Dear Survivor

This guest post was written by a UMBC community member who has asked to remain anonymous to allow for privacy while sharing this important experience. 

***Content Note: This post contains detailed descriptions of physical threats and sexual violence, and mentions of suicidal ideation. Please practice self-care while reading.*** 

Dear Survivor,

I would like to tell you my story of survival. I think that maybe, just maybe, it could provide you with something that will be helpful. I hope that it will. As a survivor myself, I know that lots of people have reacted to me in ways that minimized my experience, or, in contrast, made my experience into the thing that defined me. Both felt like shit. Both made me feel trapped.

I don’t want to do that to you. Instead, I want to show you a path to a future in which your survival matters, but the specific things you have survived are just a distant footnote in your memory.

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Dear Survivor letters created at UMBC’s Take Back the Night offer messages of solidarity.

I want to tell you some details about my story. It happened 25 years ago.

Continue reading

Why is the Women’s Center Hosting an Overdose Response Training?

Today, the Women’s Center and University Health Services will host an Overdose Response Training. The training is run by the Baltimore City Health Department and it teaches individuals how to respond to opioid overdose and gives them the tools needed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Each attendee will be certified to administer Naloxone (or Narcan) and receive a prescription card for a Naloxone kit.

Is opioid overdose really that big of a deal?

2015 Total Overdose Deaths.pngUnfortunately, yes. Opioid use, whether prescription or otherwise, has skyrocketed in the US over the last few years, especially in Baltimore City. In the year 2015, 748 people died of heroin overdose and 351 people died of prescription opioid overdose in Baltimore City. That’s 1,099 deaths, not including overdoses which did not result in death.

Okay so it’s a big deal but like…why is the Women’s Center concerned about it?

Addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues. According to the CDC, LGBTQ populations are significantly more likely to engage in substance use– 20 to 30 percent compared to about 9 percent of the general populations. Women are more likely than men to be addicted to prescription painkillers, and people living in poverty are significantly more likely to be addicted to opiates. Although the rate of opioid use has not dramatically increased for people of color (as opposed to whites), this is not due to lack of use, but due to underprescription of opioid pain medication for people of color. Often, doctors underestimate and undertreat the pain experienced by people of color. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the communities we serve.

Wait, what do you mean when you say addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues?

There are several social and structural factors which contribute to substance use. Populations who lack access to healthcare may turn to illicit substances as a way of managing pain, stress, or mental health issues. These are the same populations which are unable to afford recovery programs or end up in prison instead of treatment.

One of the major factors contributing to the disproportionate rate of substance abuse among LGBTQ populations is the concept of minority stress. Minority stress is the idea that “sexual minority health disparities can be explained in large part by stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization and may ultimately impact access to care.” This concept can apply to racial issues as well as issues of poverty, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Basically, the stress of experiencing discrimination, harassment, violence, housing and job insecurity, poverty, and a general sense of social stigma and isolation drives people to self-medicate, which, can result in addiction. Addiction and substance use are a direct result of policy and social dynamics.

Whoa, okay, it sounds like this issue is way bigger than training a few people on overdose response.

You’re right, there’s a lot of factors at play here. Ultimately, overdose deaths will only go down when we fix the major issues that cause substance abuse in the first place.

But while we work on all of that, overdose response is part of an approach called harm reduction. Harm reduction is based on the idea that people who use drugs are people and the best way to reduce the harm that comes to those people is to meet them where they’re at and with compassion. According to Harm Reduction International, “Harm Reduction refers to policies, program
s and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community.” Harm reduction understands all the factors that contribute to substance abuse and rejects the idea that drug users are good or bad. It focuses instead on making sure that people have what they need and are supported as human beings.

Harm reduction focuses on the things people need right now. A person can’t get help if they’re dead, and overdose response can prevent that from happening.

Can’t we just make drugs illegal?

Short answer? Nope.

Most drugs are already illegal, but that obviously doesn’t stop people from using them. In fact, laws are huge barriers which prevent people from seeking or receiving treatment. Many people are afraid of being arrested or institutionalized for seeking help for drug addiction. Many people are arrested for substance use and go to prison instead of rehab, or only receive treatment while in jail. Besides, laws don’t change the social factors that cause people to use drugs in the first place.

Okay, so who should attend an Overdose Response Training?

Well, it’s sort of like CPR. Knowing how to do it and having the tools can save a life, so everyone should do it.

Anyone who is likely to work with opioid users (like people who work with the general public, in medicine, or with homeless and LGBTQ populations) should be trained. That means if you’re a social worker, someone who works in a hospital or medical facility, a campus RA, a health educator, or a volunteer, this training is for you.

If you know someone in your personal life who uses opioids, or if you are part of an at-risk community, this training is also for you.

If you don’t have any of these experiences, this training is still for you. Opioid use (and overdose) occurs frequently and everywhere. Frankly, everyone and anyone should receive this free training.

Where can I learn more?

Naloxone and Overdose FAQ

Baltimore City Overdose Response Program

Baltimore City Overdose Prevention and Response Information

Performing Pregnancy As A Black Woman

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A reflection by Women’s center staff member, Kayla Smith.

 

Full disclosure: I’m a Beyonce stan. I support pretty much everything she does. There are very few things Beyonce can do that I wouldn’t damn near worship. Needless to say when she released pictures from her maternity shoot I was ready to bow down.

 

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Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement on Instagram

I scrolled through her website looking at all the maternity pictures in awe. The symbolism of a black woman evoking the Virgin Mary and the goddess Venus was not lost on me as I looked through the pictures feeling overjoyed for her and hopeful for my own future. She looked regal and glowed  with pride. This pregnancy announcement was radically different from her first, and was shrouded in much less mystery. I was reminded that in 2015 Beyonce suffered a miscarriage and I was so happy that she could announce another pregnancy with confidence. I even lamented to my boyfriend hoping that I would be as beautiful as Beyonce whenever I decide to have kids.

 

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Beyonce as the Goddess Venus, pictured with a bust of Nefertiti.

To my surprise, outside of the BeyHive bubble, not everyone responded to the maternity shoot in the same way I did. Comment threads are filled with comments that call the maternity shoot “tacky,” “extra,” and “self absorbed.” Articles were written criticizing not just the image, but Beyonce and the announcement itself. Continue reading

What Happened to the “Working” in International Working Women’s Day?

Daniel Willey A post by staff member Daniel Willey

Wednesday, March 8th marked International Working Women’s Day and the Women’s Strike, or the Day Without Women. On that day, women were encouraged to not work or shop and wear red in solidarity as a way of protesting inequality and showing women’s economic impact.

Protest organizers Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez arrested at New York protest on Wednesday

 

But, International Working Women’s Day has always been a day for striking. The first time this day was observed in 1908, women marched in New York City against poor working conditions and low wages. The observance of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD) spread quickly to other countries as a part of socialist movements and, eventually, as protests against WWI. In 1917, women, joined by female textile workers and eventually working men, gathered in the Russian capital to protest living and working conditions– a day which would spark the Russian revolution.

It is in honor of this history and this tradition that I write this blog.

There have been a lot of critiques of this year’s IWWD Women’s Strike. I’ve read about how only privileged women who can afford time off or have the job stability will participate. Prince George’s county schools closed on Wednesday because so many of their teachers requested the day off, leaving poor kids without school lunch and breakfast and working parents with nowhere to put their kids. Some just plain argue that the strike is a symbolic gesture and that it’s effectively useless as a strategy.

I’d like to make a different critique: when International Working Women’s Day becomes International Women’s Day, we lose the incredible power of the strike and deny the history paved by women in labor movements. Continue reading

Balancing School, Anxiety and Activism in Tumultuous Times

 

shira-spring-headshot a short reflection by Shira Devorah, Women’s Center student staff member

This semester has only just begun, and I’m already feeling pretty anxious. Granted, I’m usually pretty anxious – but this feels different.

If you’ve been following the news recently, you may understand. For many marginalized groups, it’s hard to feel stable right now. While I’m privileged in many ways, integral parts of my identity are under attack right now.  I’m proud of being a queer Jewish woman, but these parts of who I am feel very vulnerable and exposed at the moment. My uncertainty is manifesting as physical sensations. There’s a constant tightness in the pit of my stomach, and it’s hard to focus on things outside of the instability surrounding me. This is a difficult moment in time, and I want to be doing something about it, but my mental illness flare-ups make me question my ability to do so. I want to help, but  I also have to take care of my anxiety.

Amidst the current chaos, it is also my last semester at UMBC. If I know myself at all, this means I may be more susceptible to anxiety attacks during this life change. School work is a balancing act for me, and while I’ve had a few shaky semesters, I care a lot about my education. Most of my anxiety is tied up in how well I do, and this is my last chance to (literally) make the grade. UMBC students are held to a high standard of excellence, and I want my last semester to reflect this. To meet my personal achievement goals, I have to put a lot of energy into my studies. This can be draining and difficult to juggle with clinical anxiety.

I’m sure I’m not alone – Many people, especially women, deal with anxiety.  I’ve talked to a bunch of friends who live with similar anxiety conditions. We’re all struggling to figure out how to contribute, how to be present for people and speak up. It can be really, really difficult- but I know it isn’t impossible. Continue reading

Women’s March on Washington: We Marched. What’s Next?

A sampling of “what’s next” from UMBC community members, curated by Jess Myers, Women’s Center Director 

Last week, I shared some of my hopes and desired outcomes from the Women’s March on Washington. While I was looking forward to marching and being in relationship with other women and people at the march, I was (and am) more invested in the what’s next. In my blog, I wrote, “I want the momentum and energy to continue after the march, especially for those who are new to the movement, new to activism, new to seeing things that are unfair and unjust. I want us to stay loud. To stay critical. To stay visible and demand what is right, what is necessary. I want you to volunteer. I want you to keep learning and growing. I want you to find your activism (if you haven’t already) and make a difference. I want all those things for myself as well. 

On Saturday night and Sunday morning, my entire Facebook timeline was filled with amazing photos of the March (and also really important critiques of the march which you should also take some time to read). What was even more exciting than the photos, was the plans people were committing to in their post-march glow. So many people are fired up!

In my last post, I also reflected on the mission of the Women’s Center and our commitment to advocating for and advancing the rights of women and marginalized people. While the Women’s Center is a space and the people who work in it are committed to putting in the work, YOU, our community, are a huge part of that mission. We need you to help us live and be our mission. So with that in mind, I put a call out to some Women’s Center friends and former staff and asked them to share what their post-plans march are so I could share them as inspiration and motivation to our larger community. What I share below isn’t necessarily the full list each person shared with me but I love the breadth of ideas and action items.

So, I’ll go first…

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Continue reading

Women’s March on Washington

Jess MyersA reflection from Jess Myers, Women’s Center director 

Last weekend, I finally decided I would go to the Women’s March on Washington.

I’ve been to marches in the past. I drove 18 hours from Baltimore to Ft. Benning, Georgia in my early 20s for the School of Americas protest with a van load of Mercy nuns and my best friend. Attending college in Washington, D.C. during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars had me popping on the Metro often enough to join an anti-war rally. My favorite Pride parades have been the ones I’ve walked in rather than watched from the sidelines. In Baltimore, I’ve marched for justice, for Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray, for Black Lives.

But, never have I marched for and with women for a platform dedicated to women’s rights.

A few weeks ago, I was in a room with several UMBC faculty members as they recalled their memories of past women’s marches. As they shared their experiences, it was evident that being in a space with thousands of other women advocating for women’s rights was a powerful moment for them. While each of the individuals who shared their stories have committed their lives to activism and feminism, those marches still held a unique and powerful place in their hearts. In fact, what was particularly striking was how they spoke about their experiences in relationship to those who were with them – their mothers, their daughters, their friends.

I want to be in relationship with other women and I’ve decided that going to this Saturday’s march is just one way I can do that. Continue reading