September Knowledge Exchange Roundup: A Voter Resource Guide

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Student staff member Hannah Wilcove provides a recap of the semester’s first Knowledge Exchange

Last week, we had our first Knowledge Exchange of the Fall 2018 semester. With the midterm elections coming up in November, our overarching theme for these Knowledge Exchanges is political and civic engagement. The topic for this Knowledge Exchange was knowing your voting rights, and over the course of the event, we talked about the history of the fight for the right to vote, some of the reasons people don’t vote (such as gerrymandering and voter suppression), and issues of accessing information. We also did an activity to demonstrate the overly-strict matching standards some states use to maintain their voter rolls, and discussed the accessibility of political engagement in the United States as well as stories of feeling encouraged or discouraged from voting. For people with family and friends that are active in politics, it can be hard to think that there are people who don’t know how to vote, but the truth is, seeking out that information can be difficult and time-consuming. From this conversation, the need for a voter resource guide was born.  

Side note: This blog is meant to be a general resource, and election laws vary by state, which means it’s hard to cover all the complexities and variations. Because so many people at UMBC are from Maryland, that’s what my examples will cover, but if you want more detailed information about a specific state, I encourage you to look up your state’s name and the information you’re looking for (ex: “Virginia voter registration deadline”).

  • Registration: The first step in voting in the United States is registration. Unlike some other countries, voter registration in the U.S. is not automatic. So if you’re not registered to vote and you would like to be, take 2 minutes to register here. Make sure to do that before your state’s voter registration deadline, and if it’s passed, check whether or not they have same-day registration (you can do all of that here). In case you didn’t know, Maryland’s voter registration deadline is October 16th, 2018 at 9:00 pm. One thing we focused on in our conversation was voter suppression and the fact that many people–including active voters–have been purged from the voter rolls in recent elections. If that’s something you’re concerned about, you can take 30 seconds to double check your registration status here.nu1110_vote
  • Voting Method: So you’ve got your registration all worked out; now it’s time to figure out how you’re going to vote. Depending on your situation, you have a few different options. If you have some time on Election Day (Tuesday, November 6th), then you can go the traditional route: go to the polls, wait in line, and vote. However, that option won’t work for everyone. If that’s the case, fear not. Maybe you have some time before Election Day, but not on that Tuesday. If that’s the case, you should look into early voting. The details vary by state, but here is a link where you can look into which states have early voting (Maryland does), and here is a calendar that tells you when the early voting period for each state is. If that still doesn’t work, you can look into absentee ballot. With absentee ballots, you don’t have to go to the polls because you just mail in your ballot. This is a great option for people who don’t have reliable transportation, but note that there are two downsides to doing this. The first is that absentee ballots aren’t counted unless the difference in other votes is close enough to warrant it (i.e. if Candidate A is 100 votes ahead of Candidate B, and there are only 20 absentee ballots, those 20 votes won’t be counted because they won’t change the outcome), and the second is that you don’t get a sticker. Still, you shouldn’t assume that your vote won’t be counted, so if absentee voting looks like the best option for you, then check out your state’s rules for it here. Just like early voting, the deadlines around absentee ballots vary by state, so take a look here at what your state’s deadlines are.computers-clipart-confusion-7
  • Action Plan: Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to vote, the next step is making an action plan. This might seem like overkill, but given the craziness that is life, an action plan can help you make sure that you don’t forget to vote or run out of time on election day. So what do you need to know? If you’re voting via absentee ballot, then you just need to make sure that you apply for your ballot and send it in by your state’s deadlines (links are in the above section). If you’re going to the polls, either during early voting or on Election Day, then there’s a little bit more to it. First, you need to figure out where your polling place is, so you can actually go there. You can use this link to find your polling place, but the most reliable method is to use your state’s board of elections website (a list of those is provided on the linked page). For early voting, there may be fewer polling locations open, but you can use this website to find out the specifics for your state and county (you just click on “early voting” under topics and your state, and voila). With these sites, you should also be able to find the specific hours that your polling place is open. Lastly, once you figure out where and when you’re voting, you just need to figure out how to get there. If you have access to a car, then that’s taken care of, but if not, have no fear. If you can’t get a ride from someone, check if your polling place is accessible by public transportation. If so, look up the schedule and make sure that there’s a time you can get there. Not the case? Not a problem. The rideshare company Lyft is offering 50% off rides to the polls on Election Day. For UMBC students, SGA is providing free transportation to early voting in six counties across the state, which you can learn more about here.action
  • Research: You’re all set; you know how you’re going to vote and when, and you’re ready to head to your polling place and vote for…oh, right, you actually need to know who’s on the ballot and what they’re running for. At our Knowledge Exchange, we talked about how hard it can be to figure out all the details because, frankly, not everyone has the time to do that kind of extensive research. The good news is that there are people who have already done some of the work for you. If you need to know what district you’re in, you can use this website if you live in Maryland (just click on the button that says “who represents me” at the top right), and this one if you don’t. The League of Women Voters also has a great tool on their website where you can enter your address and see all the races on your ballot, learn about candidates’ backgrounds, and compare their answers to various questions. For all you Maryland folk reading this, The Baltimore Sun has a voter guide just for you, with comprehensive bios, questionnaires, and articles about each candidate running for elected office in our state.

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  • Tell your friends! Now you’re really all set. If you want to increase the voter rate in the U.S., then one of the best ways to do so is word of mouth! As I’ve said before, it can be difficult and time-consuming to figure all this out, but now that you’re basically an expert, you can help your friends work through it. Plus, with all the links right in front of you, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; just share this guide with your friends to make voting a little more accessible.

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Further Reading:

  • A video about gerrymandering that we played at the Knowledge Exchange
  • An article that lists and describes 12 current methods of voter suppression (note that this article does have a clear slant, however it does a great job at explaining each method)
  • A webpage by the League of Women Voters that has several articles about current efforts to combat voter suppression and increase voter turnout

 

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Women in Writing Roundup

Last week on Wednesday, November 8th, the Women’s Center held our final roundtable discussion of our fall series. The theme: Women in Writing. Panelists, moderator, and participants generated a fascinating discussion on the valuation of women as writers, artists, and creators in greater society. Although much of the criticism that was voiced made for a bleak outlook, our panelists passed on enlightening advice for all artists struggling to make a life with their work.

The roundtable began with the moderator (in this case, myself!) presenting some statistics to ground the conversation. Student staff members had done research to discover the representation of women as both content makers and content matter. Some highlights in these statistics include that women have made gains in more bylines from 2011 to 2014, but they still don’t make up even half of the men’s bylines; half of the National Book Award recipients from 2000 to 2014 have been by men and about men; and similarly, more than half of the Pulitzer Prize recipients from 2000 to 2015 have been by men and about men. In adding an intersectional lens to this data, we also find that women’s publications (when they actually happen) are dominated by white women–women of color, as you may have guessed, make up only a small fraction of the women published in both Poetry and The New Yorker. Check out VIDA for even more numbers on this topic.

Panelists (from left to right): Johanna Alonso, Missy Smith, and Tanya Olson

These numbers stressed the need for this conversation, and our panelists delivered many times over. Tanya Olson (poet and faculty in the English Department), Missy Smith AKA QueenEarth (singer/songwriter and coordinator in the Women’s Center), and Johanna Alonso (writer and UMBC student) started strong in their introductions teasing out themes that we would continue unraveling throughout the panel discussion. Some of the major points from the discussion included:

  • There is a double standard in today’s literary canon. Women are constantly reading about men and books by men, but men reading books about women/by women is not emphasized in the same way. Johanna brought up, for example, that despite the Hunger Games series popularity, many men in her life refused to read the books because the main character was female (and written by a woman).
  • The wealthy heterosexual white male gatekeeper has the power to set mainstream agendas. Many of the panelists agreed that the mainstream art society was a typically masculine space defined by male gatekeepers. When we have those gatekeepers in the form of editors, publishers, producers, etc. they control the agenda, which more often than not does not place value with marginalized creators and their content.
  • Despite the harsh landscape, progress is being made. Both Tanya and Missy spoke to the idea that there is plenty in the world that motivates them to continue what they do, and that comes in the form of the other folks like them–people of color, LGBTQ folks, etc.–who are being published, performing, and making careers for themselves. This visibility, to both Tanya and Missy, is crucial not only for them, but for all of the other writers and artists who aspire to grow in their fields. Missy specifically noted that she writes music and performs to empower others to do the same.
  • You must value you yourself. In order to do this work, you must value yourself. You must continue to believe in your work and the process of honing your craft. This is the driving factor for all of our panelists. Sparked by a question in the crowd about the devaluation of spoken word poetry versus musicians as art, Missy brought up that you have to stick up for yourself. If, for example, you are the only poet in a lineup of musicians, you need to ask to get the same payout as the musicians, because your art is worth that much.
  • The reality is that you are not alone. Although it can feel lonely and exhausting to be one of the only “different” people (women of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, etc.) in your field, you are not alone. Tanya made this point and noted, as well, that even though it may feel isolating, there is a path for everyone–you just have to find it. For her, this meant finding the person who was one step ahead of her, and looking to them as a model and/or a mentor. Johanna noted that her ambivalence transitioned to enthusiasm in a writing class when she found that she was not the only person writing stories about queer people. Just so, when we find the people who make space for us, we need to take it and make more space for all those who follow.

This rich conversation made clear that although there are many barriers that make women writers and artists journeys more difficult, these also create the richness and depth in their stories. The struggle, in some ways, necessitates the story/song/play/etc. in our world, and that success in writing is the sustained progress we make as we take up space and demand equity in the valuation of our art.

In final words of advice, Johanna encouraged us to venture into the nether regions of the Twitter-verse for obscure literary magazines and to read from those sources. Finding art in the most un-obvious places is a way to constantly learn more. Tanya again noted that mentorship can be key, and to find the person who you want to be–and start there. Finally, Missy took us home: “Failure is stopping. We have to keep moving and focusing on the long-game. It’s okay to be different–in fact it’s better

Further reading:

Women and the Environment Roundtable Roundup

Last Thursday, October 12th, the Women’s Center held the second roundtable discussion in our fall series. This one was titled Women and the Environment, and prompted a conversation about how women’s work with regard to the environment was different from men’s, as well as how the environment has disparate impacts on women. Ultimately, we set out to answer the daunting question of how we can bring awareness to the intersections of gender, race, and class with regard to environmental justice.

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We started off by looking at some of the statistics about women’s employment in environmental fields, which were harder to come by because of its broad and interdisciplinary nature. Still, by looking at large trends (only 12% of the jobs in the green energy industry are held by women), case studies at a few prestigious universities, and patterns of leadership, we found large discrepancies in the rates at which women and men were employed in these sectors.

 

From there, we moved on to hear what our panelists had to say about larger themes regarding women and the environment. Dr. Dawn Biehler, a professor in the Geography and Environmental Systems department here at UMBC talked about the history of environmental organizations and how many of the white men who ran them blamed women and people of color for environmental degradation and then silenced their voices when it came to conversations about reparations. Dr. Biehler explained ways in which these patterns are seen today, such as the narratives that blame the higher fertility rate of women in the developing world for problems like poverty and hunger, rather than looking at factors like colonization and the unequal distribution of resources.

 

Sustainability coordinator Tanvi Gadhia talked further about a global perspective and the differences between her work in India with Vandana Shiva and her work in the United States with various sustainability groups. Ultimately, she argued that the hierarchical structures seen in the West benefit those with privilege and hurt marginalized groups like women and people of color. Additionally, she argued that tokenistic inclusion of women and minorities in these groups is not enough; representation does not matter if an institution is not receptive to the voices and leadership of everyone, especially those who have a history of being silenced.

 

Lastly, graduate student Macey Nortey talked about her work studying disaster relief and the concept of holistic recovery. Because of the bureaucracy associated with receiving aid, it is often difficult for communities to wait for the aid of the federal government. Furthermore, government officials may also be selective about who they deem worthy of receiving aid (see Puerto Rico). Therefore, it is necessary for communities to do some preparation themselves to make up the difference. Holistic recovery is also beneficial in that it allows for everyone’s voice to be heard with equal weight.

 

Ultimately, the main themes that came out of this conversation were how to be inclusive of marginalized groups and why it’s necessary, understanding how different groups of people have different relationships to the environment and environmental labor, and how access to resources shapes who gets a say in environmental policy. The inclusion of suppressed voices is integral to our social justice ideals–different communities have different needs, and only by including all voices will all needs be met. The disproportionate impacts certain groups of people face in the aftermath of environmental disasters are not coincidental; they are the result of human intervention and it is our responsibility to correct them.

 

Further Reading:

Women in Tech: A Roundtable Round-Up

A resource roundup provided by Women’s Center student staff member, Sydney

Women in Tech Flyer - print

Each month the Women’s Center hosts a roundtable discussion where we provide a few chosen panelists with guiding questions and then have a community discussion about a particular topic and how it intersects with women and gender. Roundtables are great opportunities to become involved in discourse and ask questions directly to those involved. On Thursday, September 15th The Women’s Center hosted our September roundtable, Women in Technology. In case you missed it or are interested in revisiting the topics, here is a summary of our discussion. At the end, we include some links to reading materials and additional resources.

We started off the session by discussing some relevant statistics regarding women college students who are pursuing STEM degrees and careers. Women earn 57.3% of all Bachelor’s degrees but only account for 17.9% of the degrees in Computer Science.

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Source: careerfoundry.com

When it comes to the workforce, women make up a small percentage of the tech jobs. And even a smaller percentage of those in leadership positions!

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Source: statista.com, 2014

And although women only make up a small percentage of tech jobs at these companies, women use these platforms more than men!

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After addressing some of the statistics about the discrepancies surrounding women in STEM fields, we heard from our panel about their experiences in academia and the tech industry.

Dr. Danyelle Ireland who is the Associate Director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) and Dr. Marie desJardins, the Associate Dean of  College of Engineering and Information Technology here at UMBC, talked about why there is such a small number of women pursuing STEM. They set out to debunk the myth of a “lack of interest” surrounding technology for women and instead pointed out social factors that contribute to the low numbers. These included:

  • A lack of awareness of jobs or role models
  • The socialization that STEM is for men reaffirmed by video game and tech advertisements. Specifically, Dr. desJardins’ shared that when personal computers first began to be marketed to the general public in the 1980s, advertisements only focused on men as the would-be-users of this new technology.
  • Bias and discrimination that women may face in the workforce.
  • A hypercritical culture in which women constantly critique their own work.
  • The introduction of AP computer science classes in high schools which women students did not think was their space and a discrepancy of life goals between men and women.
  • The Innate Brilliance Model
  • And performance perception in which women are much harsher on their own performance compared to men’s self-perception.

We then heard from our last panelist, Katie Dillon, who is a UMBC CWIT student majoring in computer science. Katie discussed the importance of seeing women in her classes and how, in her experience, CWIT has created a more women-friendly climate in her tech classes. She then talked about her experiences in the tech industry and the sexism she faces as a woman intern in the tech industry. These instances ranged from being mistaken for a secretary (and not the engineer she in fact was) to being told she only got her position only because she is a woman.

We ended our discussion with each panelist giving participants their advice on how to handle workplace sexism or discrimination. There were two common theme throughout the answers – making connections  and knowing your limits. For women in tech it is important to surround yourself with allies, whether that be a mentor or fellow women employees, in order to have a soundboard if an issue was to arise. Knowing your reporting guidelines is also important (for example, “Can you report an instance of sexism anonymously at your workplace?”). The last piece of advice the panelists gave was to know what you stand for. Dr. Ireland made a point to tell the audience that it is not worth compromising yourself for a degree or a job and Dr. desJardins gave the advice that people respect when you are unapologetically yourself. Katie also made the great point that you are interviewing a company just as much as they are interviewing you – don’t be afraid to find out what they are willing to do for you!

Below are some resources surrounding Women in Tech: 


For further reading:

 

Be sure to follow the Women’s Center on myUMBC to stay tuned for our next round table event in October!

Women in Activism: a Roundtable Round-Up

The Women’s Center ended our spring roundtable series on a high note last Thursday with Women in Activism. If you weren’t able to join us for our lively discussion, here’s a short round-up of what you missed!

This semester’s roundtable series focused on the ways that women are made invisible and silenced within certain spaces. For this discussion on activism, we began with a short visual presentation that illustrates how women often go unseen within the very movements they’ve worked to create.

Our three panelists shared their insights on the topic to help launch our discussion: Dr. Beverly Bickel from Language, Literacy and Culture (LLC); Iman Said, a junior Psychology major and Baltimore-based activist; and Jacki Stone, Community Health and Safety Specialist and a graduate student in LLC.

Activism Roundtable Panelists

from left to right: Panelists Jackie Stone, Beverly Bickel, and Iman Said

Important points of discussion are as follows:  Continue reading

Women in Politics Roundtable Round-Up

16665235_1240042186074587_3406555264375312519_oThe Women’s Center’s Spring Roundtable series has begun! On February 14th, we hosted the first of our three-part roundtable “Underrepresentation of Women in…” series. This roundtable was on “Women in Politics” and focused on the lack of women in the political sphere and the establishment.

For this discussion, our panelists were Political Science professor Lisa Vetter, Language Literacy and Culture student Colonel Ingrid Parker, and student staff member Kayla Smith.

The discussion opened with a question about gendered communication and how to express femininity in a workspace that’s male dominated. Kayla and Colonel Parker both agreed that being a “chameleon,” or being fluid in how they present themselves based on their audience, has worked for them in the past. 

The conversation then turned to Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss. The suggestion was made that the glass ceiling was now higher than it had previously been as a result of someone as qualified as Clinton losing to someone as seemingly unqualified as President Trump. People in politics may be more scared to back women running for office because women don’t seem to get the votes to take office. Therefore the goal of making a woman president is even more elusive. Furthermore, after learning that some women need to be asked more than five times to run for office, there was some concern that Clinton’s loss would discourage more women from entering the political sphere for fear of disappointment; however, Colonel Parker reminded everyone that the next step should be to stay hopeful and push forward no matter what happens. 

When Jess Myers asked about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kayla pointed out that the silencing of Elizabeth Warren was really the silencing of Coretta Scott King. Kayla went on to explain that, because her feminism is intrinsically connected to her race, it’s impossible for her to ignore the ramifications she faces in the establishment due to being a black woman. 

When the discussion was opened up to the audience, a student asked a question about coping with the effects of mental health when looking at barriers to women in politics. Colonel Parker spoke about the benefits of finding coping mechanisms like eating well, spending time with family, and working out. Kayla suggested finding supportive groups of women to help and uplift you in the face of adversity. Women’s Center Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams added that it isn’t always enough for their to be more women in a space but that they should also be supportive of women excelling instead of engaging in “mean girl” tactics.

Another audience member asked Kayla what her opinion was on changing the establishment to include women and people of color to which she responded, “It’s important for people to be educated. They need to learn that our government and political system is built on white supremacy, racism, and sexism. Nothing will change until people understand where we started and that those things still play a major role in our system.”

Overall, the subject of women’s underrepresentation in politics is vast and complicated and while we barely scratched the surface in this hour long discussion, we did our best to open the dialogue and get people talking and thinking.

Want more information? Below are some links further discussing women, the establishment, and politics.

So has this discussion fired you up? Are you interested in running for office (public, school, or otherwise)? Have you heard about Elect Her? Elect Her is a leadership program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office

There is an an Elect Her workshop on March 11th from 10:30-3:30 in Fine Arts 011. You will learn how to figure out what your message and platform is, how to craft a communication strategy that works, and you’ll hear from campus and community leaders about what it takes to win. It is going to be a great day!

If you have questions or want to RSVP, contact Dr. Kate. (drabinsk@umbc.edu.)

 

Queer (De)Coded, a Roundtable Roundup

The Women’s Center’s Roundtable series is underway! On October 20th, we hosted the second of our three-part roundtable “Our Bodies, Ourselves” series. Queer (De)Coded focused on women and queer coding, deconstructing how women and femme individuals utilize and present their bodies in order to appear more or less queer. Queer coding is when individuals hint with their bodies and mannerisms their identity without explicitly stating their sexuality or gender identity.

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For this discussion, we invited staff member Elle Trusz, UMBC alum Juliette Seymour, and community member Melissa Smith to begin the roundtable dialogue with their own thoughts and perspectives related to queer coding. Elle opened up the conversation, discussing what it is like to be in relationships that are read as straight but are actually queer. She explained that walking down the street with her “husbutch”- or female spouse- could sometimes be seen by others as a straight couple based upon how both individuals present themselves.

Juliette also had interesting input into what it is like being a queer person who appears straight and cisgendered within their own life. Juliette discussed how their appearance sometimes made it more possible to be in spaces that may or may not be LGBTQIA+ friendly, yet it also felt like taking a step back into the closet. Melissa brought up the different ways her queer embodiment shows up in her workplace and the critical ways she is being present in all of her identities in order to make more space for others like her. Continue reading