Finding Community & Fostering It

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about why finding and fostering community is important on a college campus.

What does perfect community look like?

Let’s be honest. We might never reach anything close to perfect. But I do wonder, what can we do to continually create and build better community? Something that is always on my mind is wondering where we can find community, and what makes it feel as good as home. I remember when I first got to UMBC, settling in to my dorm, my roommate saying the bare minimum to me, and not knowing anyone who understood the culture where I came from. I felt alone. I did not know that in a few weeks, I would learn about clubs and events at Involvement Fest. During Involvement Fest, I was able to find organizations on campus and meet active student leaders. There, I was able to start to build my UMBC community. 

giphy (2)According to U.S. News, there are several reasons why being active on your college campus is important. U.S. News reports that involvement helps students to feel connected to the school, feel as though they have a community, discover their passions, and it gives them opportunities to build their resume with experiences. After all, we are all here to get a job in the future. 

These factors are all important, and students know they need them to be successful, especially first-generation college students. According to Cia Verschelden, the author of Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization, “when students belong in a place, they have, or begin to build, social capital, defined as the connections, often informal, that they need to get inside information and to gain access to resources, such as tutoring or on-campus jobs.” By having these connections, relationships, and communities, all an important part of a college experience, we have access to valuable resources. One of the biggest reasons I want to foster community is because I do not want anyone to feel alone here. No one has to experience that feeling on this campus.

On UMBC’s campus, the Women’s Center is my home. Since last semester, it has been one of the places where I have tried to foster community. The Women’s Center is that older next door neighbor who asks you to cut their grass but will teach you life lessons you can not get anywhere else… and give you snacks. The Women’s Center has fostered my self-love and a sense of belonging. I’m not sure I can thank them enough. Also, the people here help me gain a sense of community and challenge me to be a better advocate for everyone.


The Hispanic Latino Student Union (HLSU) had their third meeting of the semester this past Wednesday. As a Hispanic student, a group that makes up 7% of the campus community, I have been going to their meetings for over a year now. HLSU is also a place where I feel at home on campus. HLSU is like being with my favorite cousins that I see during holidays. They really know how to get the fun going, and their mom always lets me sleepover. HLSU is always my reminder that there are people who share my same cultural background. With them, I can be understood.

facebook_1520368691470I joined Lambda Theta Alpha, Latin Sorority Incorporated (LTA), initially because I wanted to meet others who understand what it is like to be a first-generation Latina college student. LTA are my sisters. We fight about why no one washed the dishes, but when someone makes popcorn, we are all down for spending a Sunday watching Disney movies. With the help of this organization, I have learned how to use my voice to be a leader in the community.  

If you want to build community during your college experience here are some pro-tips!

  1. Reach out! UMBC has this handy dandy spreadsheet with the e-mail address for every member of student organizations’ executive boards. You can get in touch with the group leaders, and from my experience, most groups are always welcoming to new members and would love to hear from you.
  2. Go to those meetings. Most groups have a set time they meet (i.e. bi-weekly, monthly). Head on to myUMBC and follow them to check out the meeting times. If you can’t make it, I am sure someone will reach out and let you know when they are just hanging out.
  3. Stay in touch. I know, us younglings love our technological things. How hard is it to stay in touch? Sometimes, very. Just do your best with your busy schedule to let others group leaders know you are interested in joining in on whatever events they have planned!
  4. Follow your passions! Do something because you want to! Not because that is where your friends hang out, not because someone told you this is the spot, but because you feel passion towards it.
  5. Know when the space isn’t for you. I mean this with straight respect. Sometimes places are not the fit for you, or sometimes the space wasn’t created for someone like you in the first place. Know which spaces are for you, know which spaces are not. Respect group members enough to let them have their space and continue searching for your best fit.
  6. Be yourself! Know that when you find the right community for you, that people will care and want to be around you, your authentic self. Do not allow who you really are to hide behind who you think people want you to be because if want real strong community, you have to be willing to show yourself.

Finally, remember fostering community is work. Let me say it again. Fostering community is work! That is why all my meetings go on forever!

While, the Women’s Center, HLSU, and LTA are the places I found my community at UMBC, these spaces are not for everyone as they try to fulfill what they want from a community but there are many groups and clubs on campus. To help you get started, here is a list of over 300 clubs and organizations that are active on UMBC’s main campus.


What are Pop Culture Pop Ups?! The Golden Globes: Black Out and Oprah

Sydney Phillips

A blog post written by student staff member, Sydney.


It’s official! The Women’s Center has a new ongoing event starting this spring semester. What is it you ask?

Pop Culture Pop Ups!

You’re probably wondering, “What the heck is a Pop Culture Pop Up?” Well, that’s what I’m here to explain.

If you frequent the Women’s Center you know that it is often a space for spontaneous discussion with others regarding shared interests (about life, events,  and school to include the awesome, the good, the bad, and the frustrating – and more!). The energy and critical dialogue that comes from these conversations are what make the Women’s Center the Women’s Center and we wanted to nourish more of these moments by carving out time for more intentional dialogue surrounding both fun and serious topics that come up in our daily lives. Hence, the pop up of these Pop Culture Pop Ups.

We envision these pop ups will create a space for anyone who is on campus and wants to discuss an event, movement, hashtag (and more!) that has gotten huge attention or gone viral to come to the Women’s Center and have a brave space to discuss their feelings, reactions, and ideas linked to the topic. Of course, we’ll make sure to talk about how these pop culture moments intersect with gender and women’s issues, feminism, and social justice. Yet, unlike many of the other events that we hold in the Women’s Center, there won’t be a planned agenda, prepared questions, or a panel of experts and practitioners to guide the conversation.

Essentially, our plan is to take the conversations we notice people are often having on social media and make them into IRL conversations! We may do a bit of background research or read an article that shows up on our Facebook, but this is really a space for raw, immediate reactions to what it happening in a fun and thoughtful way with other people on want to engage in a conversation around the same topic.  That’s why our Pop Ups won’t come with a “save the date.” While they will be held on Wednesdays at free hour, they will be spur of the moment decisions (get it, Pop Ups?) in reaction to an event. This means we we could decide to have one the Sunday before or Tuesday night so check our social media for updates!

Pop CUlture Pop Up_ EVENT...

Some of you may still be confused about what it is we’d talk about or what is considered pop culture, and the ambiguity is kind of the beauty of it (it can really be anything), but it may help to have an example.

A Pop Up we would have loved to have, but unfortunately weren’t able to because of winter break was all things Golden Globes. From the second I heard about #TimesUp and the #whywewearblack Black Out/ Protest, I was hooked and invested. This is something I wanted to discuss and dissect with others. Who was involved in the decision? Did everyone wear black? What is the point? These would all be questions that would definitely come up in a Pop Up.

Image result for blackout at golden globes

Hollywood showed up in black this year at the Golden Globes.       Photo Credits: Getty/WireImage

If you watched the show, or saw any of the coverage after the fact, you’d know that almost everyone did indeed wear black, but you also would have seen the backlash about why this form of protest just wasn’t good enough. Wearing black isn’t that hard-especially for men, said some while others said that a better idea would be to protest the event all together. Not only did the dress-code come under fire, but so did the men (and some women) who showed up wearing black and the Times Up pin. What about the actors and actresses that are wearing black but work with Woody Allen or other stars that are being held accountable? What does wearing black do when you’re still silent about sexual violence and believing survivors in your daily life as well as career? I know these questions flew around my head and basically everyone’s on the internet. I wish we could have had a Pop-Up to really reflect on how we were feeling post black-out. I still don’t know how I feel about the whole thing. I love the men and women who came out to support, I love that a lot of them made donations and brought activists as their dates, and I love that we’re finally TALKING ABOUT IT…. but I also ask, is it enough? This is why Pop Ups are important. They’ll come together fast, bring us together about current issues, and let us digest these potentially confusing emotions and reactions.


While the Blackout is something that could take up a whole Pop Up on its own there was another highlight of the night that we would have LOVED to talk about. You guessed it folks — OPRAH!

Image result for oprah gif

Me listening to Oprah’s speech!

Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement (the first Black woman to do so) and delivered a speech that BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. She discussed growing up and representation in the media, people who took a chance on her and how that led to success in her career, her value of the press and the pursuit of the truth, the sexual violence in the entertainment industry and beyond, and the women who are speaking up.

oprah 2

It was moving, brought tears to my eyes, had me fist-pumping, and cheering her on (I encourage you to watch it here). I wish I would have had the chance to see how others felt in person rather than on Facebook and tumblr, especially with so many mixed feelings surrounding the activism at the Golden Globes. Not only could we have discussed this epic speech, but we could also unpack the public’s call for a presidential run and what that really means. Should Oprah run? Some say HELL YEAH, others think she’s just another billionaire and we should support other Black women who are already in politics, while others are saying no more to celebrity presidents. There’s a lot more to unpack here in terms of politics, who we support, and how the institution (both Hollywood and politics) may be changing.

Discussions about how we feel in the present as well as how we move forward in the future about this moments in time are important to have and that’s why the Women’s Center will be bringing you these Pop Culture Pop Up moments.

To stay informed about when Pop-Ups will happen make sure to follow us on myUMBC, Facebook and Twitter. Also follow us on Snapchat (@womencenterumbc) where we will be posting more about daily happenings in the Women’s Center.

If there’s something that comes up over the next semester you want to talk about, be sure to let the Women’s Center staff know (you can also use the hashtag #WCPopUp). It just may become the next Pop Culture Pop-Up! 


For more on the Blackout:

On why it’s about more than a dress

On what it means for designers

For more on Times Up:

On the Time’s Up Movement

On how #METOO and Time’s Up relate

For more on Oprah’s Speech:

On Black women being the “clean up” crew for America- and why that’s a problem

On the “missed point” of the speech

Making Space for Faith in Feminism

michael-headshot A reflection by Michael Jalloh-Jamboria, Women’s Center student staff member

Saturday, February 12th was the 59th Grammy awards show. The show featured many musical performances and winners, most notably,Beyoncé. At the time of her performance, not only was she pregnant, but she delivered a kickass performance, defied gravity, all the while channeling some major West African, Latin American, and Christian spiritual imagery during her performance. 

In both Santeria and West African spirituality, the Goddess Oshun is the goddess of sweet waters–the embodiment of love, fertility, and sensuality. Her love and guidance were instrumental to the creation of the world, so much so that other Orisha (gods and goddesses) were unable to complete their work on earth without Oshun.  After Beyonce’s amazing performance, Twitter was going wild with the comparisons between Beyoncé and the goddess Oshun.


Beyoncé’s performance, her golden outfit, the fact that she was very pregnant, and the influx of Twitter comparisons reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about my journey of religion and its intersections with my identities. Growing up, my parents loved to tell me stories of the Orisha, or gods and goddesses, and how they created the earth. While I was raised Muslim, my parents never separated our West African spirituality from our Muslim religion. Beyoncé’s performance got me thinking about how different my religion is from my spirituality. While it can be a strange balance, both my religion and my spirituality are important aspects of my identity. But I realized, within the social spaces I occupy, I don’t really talk about those parts of my identity. From there, I began to think about whether or not religion has a place in feminism. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

So, I’ll go first…


Continue reading

Women’s March on Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay Hair

A post written by Women’s Center Intern, Daniel.

So you’re out at your favorite vegan coffee shop sipping your $6 soy latte while reading City Paper and you peek over the top of it just in time to see a blue-haired cutie send a glance your way and wink as they strut out the door. When you walk into your sociology class on Monday, you scan the room and spot a classmate with pink bangs and an undercut and weave your way through the desks to sit as close to them as possible so that when the professor begins the chapter on sexuality you can roll your eyes and groan with them. Why? Cause that blue-haired cutie and the classmate with the undercut and the kid on the bus with the mohawk crusted in glitter are all totally queer just like you.


Photo Credit: Audrey Gatewood

I stepped into gay hair territory in the summer of 2012 when I cut off all my hair and never looked back. Last summer I started dying my hair bright colors and I, again, haven’t looked back. I’ve been lavender, blue, pink, purple, and now platinum blonde. My freshman year, I attended my first impromptu hair party. Armed with clippers and bleach, my suitemate, a new friend of mine, and my biggest crush at the time went to town on each other’s hair. In a terrifying turn of events, I got to use clippers for the very first time on the one person whose hair I did NOT want to mess up. I actually did okay and went on to be a part of many, many more hair parties like this one.

A lot of us (and by “us,” I mean young, queer/gay, and trans people) don’t have the time or money to go to a hair salon to get our hair done and, frankly, not a lot of salons are willing to give us the cuts we want. A common experience among queer women (and a lot of other types of queer people) is taking a picture of a “man’s” cut or masculine style to a stylist and ending up with feminized version of it. “Passing” as a man well enough to sit comfortably in a barber’s chair is anxiety-inducing at best, not to mention trying to safely “pass” as a woman in a salon and a world of rampant transmisogyny. Getting your hair cut by a group of friends in someone’s poorly lit bathroom may not result in the most professionally done coiffure, but it beats being misgendered or told that what you want is too masculine or too feminine for whatever gender your stylist has assigned to you.

Getting a gay haircut can be an incredible experience that feels validating and makes you feel more connected with your community, but getting my gay hair gay cut this weekend made me think about what gay hair is and how politics of gender, identity, and queerness come into play with visibility and validation.

So, what is gay hair?


“Gay Hair Squad” at Artscape

“Gay hair” is non-normative hair. It’s often brightly colored, always changing, and rarely professionally done. It blurs the lines of gendered cuts (why on earth do hair cuts have genders??) and challenges assumptions about the person wearing it. Some styles are more popular in some subcultures than others. For some, gay hair is an act of rebellion; for others, it’s a away to take control of their bodies or to step outside of them. For me, gay hair is how I make people see my queerness. When I dyed my hair lavender this summer, it was because I was worried that people were reading me as a straight, cisgender dude. I wanted them to look at me and see that I was not those things, even if they didn’t have the words for what I was, because being cisgender and straight are so far removed from my lived experience that being read that way felt like not only a big lie but a step back into the closet.

I love my gay hair and all my gay friends with all their gay hair. But I’ve come to realized that being able to have gay hair is a privilege most of us with gay hair have never thought about. The majority of people with gay hair are white, afab (assigned female at birth), and on the masculine side of the gender presentation spectrum– not because people of color or amab (assigned male at birth) or femme-presenting people don’t wear their hair in expressive and non-normative ways, but because our picture of “queer” looks like a thin, white, masc/androgynous person with colorful hair and cute shoes. Black women (cis and trans alike) don’t get to have cool and funky hair without being labeled “ghetto” and unprofessional. Queer trans women get serious criticism then they want short or masculine cuts like their cisgender counterparts because they aren’t performing femininity in the way that trans women are expected to in order to be validated and accepted.

Speaking of validation and acceptance, why is it that we assume queer people have to look a certain way, or that people who look or sound one way must be queer? Why is femme invisibility such a pervasive problem in queer circles that many queer women feel the need to cut their hair in order to be seen? In creating our own subcultures and modes of rebellion against gender norms and heternormativity, I wonder if we have not only isolated ourselves from the people for whom “gay” is not the primary mode of existence, but also created new barriers for already marginalized groups within our community. People who can’t have or don’t want gay hair should still be able to be recognized and validated in their identities, and we should be supporting our non-white and femme siblings in their pursuit of gay hair. Heck, everyone should try out gay hair. There’s something exciting about “breaking the rules” and toeing the ridiculous but still ever-present line of gender norms.

Besides, who doesn’t like a blue-haired cutie?