Stories from Survivors – Kayla Smith

We see you. We believe you. You matter.

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“What would it mean to survivors for  the entire campus community to be behind them in their healing? What would it mean for survivors that the care we give to them is not limited to the few on campus either whose job it is to do this work, or who have taken a special, personal interest in it?”*

The Women’s Center has meant a lot to many alumni and we have their continued support for this season’s fundraising campaign. For Black and Gold Rush, we were lucky to chat with former (and current) community members about all of the ways the Women’s Center has been a useful and meaningful resources. Take some time to hear from Kayla Smith, a recent graduate, and ambassador for our Grit Starter Campaign for Survivors of Sexual Violence, and get some insight into why the Women’s Center was a big part of her UMBC experience! 

 

kaylstaffshotName – Kayla Smith

UMBC Major/ Minor – Interdisciplinary Studies – Public Health Advocacy

Hometown – Laurel, Maryland

Current Job Title/ Employer – J.D. Candidate (Law school student)

How did your time at the UMBC Women’s Center support your current work or career path? Working at the Women’s Center gave me a framework to explain and further understand the importance of intersectional activism and feminism when I approach a particular issue in the law.

How would you describe your UMBC experience? I loved being at UMBC. I made my best friends and had some of my most personally rewarding experiences while I was there.

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Share a special moment from your time in the Women’s Center. How did it shape your experience as a survivor? After I led my second Take Back the Night march, I was approached by multiple women who told me that they were able to share their stories and process what happened to them because of my bravery and courage in sharing my own experiences with trauma and recovery. To me, that was the most rewarding experience because it reminded me why my work with the Women’s center was so important.

 

Kayla! Thank you for your bravery, for sharing your story, and for being a lifelong supporter of our mission!

UMBC Giving Day Black and Gold Rush is an inspiring example of what the UMBC community can accomplish together. If you would like to support survivors of sexual violence at UMBC, and build a coalition of supportive allies, consider giving to the Women’s Center’s GritStarter campaign during UMBC’s Giving Day this February 28th. 

 

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Failing Feminism

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A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

I am not usually one to make excuses for myself. However, there is a first time for everything, and I am about to give my excuse.  I am extremely behind the times when it comes to being a feminist and knowing everything there is to know about feminism.  

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Why is this, you might be asking?  Well, I can think of two reasons.  The first is because I am old.  It is hard to keep up with the constant evolution of feminism in this day and age when you have had a preconceived notion of feminism instilled into your brain for decades.  The second reason, which directly correlates with the first, is because of the circumstances surrounding my early education.  I was (un)fortunate to attend a private, catholic school from the time that I was in kindergarten all the way up until my senior year in high school.  I was an honored member of my school’s thirteen year club.  It felt so prestigious at the time.

During my thirteen year sentence, I can vividly remember taking the ONE class that spent a nanosecond talking about reproductive health.  This class, which was mandatory, was not even offered until our junior year in high school.  We literally looked at outdated (even for back then) pictures of both the female and male anatomy.  This lasted for about the amount of time in which the nervously sweating nun, teaching our class, could utter the phrase, “Abstinence only!”  I remember vaguely learning about menstruation, but by that time it was too late, I’d already gotten my own period.  And let me tell you the amount of time we spent on contraception, birth control, or even (gasp) abortion.  Hold on, wait for it…absolutely none.  I guess there was never any thought or consideration put into the fact that half of our class was already having sex.  Or maybe the nuns  really didn’t know, or they just chose to ignore it.

I tell you all this because my catholic education was the start of my lack of education that I was given in regards to women that had any sort of affiliation with the word feminism.  Here’s what I did know about feminism back in the late 1990’s.  It basically followed this particular guideline:feministblog1

  1. Feminists hate men.
  2. Feminists are angry.
  3. Feminists are unattractive and not feminine.
  4. All feminists are lesbians.
  5. Feminists are all pro-choice.
  6. If you are a feminist, you cannot be religious.
  7. All feminists are career women and do not support stay-at-home moms.
  8. Feminists are Bra- Burners who hate sex.
  9. Feminists can only be women.
  10. Feminists don’t believe in marriage.

I’m being 100% serious…this is what I thought.  This is what my girlfriends thought.   The idea that feminists were man hating, hairy arm pitted, bull-dykes was the epitome of the picture that came to mind if or when I ever even remotely thought about feminism.  Do you hear the problem in that last sentence??  There was a period in my life where I never even thought about feminism!  Now, you are probably thinking that this Gender and Women’s Studies double major who works at the Women’s center at UMBC, (which is centered around women and their experiences, stories, and potential) has been, since the late 90s, immersing herself in feminist theory and the constant evolution of feminism.  I am here to tell you that this has not been the case. Until recently.

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I started UMBC in fall of 2014.  My intention was to get in and to get out of school.  I am 38 years old (I did it, I aged myself) and a single parent to two young, adorable children.  Going back to school was supposed to be the big catalyst that advanced my earning potential as a social worker.  It was not supposed to be this eye-opening journey down the ins and outs of a society in which there is an ever present need for the fight for equality and equity amongst genders, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, the LGBTQ community, etc.

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But that is exactly what happened!  I came here as a Social Work (SOWK) major with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST).  To be completely honest, I was required as a SOWK major to have a minor.  I thought that GWST was going to be my “easy out.”  Little did I know that it would literally change the way I thought, parented, lived, and experienced my day to day life.  I’m leaving here this coming May with a double major and a greater appreciation for the word feminism and all that it represents.  I owe it all to this school, in particular the Women’s Center and the Gender and Women’s Studies program.  

Summer session of 2015 was my first experience with GWST classes.  I took two “obligatory” online classes in order to expedite my graduation status.  The two classes seemed simple enough: Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies and Gender and Sitcoms.  I mean, how hard could it be to watch TV and write papers about the differences between Lucille Ball and Roseanne Arnold?  As for Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies??  I am a woman, duh.  That class was a “no brainer.”  Except neither of them turned out to be what I expected.

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I wanted more.  I needed to have interactions with “real” people.  Discussion boards were not enough.  I was dying to have feminist theories explained to me, (which I later regretted wishing as I was knee deep into Feminist Theory!)  I hated that I had boring gen ed requirements that I had to take because they took the place of GWST classes.  I began to LEARN what feminism meant, not only from my own personal perspective, but from a broader point of view.  

I have been so fortunate to have had some of the best teachers along the way who have challenged me, excited me, frustrated me, and really pushed me to think outside the box.  (Thank you Dr. Kate, Dr. Bhatt, and Dr. McCann…you all have changed me!!)  In addition to these amazing classes, I started meeting people who LIVED this way of life both inside and outside of the classroom.  These theories were ways of life and not just classroom rhetoric.  I learned about activism, and feminism on a global level.  I learned what feminism is, and most importantly, what feminism is not.

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AND…. I found the Women’s Center.  I found a home on this campus that incorporated everything that I was learning, and smooshed it all into a cozy center with amazing bean-bag chairs (seriously, come check them out, you won’t regret it) and a loving, safe, and colorful space.  I became part of a community that, as a non-traditional student, I struggled to fit into.  Not only that, but I could talk and ask questions about everything that I was learning  or struggling to comprehend with people who wanted to engage in this type of conversation.

Basically, what I am trying to say with all of this, is that coming to UMBC and having the engagement with the Women’s Center and the GWST program that I have been fortunate to have, has changed my perspective and my outlook on life.  I am now profoundly committed to being a better feminist on a daily basis.  I am passionate about carrying my knowledge outside of this institution and making a change in the world…or at least trying to.  I am confident in my ability to speak about feminism and am open and willing to expand my knowledge.  I am lucky to have learned what I have, even though it is considered to be “late in the game.” Feminism is an ever evolving concept, and I know that there is so much in this world that I still need to learn, and so much more that I am going to have to know how to teach…. Especially to the two little girls at home that call me “mama.”

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Women’s Center Student Staff 2017-2018

We are excited to introduce the new Women’s Center 2017-18 team! In no particular order . . .

Harini Narayanstudent staff/Honors College Intern (she/her)

My name is Harini Narayan and I’m a freshman in my second semester at UMBC. My majors are Global Studies and Political Science, with a minor in Public Policy. Social justice and advocacy is extremely important to me, so I hope to retain that beyond school when I enter the work field. I’m excited to work at the Women’s Center and explore my passion for activism with a wonderful group of people!

Harley Khaang, student staff/INDS Intern (she/her)

Hello!  I am Harley Khaang, and I am a transfer student, and a 2017 graduate of CCBC.  I am a returning woman student, currently a junior in INDS, writing my degree in Communication Strategies and Creative Resolutions and Mediation. I am happy and grateful to be attending UMBC, and honored to be working as an intern for the Women’s Center.  It is an amazing space where I feel at home, and at the same time, learn about and actively participate in feminism and activism.  I plan on being involved with the Women’s Center a long time to come!

Marie Pessagno

Marie Pessagno, student staff (she/her)

Hi everyone!!  My name is Marie and I am really excited to begin my final year at UMBC and my first year as a new staff member in the Women’s Center! I am a Social Work and Women and Gender Studies double major, and hope to continue on to grad school next year at UMB School of Social Work.  I really feel like combining these particular majors will be a tremendous advantage to my professional success in the future!  I am currently a second year Returning Woman’s Scholar, a member of the Phi Alpha Honors Society, and a first year Title IV-E student.

When I am not at UMBC, I am a (happily) single mother of two little girls that are two and one.  Between taking care of them and juggling my school work and personal life, saying that I stay busy is an extreme understatement.  However, it is because of my girls that I am able to be as committed to my education as I am.  I am psyched to have more of a presence in the Women’s Center this year, and hope to be able to showcase my passion for feminism, social justice, and the LGBTQ community.

Samiksha Manjani

Samiksha Manjani, student staff (she/her)

Hi! My name is Samiksha Manjani and I am a junior here at UMBC. This is my first year 
as a Women’s Center Staff member, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to be a par
t of the community! I’m a double-major in Political Science  and Sociology, and am currently on the pre-law track. I hope to one day use my law degree to combat violence against women and children. During my time at the Women’s Center, I hope to create a diverse, empowering and safe environment for everyone.
On a side note, I love learning about people’s backgrounds, cultures, histories, and politics. I love fitness, soccer, and yoga. I’m all about self-care (i.e. art, journaling, meditation) and being positive! I love baking and cooking. I’m a crime show nut (i.e. Law & Order, Criminal Minds), and I try to keep up with the news. Feel free to stop by for a chat or to say “Hi!” to me if you see me around campus! 

Sheila Suarez

Sheila Suarez, student staff/GWST Intern (she/her)
Hey! I am Sheila! I am double majoring in Social Work and Gender and Women’s Studies with a minor in Critical Sexuality Studies, hoping to make a career out of sexual health and LGBTQ+ advocacy, with a focus on counseling. This will be my second year at UMBC but my first year at the Women’s Center as an intern, and I am super excited to be part of this great space.

I am always running around campus, I am a member of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Incorporated, as well as the president of the Multicultural Greek Council. I also work at the new UMBC Arena and Event Center.

I love talking about politics, eating anything that has raspberries, and having conversations that are filled with witty sarcastic humor. I am loud, opinionated, and like talking about feminism and sexuality in crowded spaces… and not even remotely sorry about it. If you ever see me around campus, feel free to stop me just to chat.

Sydney Phillips

Sydney Phillips, student staff (she/her)
Hi everyone! My name is Sydney and I am currently a graduate student in the Applied Sociology program here at UMBC. My research surrounds social inequality and social justice based on intersectional identities such as race, class, and gender. I am also a teaching assistant on campus for Sociology 101 and love working with students! After graduating with my Master’s, I hope to become an adjunct professor in the Sociology department and become more involved in activism and advocacy, both on campus and in local non-profits. I hope to help foster a more open and accepting community for sexual assault survivors by working on the Supporting Survivors Workshop offered through the Women’s Center. I’m excited for my skills and knowledge to grow while working on issues that I am passionate about on campus! I cannot wait to work more closely with students, faculty, and staff so don’t be afraid to come say hi!


Chloe Thomas, SUCCESS Intern (she/her)

What I am doing at the SUCCESS Program:

  • I am a 4 year student (senior!) and I go to classes everyday
  • I love coming to school and seeing my friends

What I am doing at the Women’s Center:

  • Helping out the community members
  • Helping out my coworkers

And I’m NOT a stereotype! I’m not a “dumb blonde.” I’m smart and kind!

In 2007 I was on Good Morning America for Special Olympics cheerleading.

We got a call at our gym asking us to come on and they paid for our hotel and we got fancy buses to travel to New York and we got to be on TV in front of millions of people and afterwards when we w

 

ere in New York people would come up to me and ask me for my autograph.

When I played basketball, my team got 2nd and 3rd place in Special Olympics and in the awards ceremony I got the sportsmanship award for being a good captain. We got to use our high school basketball uniforms. We did really well! We played against the best teams in the championship. We kept getting 3rd not 2nd but I’m not complaining.     

I went to the Montgomery County Fair’s Got Talent and I got 5th place in it. The song I did was, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. Everyone liked the song and I got lots of people saying good job.

 

Amelia Meman, Program Coordinator (she/her)

Hello, folks!I’ve been at the Women’s Center in some capacity since I was an intern in 2013 and now I’m here as a professional staff member–dreams do come true! I love the Women’s Center because it takes all of the cool, abstract, out there ideas in feminist theory and puts them into action, whether that’s in creating workshops for our community members or offering 1-1 support to people who need it. I graduated from UMBC in 2015 with my B.A. in Gender and Women’s Studies and a minor in Writing, and have been eager to go full throttle into social justice and feminist work ever since. I’m currently pursuing my Masters of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
On a more personal note, I am the funniest feminist killjoy you’ll ever meet! I’m really proud to identify as a queer woman of color and I am eager to continue really testing the ways we can think about activism and pedagogy through a critical social justice lens. I love art and design, music, pop culture, and comics. My love language is gift-giving, and I’m a ~pisces~. Looking forward to meeting y’all in the Women’s Center!

Melissa Smith, Coordinator (she/her)

Hey hey hey! I am a new Coordinator at the Women’s Center. I am a UMBC graduate student pursuing a masters in Instructional Systems Development. I hope to use my degree to consult with schools and provide innovative social justice and arts integration curriculum. Over the past few years, I have worked with the UMBC Women’s Center in a number of ways, facilitating Between Women discussions, working alongside other speakers for the Telling Our Stories workshops, and as a performer at B’More Proud. For me, brave spaces like the women’s center help to create opportunities where our differences can be celebrated and communicated. Working here will make me an even better educator!

When I am not studying or in the Women’s Center, I enjoy cooking, walking around Baltimore neighborhoods, traveling, and performing my music. I use my music to give visibility to stories for folks like me; queer, black, weird, and everything in between.  I am so excited to work with the awesome WC staff and to meet the students that come in to hangout.


jessJess Myers, Director (she/her)

If you’ve gotten to me on this blog post and you’ve read all the cool bios above, you must be thinking, “Jess has the coolest job ever” – and I do! I’ve been working at UMBC in the Women’s Center since January 2011 and I couldn’t be more happier to work every day in what has always, and still is, a dream job for me. I love being able to live out my personal values centered in feminism, anti-racism, and social justice through my job as director in the Women’s Center. I approach my work from my collegiate background in social work and identify as a student affairs professional, and as an introvert (INFJ!!), I thrive on building personal and authentic relationships with students and colleagues. I love being silly. I relish in the opportunity to use Leslie Knope gifs as a mode of communication. I recommit to social justice and feminist values each day and deserve medals for my fierceness in spin class (I’m also secretly, not so secretly, pretty competitive). I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., Kingston, Jamaica, and Fort Collins, Colorado and Baltimore is my hometown and my forever home. I’m looking forward to another great year in the Women’s Center and can’t wait to co-create it with you!

 

 

What makes a Feminist Quote? Call for submissions!!!

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A call for submissions by staff member Daniel Willey

 

 

One of my tasks at the Women’s Center is to make a Facebook post every Friday for Feminist Quote Friday. You’d think being surrounded by books written by feminists and activists would make it easy to come up with a quote to use each week, but I keep getting hung up on the question of what makes a feminist quote.

“Activism can be the journey rather than the arrival.” – Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Is it a quote by a feminist? Is it a statement which follows feminist principles? What if the person who said it isn’t a feminist? Should I be responsible for pulling out the receipts and making sure everyone I quote has never said or done anything problematic first? Does the quote have to be a feminist statement or can it simply be related to feminist issues?

And besides all that, there are SO MANY great feminist words to choose from!

That’s where you come in: I want to hear your favorite feminist quotes. I want to hear what words inspire you, lift you up, make you feel called to action. I want to hear what made you think, made you reevaluate, what steered you in a new direction.

Submit this google form to send me your feminist quote and tell me a little bit about why you chose it! I’ll be using submissions for Feminist Quote Fridays and you can submit anytime!

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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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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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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.