Inclusive Excellence Means Inclusive Access: A Treatise on All-Gender Restrooms at UMBC (and Beyond)

Written by Women’s Center Coordinator Amelia Meman, ’15.

A pink toilet on a rainbow gradient. Text reads

With the recent opening of UMBC’s first ever multi-user/stall all-gender restroom, I have become incensed to finally publish this very argumentative blog on all-gender restrooms. In this piece, I’m trying to deconstruct all of the myths, misgivings, and misinformation surrounding all-gender restrooms, and offer some ways of seeing (and potentially peeing) differently.

The MYTH of All-Gender Restrooms: Creating all-gender restrooms is dangerous because it provides an opportunity for sexual predators to attack vulnerable populations (women and children).

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms: They exist and have existed for a while through anti-discrimination protections and there is literally no evidence that these policies and the creation of all-gender restrooms lead to more attacks on anyone.

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms, Pt. 2: In creating and actualizing discriminatory policies that relegate particular people to particular bathrooms, we increase the likelihood of violence against vulnerable populations–in this case, trans and gender non-conforming folks.

We’re a STEM-heavy school, so let me put it this way: there is absolutely no empirical evidence that would support the hypothesis that increasing access to all-gender restrooms also increases violence against vulnerable populations like women and children.

Fine, done, end of blog.

Just kidding.

I want to continue deconstructing this myth and how damaging it is to the transgender folks in our world—and subsequently, how the perpetuation of this myth is totally antithetical to UMBC’s values of inclusive excellence, diversity, and social justice. So let’s dive in:

The myth of all-gender bathroom bills promoting violence against women and children implies two other dangerous notions that need be dispelled:

  1. Trans people = sexual predators
  2. Transgender people do not have the “correct genitalia” to use with their respective gender’s restroom (“if you have a penis, you need to use the men’s restroom”)

First: Who are the “sexual predators” we keep referring to?

Let’s take this first one apart, “trans people = sexual predators.” This line of thinking stems from the (not so distant) historical pathologization of people who don’t conform to socially constructed gender roles; AKA “trans people are crazy and dangerous.”

Not to totally historicize this issue because it is still a present challenge, but in the past, any and all people with non-heterosexual, non-traditional gender conforming identities were considered sexual deviants. In the early 20th century, a sexual revolution in Europe was pushing the boundaries of the way these “sexual deviants” were understood, especially through a medicalized and scientific lens. A cure to deviancy was no longer about keeping problematic individuals away from the public, but around diagnosis and treatment.  

Time rolls on and we move through many sexual revolutions, progress, trans and LGB icons, marches, revolutions, etc.. If you were transgender in this time, then you had “gender identity disorder,” a mental illness through all of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders through the Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; AKA the Bible of psychiatry and other mental health practitioners). Thus, the idea of transgender people as those who are mentally ill is cemented by The Experts.

Fast forward to 2013: the DSM-V (the fifth edition of the DSM published by the APA in 2013) now uses the term “gender dysphoria” to describe the distress associated with not being able to be the gender we are. The difference here is very nuanced but important. To quote the APA, “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” In other words, it’s not that being trans or non-binary is crazy. It’s that not being able to be the gender you are (and the barriers society constantly throws up) results in gender dysphoria.

We need to dislodge the synonymity between “transgender” and “problem,” because people are not problems; gender is not a problem. The barriers that we have put up between people accessing (or even just experimenting with being) our truest selves, is the problem.

A group of people hold signs at a protest against military ban on transgender people. Two signs in focus read

Second: “But what if a man in a dress uses a women’s restroom”

This is the token visual that opponents of all-gender restrooms look towards. We’ve all seen and experienced this joke: a big burly masculine man is in a hyper-feminine outfit. We’re made to laugh at how these two things don’t go together—but this “joke” is founded on the idea that people who look particular ways have to also act and present themselves in a way that matches our assumptions. This is what we like to call “gender essentialism.”

Gender essentialism/biological essentialism is the idea that there is a particular set of female or male genitalia that indicates your gender (e.g. penis = man; vagina = woman), and therefore should be the criteria by which people act, dress, use a bathroom, etc. The insistence that people with certain biological criteria or physical characteristics are particular genders is an essentialist way of thinking–and it’s also a restrictive way of thinking.

Most of us grow up learning to think as biological essentialists. We’re often taught about sex/gender binaries in our health class or with our parents, right? We’re taught that women, girls, females have vaginas, breasts, hips, higher voices, XX chromosomes; men, boys, males have penises, testes, facial hair, lower voices, XY chromosomes.

Biological essentialism rules the rhetorical roost of how we think about gender and sex; however, a different way of seeing gender and sex is to understand both as “socially constructed.” This is not to say that gender or sex is something we, as a society, have made up; rather, the meanings we ascribe to each of these things has been made through social patterns, behavior, etc. that are continually repeated until they read as fact. Fact becomes synonymous with objectivity and truth. I’m not trying to get into a philosophical discussion of what social constructionism is and how we should unlearn the meanings we learned about in school (if you want to get into that, see my office hours), but what I’m trying to get to is that biological essentialism is not the only way of seeing the world. We can see through a lens of social constructionism which enables us to do more questioning about the conclusions that we come to.

A line of 8 people icons, each a different color with different male, female, transgender symbols overlaid on their faces.A conclusion you could (should) question (always) is how we police gender and sex by creating rules around what each of these is defined as. Not every woman has a vagina. Not every person with a penis is male. People with XY chromosomes can be any gender in their lifetime. People can have a variety of different biological sex characteristics that do not align with the sex or gender they were prescribed at birth.

To go all the way back to that initial worry that a “man in a dress” will pee next to your daughter or your grandma or you, we can use a more inclusive lens for thinking about this scenario: three people have to pee. There are three private stalls in which they can do their business. These three people pee however it is they do so, and they simultaneously respect each other’s privacy. These three people might look all different sorts of ways, but it doesn’t matter because they came into the bathroom with the same goals–and having completed those goals, wash their hands, and exit in peace and respect.

My final word on this (as if I haven’t had enough already): If you dream of world peace, consider also dreaming of world where all people pee in peace. 

Fact Sharing

Okay, so I hope my mythbusting was validating, revelatory, or rote for you. Either way, here’s a fact that I want to share to displace the ugliness above that many opponents like to spread.

FACT: All-gender restrooms are an issue of discrimination and access.

Let’s break this down the same way we did the myth:

First: All gender-restrooms undoing discrimination

When we tell particular people that they are too different to use the bathroom they feel comfortable using, we are ultimately telling people that they are not, in some way, worthy of being in the space they deserve. This is discrimination.

Some folks in this world believe that by pressing for progress in trans rights, we are, among other misguided notions, setting a bad example for our children. But here’s the thing—the more we repress gender fluidity and multiple ways of being, the more undue violence we are perpetrating against children as they understand themselves as individuals. The tangible effects of discrimination do not come in the form of less trans people; rather, trans people will always exist, have always existed, but they will continue to meet a negative message that causes mental, psychological, and social distress. Not allowing transgender children to live their gender identity is harmful and potentially deadly. When you’re constantly met with the message that you’re too different to belong, you begin to face the alternative of belonging… which is shame and isolation.

We combat discrimination and its effects through inclusive access and affirming care. Hence, the importance of all-gender restrooms and ensuring their creation.

Second: All-gender restrooms as practical solutions to access issues

I want to bring this back to UMBC for a second with a little test: Do you know where the closest all gender restroom is?

If you do, congratulations. If you don’t, you’re not alone.

In total, there are almost 60 all-gender restrooms on our campus.

In the Commons? Two.

In the University Center? One.

And these are all just single-use restrooms.

Regardless of what you think in terms of trans rights or issues of identity, it’s a fact that UMBC is home to folks who live outside of the binary and those who are not cisgender. Whether they identify as trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc., they should be able to use a bathroom without having to search an entire building for the one restroom that exists.

The Williams Institute performed research on how transgender students with limited public restroom access were impacted by these restrictions. In their study, they found that those who experience problems accessing restrooms consistent with their gender identity report greater absenteeism, poorer school performance, withdrawing from public spaces and events, physical and mental health impacts (such as bladder infections, discomfort, and anxiety), having to change schools, or dropping out.

Wrapping Up

Did you read Everyone Poops? Truly a seminal piece of children’s literature, the message rings true even in today’s modern world. Everyone poops. Everyone needs bathrooms. As teachers, workers, students, people living in this world in the soft fleshy body we call Homo sapien—we need to have an efficient, clean, accessible method for disposing of our waste. We have actually found the key in publicly available toilets and bathrooms. As a frequent user, I endorse that they’re pretty fantastic in a pinch, even if they’re stinky or crowded or awkward.

The cover of the book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi.

If I’m dreaming, I believe that one day, maybe we will find the technology that allows all people on this earth to shirk public restrooms, but until that day… please just let people use the toilet in peace—and if you’re feeling fired up about ensuring other people’s access, see the resources below for ways you can help out.

Finally, if you don’t like all-gender restrooms, you don’t have to use them. But as our campus and many other places progress in ensuring broader access to all-gender restrooms, it might be a nice experiment in perspective building to go in search for that rare one gender bathroom all the way across campus that affirms your identity, that you feel totally safe in, and in which you can use the bathroom however you need to.

See what I did there?

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC's first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC’s first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Resources and further reading:

UMBC All-Gender Restroom Map (2019)

UMBC Community News Message on All-Gender Restrooms from President Hrabowski and Provost Rous

GLAAD Report: Debunking the Bathroom Bill Myth (2017) 

Williams Institute Study – Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Laws in Public Accommodations: a Review of Evidence Regarding Safety and Privacy in Public Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Rooms

Transgender Rights: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Breakdown of Transgender bathroom laws in the United States

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Parental Guidance Necessary: Gender Equity in Parental Leave

Alexia.JPG  Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

Originally with this blog I wanted to to explore the ways in which the gender wage gap could be mitigated by giving fathers the same parental leave policies as new mothers. However, as I started researching I found that there many more benefits than pay equity; more equitable parental leave policies have the capacity to end the traditional gendered division of labor.

In order to talk about this issue through an intersectional feminist lens, I want to add a disclaimer about the language I use in this blog post. I will be referring to mothers as those who give birth and fathers as those who co-parent with mothers; however, this is a heteronormative and cisgender-centered assumption. There are many different people who give birth who may or may not identify with the label of “mother.” In spite of this, our language for parental leave policies has remained stagnant which is a problem in and of itself. I will be dividing my conversation among “maternal” and “paternal” conceptions of leave as they are articulated by policy, but I hope that I can also offer space to challenge those conceptions and show the diversity in sets of parents that exist in the world.

Let me start with explaining what paid paternity and maternity leave is and what our policies are here in the United States. Paid paternity and maternity leave is when new parents have access to a select amount of paid time off after having children. Obviously, the time given off for new mothers or those who give birth fluctuates based on their employment and which state they live. On average, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), maternity leave can ensure up to 12 unpaid weeks off. In the United States, we currently do not have any policies in place to give mothers paid time off or fathers any time off, paid or unpaid. This discourages new parents from taking any time off work after having a child. Having only the mother stay at home with the new-born child perpetuates the stereotype that the father is the breadwinner of the family (this is further complicated when we think about lesbian and gay couples raising children). Mothers might only take a limited period of time off, they might take off and then stay home for a while and rejoin the workforce, but regardless there are usually consequences to any time off they take. Women in the workforce also face pregnancy discrimination, which results in being fired, not hired, or otherwise discriminated against due to being pregnant or intending to become pregnant.

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To give some context to how this is related to eliminating the wage gap, experts argue that the wage gap is not only due to women getting paid less on the dollar than men, but because of the “motherhood penalty.” This penalty is the effect of the time women take off from their work after having children and the negative impact it has on their ability to get promotions, get raises, or gain more years of professional experience. While there are plenty of women that go back to work soon after they have children, women are often still the ones who engage in childcare work or unpaid domestic labor while still doing professional work, known as the “second-shift.”  

For an issue as complex as this one seems, it actually is not too hard to see how gender norms are deeply ingrained in us growing up and how the policies then reflect that. For example, growing up I am sure you were relegated to play with certain types of toys based on your assigned gender. For me, that meant playing the stay-at-home mom with the very realistic baby doll I had, being gifted an ironing board playset, and spending my free time pretending to be an elementary school teacher. Clearly, all these toys and pretend games had a theme; they were all things I had seen the women in my life doing. They were tasks that involved staying in the home, taking up childcare responsibilities, and embodying the caring and nurturing traits that women were expected to hone and perfect.  In contrast, my brother had a range of different Superman, Batman, and Spiderman costumes he would dress-up with alongside a collection of hot-wheels race cars. Now, if we think about the gendered division of toys and play, we can understand what society expects out of us solely based on our gender.

Reflecting on this dichotomy as a 21-year-old, I cannot help but also note the irony of how I have grown into an adult woman:  the fields in which I have the most work experience are babysitting and teaching.

I use this as an example to demonstrate the harm that arises when we grow up thinking our talents, abilities, and traits are determined by our gender and the expectations that we believe we have to abide by when wanting to have a family. I’d also like to bring up the hetero-normative structure of these policies since the expectation is having a mom and dad, but the reality could be having two moms, two dads, a single parent, or two non-binary parents. Instead of the division of labor being equal and both parents being confident in their ability to stay at home and raise a child, that responsibility is socially cemented as women’s work. In doing so, men stay at their job and advance their career while moms face the consequences of their time off, and those fathers actually receive higher wages after having a child, known as the “fatherhood bonus.”

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Regardless of whether the mom stays home for a bit, goes right back to work, or the parents hire a nanny, working mothers almost always engage in the second shift, something  I have seen in my countless years of babysitting. Mothers and fathers might work the same amount of hours a week but whereas a father is only expected to work and then come home, the mother makes sure dinner is made, the house is cleaned, the kids are picked up, and everyone in the family and home is in order (which often involves a heavy emotional and mental burden).

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Paid paternity leave policies would not only benefit new-fathers in hetero-sexual relationships it also benefits new fathers in non-heterosexual relationships, where both parents are fathers and in relationships where the father is the one giving birth. In Soraya Chemaly’s book, “Rage Becomes Her:The Power of Women’s Anger” she discusses how in LGBTQ relationships, parenting relationships are usually more egalitarian unless there’s a stronger butch/femme expression of gender, in which case the disparity of parental duties begins to resemble heterosexual partnerships more clearly. Giving all new parents paid leave, no matter their relationship to their partner, could result in cultural shifts that give space for all types of parents to be present in the beginning of their children’s lives.

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I was motivated to write this piece as a personal way to reflect on parental relationships that I have seen who did not divide childcare responsibilities equally and observed the unfair expectations for mothers to “do-it-all.” I wanted to tie in how that mentality hinders any progress for an equitable home and workforce.To do so, I had to look back on how my gender shaped so many aspects of my personality and how I always thought the traits of caring and nurturing just came easily for me. This realization pushes me to consider how I will raise my children in a way that rejects this gendered expectations of emotional labor, childcare, and professional work. Moving forward, my hopes are that an equitable parenting relationship is respected by my partner and my workplaces.

This gets me back to my main point. In order to create equality in the workforce and at home, policies should ensure that both mothers and fathers receive equal paid time off after having children. This would reward and motivate parents to take their time off and engage in the responsibilities of being parents. It would also mitigate the motherhood penalty and pregnancy discrimination as now both men and women would be expected to leave their place of work when they have a child. Furthermore, it would create a new generation of men that will not shy away from care-taking and embrace their abilities to be nurturing.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/the-daddy-track/355746/

Take Back the Night 2019 Round-Up

On April 18th 2019, the Women’s Center hosted the seventh annual Take Back the Night at UMBC. The night began with an introduction by the emcees Autumn, Calista and Women’s Center staff members, Samiksha and Morgan.

IMG_0024.JPGPhoto credit: Samiksha Manjani

After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart and soul of Take Back the Night. Survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to acknowledge your experience with others who believe and support you.

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We then moved on to the march portion of the night, where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence. We Believe You, an activist group dedicated to ending sexual violence, led the march, the survivor circle of care, and a private discussion in the Women’s Center following the march.

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The survivor circle is a new addition to Take Back the Night. At the peak of the march, everyone formed a circle around True Grit. Survivors were invited to the middle of the circle, while supporters chanted the refrain, “We see you. We believe you. You matter.” After the survival circle, the march back to Main Street commenced.

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After the march, community members got back together for some craftivism! This part of the night is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community-building between survivors and supporters alike.

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Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors, and a special thank you to all the volunteers and We Believe You members who made TBTN possible!

If you’ve joined us this Thursday and you haven’t already, please fill out the survey by April 26, 2019.

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If you weren’t able to make it, here are some resources:

What Does a Leader Look Like?

 

Briscoe

 

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

 

Do you know whether you are an introvert or extrovert? If not, take this quiz to find out!

Myers-Briggs: Are You Extroverted Or Introverted?

Here is a more in-depth version of the personality test:

16 Personalities Test

Before taking the quiz, you probably had distinct ideas of what introversion and extroversion were and the perceptions that come along with them. Often in movies, books, and even leadership conferences, the image of a leader is painted as an extrovert with a loud, commanding voice who enjoys being the center of attention. Introverts are normally depicted as the shy outcast who is more of a follower than a leader. Right off the bat, this narrative perpetuates a misconstrued idea of the terms introvert, extrovert, and ambivert. To clear it up, here is a basic breakdown of the terms:

Introvert: Drained by social encounters and energized by solitary

Extrovert: Finds energy in interactions with others

Ambivert: Exhibits a blend of introverted and extroverted tendencies

Although introvert simply means that you need time to yourself to recharge, many introverts do happen to be shy and quiet. We are capable of navigating social situations, but often we prefer not to for extended periods of time. With that being said, every introvert is different and has varying levels of comfortability in social settings.

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As a quiet introvert myself, I have felt pressured to “come out of my shell” to the point where I would not be authentically acting as myself. I always wonder why people can’t accept me for who I am rather than trying to fit me into a fixed image of what they imagine a leader to be. For example, when I facilitate discussion groups, I welcome moments of silence because I know that silence isn’t always empty.  Some may view this as my inability to engage the group, but I see it as time for group members to take in what has been said and process their thoughts.

I simply do not fit the mold of the outspoken and energetic leader, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The way I make contributions in group settings is unique to me. I do not like small talk, and I prefer to engage in conversations when I feel that I have something important to say. I hold the belief that it’s not always about the amount you say and how loudly you can say it. Making your point louder or with more bravado does not make it more valid or persuasive. Sometimes fewer words said by a quieter presence is more impactful.

Image result for perks of being an introvertSusan McCain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, introduces the concept of the The Extrovert Ideal which describes “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” In her book, she also talks about how introverts are forced into thinking that their natural, quiet demeanor is only holding them back.

Contrary to popular belief, many introverts do not look to extroversion as an ideal that they hope to achieve during their lifetime. We due aim to grow and push ourselves out of our comfort zones from time to time, but that doesn’t have to be at the expense of the essence of who we are.

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This same issue unveils itself in the way that society has defined gender roles. Typically, men are expected to be assertive leaders, while women are expected to be quiet, submissive followers. Due to this, leadership has been associated with extroverted personalities to reflect patriarchal ideals. In reality, leadership is not a fixed concept that can be attributed to a particular gender. It is flexible and can change regardless of what gender someone identifies as.

McCain says she has “seen young women with these [introverted] styles exhorted to be louder, bolder, more uninhibited, when a more nuanced approach would have suited them better.”

If we look at some famous women, past and present, we will find many powerful women who have led revolutions or dominated their professional arenas that identify as soft-spoken introverts. For example, in Rosa Parks’s obituary, she was described as soft-spoken and sweet with radical humility and quiet fortitude. She was able to make such a powerful statement using few words.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is a self-proclaimed introvert who feels that the media paints her as an extrovert. Other examples include: Martha Minow, the Dean of Harvard Law School, who McCain describes as the “ultimate quiet leader”; founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp; and actress Emma Watson. These are just a few of the many women who have gotten where they are because they are authentic to themselves.

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A common thread among all these women is that society has made the assumption that they must be extroverted to be as successful as they are. There’s no way that someone who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight or is more calculated about how much they speak could hold the positions that they do.

The truth is, introversion and quietness are personality traits that are an asset. Introverts are comfortable with silence and introspection; this allows us to assess a situation and take a thoughtful approach in our response. We understand that we don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to be heard because often times we command attention just by our presence. People often wonder what we have to say, and when the the time is right, we’ll let you know.

You wouldn’t force a fish out of water and expect them to swim, so why would you try to diminish defining aspects of a person’s personality and expect them to thrive? It is important to remember that there is room for both extroverted and introverted leadership styles. I would encourage people to make space for introverts, without assuming that we are fearful to speak or participate. Sometimes we simply don’t want to, but we definitely have the ability to. I would also suggest instead of trying to get us to speak louder (unless we are completely inaudible), try and listen more and be patient.

Yes, our calmer, quieter demeanor can provide a sense of ease to a room, but don’t be fooled into thinking that we do not have a fire burning inside of us to achieve our goals and help address the world’s most pressing problems. Don’t mistake our silence as passive agreement. Change is only possible through the mobilization of all different types of people, so there’s space for all personalities.

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Check Out These Resources Below:

10 Successful Women for Introverts to Look Up to

Does Feminism Make Room for Shy or Introverted Girls?

Meyer Briggs Extraversion or Introversion

 

Saree not Sorry!

Shrijana

 

Shrijana is a Student Staff Member at the Women’s Center. She is a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition and co-leading the Telling Our Stories Project. 

 

 

Before starting my statistics class this semester, I was feeling apprehensive due to the fact that I’ve never taken a statistics course before, not even in high school like most students do. However, today, I can say that I thoroughly enjoy my statistics class (nerd alert!). The numbers make sense to me, the formulas light up a bulb in my brain. As an Economics major, I am fascinated by how economists use statistics. But the factor that makes STAT 351 an influential course for me goes beyond the content of the class. This influence is embodied by my STAT 351 professor, Dr. Nandita Dasgupta.

She is an Indian woman, who comes into class every day wearing a silk or cotton saree, a traditional article of clothing typically worn by South Asian women.

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The first day I saw her attire, I was shocked; my jaw dropped to the floor. I have never witnessed a person of color, teacher or professor, show up to class in traditional cultural wear in all my years of schooling in the American educational system. I was so moved by what seemed normal to her.

Growing up, I was ashamed to share my background of being Nepalese because I felt like I stood out in a negative way as an outcast. I just wanted to be accepted, and I was too afraid to truly be myself.  When I was little, I was so anxious and embarrassed to walk around in public in the United States with my grandmother because she would be wearing a saree. I would think: will people criticize, are they staring at me, are they being racist in their minds, am I seen as weird? But seeing Dr. Dasgupta has inspired me, she was there to teach statistics, her race and gender did not matter.

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Upon this realization, I became sorrowful for my grandmother because she was not given the same educational opportunities as I was. My grandmother was married at the age of sixteen and become a stay at home mom in Nepal. If she was presented with the same academic opportunities as me, I am sure she would have been a very successful woman, possibly a professor like Dr. Dasgupta.

STAT 351 has proven two points to me: math is an intriguing subject and all girls and women should have the right to an education.

After seeing Dr. Dasgupta in an empowering light and reading about her work as an economist and statistician (and to ask her permission to publish this blog), I met with her to get to know her more and explore my own identity.

On a warm, bright Thursday afternoon, we sat outside the RAC at the black tables. Dr. Dasgupta started off the conversation by asking me, “What does Shrijana mean?” And I told her, “Creation.”

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Smiling, she replied, “Good. Most people are not even aware what their name symbolizes.” From there, our personal connection was set and the conversation kicked off.

What does the saree symbolize for you?

The saree is a part of me. I have grown up with the saree and have been inseparable from it. I have never worn anything else before. I would love to wear something else; but, somehow, I feel like my personality would be compromised.

Have you had others comment about your saree before? What was it like?

No. No one has made a bad comment. If they have commented, it was always good, never a derogatory comment.

What made you want to pursue economics/statistics? What do you like most about it?

In high school, I took economics and I loved it. I also loved math; therefore, using math was my priority. Economics and math combined really well. Growing up, English was also my favorite subject, I wanted to be an English major. But, my mother who was also a professor influenced me to pursue economics. She said that it was a more economically sound field.

If you feel comfortable sharing, have you experienced any racism or sexism in the academic world?

No. To my knowledge, I have not felt any sort of discrimination. I do not know why I have not felt it, I like to believe that people are good, kind, and open.

What advice would you give young women of color out there? What about women of color economists/mathematicians?

First of all, I do not look at women of color differently from non-color or Caucasian women.

I do not like the idea of one gender being inferior or superior. I am a human being and I look at everyone else as human beings too. I do not believe in any sort of bias or question of bias. I want individuals to be their best selves. But, there must be some bias somewhere, because we still have gender inequality. To everyone and women of color, I would say have dignity, integrity, honesty, and perseverance. Be proud of your culture, embrace the world and try to develop the world. Women are not an end; they are the means to an end. At the end of the day, be a good human being.

After meeting with Dr. Dasgupta, I felt empowered in my confidence as a woman. My conversation with her served as reassurance that I am enough in my abilities and skills. Talking to her also reminded me that I should not run away from my culture, but embrace it with pride. I went to talk to her about her choice of an article of clothing, but I walked away with wisdom about life.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

A dispiriting survey of women’s lot in university economics

A Brief History of India’s Traditional Saree

Breaking News! A Girl Likes Sports

Shrijana

 

Shrijana is a Student Staff Member at the Women’s Center. She is a co-facilitator of Women of Color Coalition and leading the Telling Our Stories Project. 

 

 

Growing up in a family who used to stay up until 4 AM watching football (soccer), I can say with true honesty that passion for this sport has run through my blood from a very young age. My dad grew up as an F.C. Barcelona (Futbol Club Barcelona) fan and a football fan in general from watching the World Cup to other league games such as La Liga, the English Premier League, and the Bundesliga.

Watching football was the first activity that opened up and strengthened my bond with my dad.

As an only child in a brown family household, I often felt the need to be both the son and daughter to my parents. I became my dad’s best friend through football, my mom used to call us “Barcelona saathiharu” in Nepali which translates to “Barcelona friends” in English. My love for F.C. Barcelona inspired me to pursue learning Spanish in high school and college. The greatest attribute of this bond with my dad was that my gender never played a role in this situation. I never felt less in situations while watching games with him. He taught me a lot and listened to my opinions and rants as well. We shared victories, defeats, along with emotions of sadness, pride, and happiness. Gender never posed as a question between me and my dad.

I did not need to be his son to be his football buddy.

Luckily, this notion continued throughout my life. Even in middle school and high school, I would talk to my male friends with equal respect for football. They would listen to my points and believe me when I stated I was a football fan and F.C. Barcelona was my favorite team. However, this experience was short lived when I arrived at college.

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“Are you a true soccer fan?”

“Name one player on the team besides Messi.”

“Who is the striker for Barcelona?”

These were questions that were asked of me by a male friend while I was wearing my F.C. Barcelona cap. I felt hurt that I was asked these series of questions because I was not believed to be a loyal sports fan. If I was a man, I would not be quizzed for my passion for football or any other sport. Why do I have to answer to a male to be validated for my interests? Although I do not blame my friend for asking these questions, it made me realize how women are delegitimized not just in sporting competitions but as audiences of sports as well.

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Just like this meme expresses the sentiment I experienced, girls all over are not believed for watching sports. Yes, there might be fake fans among the mix just like fake fans among men; however, asking a girl question after question to find a fault in her passion does not take away her right of liking sports. And yes, it is also possible for a girl to know more about sports than a guy.

As I researched more about this topic on the internet (because where else would I found solidarity and angry rants) and talked to my friends, I found out that my feelings were not alone. There were multiple blogs and articles published about how I felt. Reading more on this topic made me revisit something else that someone had also previously said to me. I was once accused of being a sports fan to impress boys or get them to like me. News flash, the world does not revolve around men. Women are not doing anything for the approval of men whether to impress them or win them over. I started watching football before I even talked to a boy. Again, people assigning the need for validation from men to women here continues.

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There are still men out there in all age groups that believe a woman is incapable of having a passionate in-depth conversation about sports, football in my case. I may be seen as an “irrational feminist” especially for those men (or even my male friends reading this). Conversely, several girls and women would agree that they have felt discriminated against because they do not feel respected when discussing or watching sports.

My encounters will not stop me from voicing my opinions on football or my passion for it. I will be loud, I will root for my team, and I will debate those fans who think F.C. Barcelona is not the best team. This blog is not to discount the boys and men who respect women’s opinions on sports like my dad or other male friends who I have shared my passion with. I hope those boys and men out there who were unaware of this issue or have realized they are at fault for acting in this ignorant way serve as better allies for us female sports fans.

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Lastly, to those boys who feel pressured to watch sports to fit in, you do not need the approval of society or others. Do not watch it if you are not into it. Being a sports fan should not be gendered. It is about who you are and what you like.

Similar articles regarding this issue:

 

No, I Don’t Want Michelle Obama to be President

MorganMorgan is a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. If she’s not working at the Women’s Center you can find her watching Ghost Shark (2013) with her friends. 

My title is a lie.

If only because I actually want Michelle Obama and her magnificent arms to rule this country as a monarch and Sasha and Malia to be next in line for the throne. However, it does hold some truth to me and Coco Connors from the Netflix series, Dear White People puts it best:

“I don’t want to wake up every day and see how much this country despises [Black women].”

Image result for coco conners dear white people

President Obama was vilified in the press for each and every decision he made. Along the way his legitimacy was questioned, his family was picked apart, and he was criticized for everything from his ears to his birth certificate. There were death threats, racist comics, and he was called a monkey and the n-word with a hard -er. As a Black woman, it hurt to know how much this country hates people who look like me for four years.

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But then I think about Michelle Obama and her toned arms, larger than life personality, law degree, and unwavering dedication to this country and its people. And I think how she sits at the same intersection of blackness and femininity that I do. And I can see the news headlines. I can hear the news reports. I know what this country would think of her presidency. I know how she would be picked apart for every little thing she does in the same way people who look like her always are. Even if Michelle Obama were to become the president of this country, she cannot escape the continual dismantling of blackness and femininity that we face.

Take, for instance, the recent controversy surrounding what was perceived as aggressive behavior from Serena Williams during the US Open competition. After being accused of cheating during her match, she became increasingly frustrated and ultimately broke her racket on the court. Her behavior was broadcasted and criticized over and over again on social media and news networks. She was even drawn as a Jim Crowl like caricature by comic artist, Mark Knight.

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Click here for an example of a Jim Crow comic in comparison.

Never mind that white men have been cursing at referees, breaking their rackets, and displaying the same, if not worse behavior for many years.

Serena Williams has always been a role model to me and many other young black women for as long as I can remember. In watching Serena become vilified over and over again, my heart is broken for her each time. However, there is a different kind of hurt and pain that comes with watching Serena Williams. This feeling I hold every time black women in the public eye are picked apart in the media is a personal one. I have never been surprised though. In Netflix series Dear White People, Coco Connors, a black, female character is faced with a seemingly simple and what one would think is a joy-inducing question for any black woman.

Blackness and femininity garner a very unique type of criticism from the world. In being black, your shoulders can often be weighed down with centuries of institutionalized racism, the modern day bombarding of negative images of black people, and just day to day fear and anxiety. However, black and femme folks also deal with sexism, a patriarchy stacked against us, and the continual violence inflicted on women. While we face outside criticism, there’s pressure from the black community itself to put your race above your gender identity.

As if the two can exist separately in the first place.

“Do you want Michelle Obama to become president?”

The question still rings with me. It was only a split second, an inconsequential scene that they moved on from. It stuck with me.  Michelle Obama, an absolute, undeniably black force, she sits at the suffocating intersection of being black and being a woman. She would never be safe again.

Resources

The Racist, Sexist History of Tennis

Jim Crowe comic

Dear White People, Season 2 Epsiode 8

US Open 2018: Serena Williams fined over outbursts during final