavery.  

Maryland’s Legislation and Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts

Maryland, compared to some other states like Florida, New York, and California, does not have a comprehensive human trafficking legislation. To give you some background regarding the Human trafficking laws in Maryland, I have chosen to present you with information which (I believe) every responsible citizen of the State should be aware of. (Click the hyperlinks if you require further comprehension of Criminal Law Article-11). MD Code, Criminal Law, §11-303, as repealed and reenacted in October 2010, provided the following major provisions to the Criminal Law Article.

  1.  § 11-303(a)(1)(v) of the Criminal Law Article “A person may not knowingly: engage in a device, scheme, or continuing course of conduct intended to cause another to believe that if the other did not take part in a sexually explicit performance, the other or a third person would suffer physical restraint or serious physical harm.”  
  2. § 11-303(b)(2) of the Criminal Law Article A person may not knowingly take or detain another with the intent to use force, threat, coercion, or fraud to compel the other to marry the person or a third person or perform a sexual act, sexual contact, or vaginal intercourse.” Separate from Criminal Law, the MD Code- Transportation- §8-655, requires the rest area restrooms and businesses to post National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information signs.
  3. §11-303(f), provide that a person charged with Human trafficking of a minor may not assert a defense by claiming to not have known the age of the victim.
  4. As of January 23, 2017, the Maryland General Assembly has passed House Bill #0276 which extends the statute of limitations to 10 years, applicable to civil actions related to Human trafficking.

Maryland’s Human trafficking Laws are slowly becoming more comprehensive, nonetheless, without more community involvement our State’s legislature will continue overlooking Human Rights Violations associated with human trafficking.

Community Safety and Involvement

As stated previously, much of our community is unaware of the expansive foothold that human trafficking is establishing in our communities. Maryland, in 2007, established the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General of Maryland, and the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City to investigate, prosecute, and serve the victims of human trafficking in our state. MHTTF has been subcategorized based on the region it serves. See the resource section for the list of local Task Forces. Since January 2013, the local task forces and federal law enforcement partners (FBI, Dept. of Homeland Security, etc..) have identified ≥ 200 victims of trafficking and have prosecuted 94 human traffickers. The men and women of MHTTF do great fieldwork and deserve our gratitude for making our communities safer.

However, the infrastructure to support MHTTF is still in the infancy stage. The state and federal funding to establish facilities that can provide crisis services to victims and survivors, and to serve as community outreach centers for training, research, and development is lacking significantly. It is paramount to provide training to first responders, public universities, school teachers, and to health care professionals that can confidentially screen potential victims of Human trafficking.

My principles spare me no excuse, for the same freedoms, which I enjoy so much, should also be accessible for every person regardless of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, or age. Most of my December and January months were spent studying Maryland’s Constitution and Criminal Law, Article-11. I was writing emails and making phone calls to anyone I though could help in making my voice heard at the state or the federal legislature. My singular voice in the ether of bureaucracy was praying for a change to occur. Thanks to the efforts of so many people who had the same conviction as me, the change has begun to happen. On January 23, 2017, the Human Trafficking – Civil Actions – Statue of Limitations (HB#0276) was first read and passed in the Maryland’s General Assembly. Its purpose was to extend the Statue of Limitations related to Human trafficking, effective October 1, 2017. Which means, if a plaintiff who were a minor at the time the statute of limitations began to accrue, he/she would now have 10 years to file a civil cause of action in Maryland. Furthermore, a new federal bill has been proposed in the House of Representatives in January, “Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2017.” This new bill is spearheading the efforts to decriminalize certain non-violent convictions and arrest records of Human trafficking victims. Many of our young adults and runaway foster-care children become victims of human trafficking. [They are pushed into a lifestyle that they did not choose and often violently exploited.] It is heartbreaking for me to acknowledge that instead of providing safety, protection, and guidance to people, our laws assign a criminal status to those who are victims of Human trafficking.

Thus, I implore you to partake in the process of bringing freedom, liberty, and happiness to victims of Human trafficking, and help to lessen their suffering. One of the easiest ways you can help is by holding your public officials accountable. Public pressures and public awareness is the key to getting our legislatures to recognize and change the laws which protect and safeguard our communities against Human traffickers. Together we can bring change in our communities. I am providing you with two links to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s petition forms. Please consider signing the petitions to protect the victims of Human trafficking, and please help them get their freedom back.

 

1). Petition for the reauthorization of Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act: http://act.polarisproject.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23990

2). Trafficking Survivor’s Relief Act http://act.polarisproject.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23688

 

Additional Resources:

Maryland’s Human Trafficking Task Forces: http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/mhttf

 

 

NGOs and Other Local Agencies: http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/partners

A Time to Resist + A Time to Take Care

amelia-meman-headshotA reflection written by Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman

So here we are. Another day in this brave new world.

Are you exhausted yet? Emotionally, physically, psychologically?

If you’re not–congratulations! That’s really good and you are a sweet glowing angel.

If you are, though, you’re not alone and you are also a sweet glowing angel.

deadI’m tired, too. For all of us feminists, social justice warriors, and snowflakes, this is a tough time. The stream of executive actions and questionable cabinet appointments have rocked our communities and have malignantly affected some of the most vulnerable groups in the U.S. The fights we’ve been engaging in throughout every administration have been exacerbated and fear is alive more than ever. 

Seeing the reaction from social justice activists has been heartening for me in many ways. The women’s march was awesome and huge (though not without its fair share of criticism from Black women, the trans community, and many others). Other demonstrations against the refugee ban and the massive uptick in people contacting their elected representatives to demand accountability has shown us that massive swathes of the public have been activated to resist in a great variety of ways.

This work is both vital and neverending. Making an impact is difficult, exhausting work. It involves massive amounts of human energy. What I’m ultimately getting to is this: are you taking care of yourself right now? 
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This Must Be The Place

Recently, I’ve been buoying myself in this onslaught of political shitstorming by listening to a self-care playlist. The playlist is chock full of all of the songs that help me get by when it’s hard to navigate the world and ones that I can sing very loudly.

One song that I gravitate towards lately is the Talking Heads’s “This Must Be The Place.”

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Click here for text version of This Must Be The Place lyrics.

This song has a lot of meaning for me. It’s the song that my dad serenaded my mother with at their wedding. “This Must Be The Place” is the crucible of my parents’ love, so it’s sort of the thing that formed me. It’s a song I sing to myself when I want to cry and when I want to smile and when I want to scream. I sang it with my dad through a vocal harmonizer as we welcomed 2017 (and threw 2016 into the fire pit). I think my mom cried a bit, but I couldn’t see because I was crying.

Coming back to work at the Women’s Center, I am, yet again, thinking about this song’s resonance and its meaning and its magic.

The Women’s Center is home for me. It is a beacon when trauma strikes and when justice is sought. The Women’s Center simultaneously grounds us and lifts us up—like any good home does. It is a place of love, warmth, truth, and hope. A place so rare and crucial right now.

It would be an understatement to say I am happy to be back at UMBC and at the Women’s Center. I am elated, I am at peace, I am confident. This space, this place—the Women’s Center—fulfills the promises of feminist, queer, radical social justice theories by providing a home for me and all the other community members who occupy its world.

As the Special Projects Coordinator (a title Jess lovingly made for me), I am diving back into the constantly evolving environment of the Women’s Center. Over the semester I will be collaborating alongside staff and interns to enhance programming, expand social media outreach efforts, and design marketing initiatives. In short, doing everything I love to do for an organization I love.

I am so thankful to be back home at the Women’s Center and at UMBC. I am beyond ecstatic to join a team that inspires me everyday, and that I care about so deeply. I am enlivened by the opportunity to continue working with a mission centered on intersectional feminism and critical social justice.

Home, is where I want to be

But I guess I’m already there

I come home, she lifted up her wings

I guess that this must be the place.

 

Women’s Center 4EVER: Reflections on My Last Day as Women’s Center Staff

Few college graduates can claim to have had the experience my fellow staff and I have shared while with the Women’s Center. Our jobs have been many things: one part employee, one part student, one part teacher, one part social justice programmer, one part artist, one part writer, one part friend, one part killjoy. I can’t speak for everybody, but I know I was able to work from many different angles–something I’ve always wanted in a job–and I was guided by my own passion for feminism and social justice. With the Women’s Center, I have gained quite a bit of insight into working with a professional social justice organization.

This is where I’m going to talk about what I’ve gained from my time with the Women’s Center.

I’m not crying or anything about it being my last day…

Working at the Women’s Center you gain a lot of different skills that become increasingly useful as you approach graduation and begin to enter the “real world,” as we so forebodingly call it (as if college is a wholly separate fantasy world where our responsibilities don’t exist). Here are a few of the most valuable things I’ve learned about, and that I’ve been reflecting on as I count down to my last day working at the Center.

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