Learning to be anti-racist: Calling IN white people and non-Black people of color

This post is written by Amelia Meman, ’15, Assistant Director in the Women’s Center.

I am trying to write this as plainly as I can because there are so many other words that are crowding racial justice spaces and many of them are stemming from the folks who could benefit from saying less in order to listen more.

Foreword: It is valid to feel and process through your pain, but the pain felt by our Black friends, family members, and community is not the same as the pain of white folks and non-Black people of color (POC). Feelings of anger, sadness, betrayal, frustration, exhaustion—all of those things make sense because we are in a time of massive unrest (and a pandemic to boot).

More importantly, it should not be Black people’s jobs to take care of and see to your pain right now. It is also not Black folks’s jobs to hold space for you to learn, to educate you, and to explain themselves.

That’s why I’m writing this. Because the burden we are placing on Black folks in all a manner of places right now, needs to be lifted. It is crucial that we center Black voices and words and prioritize creating and maintaining safe spaces for Black-identified people to feel.

Ally is a verb.

  • Being an “ally” is not a moniker that one earns through good intentions, donations, or rallies attended. You will never erase your white privilege, and just so, you will always have to work hard if you want to be an ally to the Black community.
  • Being an ally is a process-oriented way of being. It means being conscious of privilege and committed to learning more about social justice. It means that allyship comes from your actions and not from endpoints. In other words, allies are made by doing—not by showing. It is a title you are always earning and always striving to do better at.
  • Learn how to take feedback and correction. This work is messy and difficult. “Wokeness” does not come automatically (or ever, but that’s a different blogpost). If someone is calling you in or calling you out, especially if that person is Black-identified, listen and course-correct as needed. There’s no shame in changing your mind or letting people know you made a mistake. Feedback, the good critical kind, stems from a place of trust and care. Trust that you will do better. Care for you. Feedback takes work on both sides, and if someone is offering it to you, see it as a gift.

Check in with your people.

  • If you are white-identified, check in with other white people to see where they’re at. Hold space for them to be messy and for them to be uncomfortable. Use your privilege to be tolerant of others who are at different stages of racial consciousness. Yeah, it might feel better to unfriend your middle school friend who “does not understand why you’re supporting riots,” but frankly, this is not about your own sense of comfort and curated content. This is the time to dig in your heels, put on the armor afforded by your privilege, and either defend Black folks or help that person understand why they should care about racial justice.
  • If you are white-identified, check in with the POC in your lives, especially Black-identified people, and ask how you can support them. That might mean doing absolutely nothing. It might mean being okay with silence coming from the other end. It might mean donating money, giving rides, helping provide PPE for folks in marches, etc. Please offer your support and send your love, because people are hurting right now.
  • If you are a non-Black POC, check in with Black-identified folks and help to create, maintain, and safeguard Black-centering spaces. Help to uplift Black voices. Ask how you can support, and, again, be okay with silence on the other end.
  • As you reach out and check in, leave space for all of the ways of being. When a bad thing happens in someone’s life, we often default to problem solving and/or wanting to get someone to smile. I get it. It’s hard to watch and empathize with people who are pained. Right now, though, we do not need the reminder of silver linings, rainbows, or bright sides. Toxic positivity does not make us feel better—it does the opposite and perpetuates this idea that the only good way to be is happy. Here’s the thing: the only good way to be is how you are.

Educate yourself.

  • It is not the duty of Black folks to explain themselves or this moment to you.
  • Recognize that privilege and white supremacy are not just evidenced by the words we use. It is also about behavior, patterns of behavior, and the social value we give to some but not others. For example, if you are at a rally, pay attention to who grabs the microphone and what they have to say. Pay attention to the space white folks and non-Black folks take up whether through their speech or their behavior. Pay attention when a white woman’s tears are met with empathy or care, and when a Black woman’s raised voice and anger are met with eye rolls or pushback (for being “aggressive,” or “too much”). White people have access to so much more social value and acceptable behavior—pay attention to how that can dominate spaces.
  • The resources to understand white privilege and the role you can play in anti-racist work are available in many different places. Below there are a list of resources that you can search through.
  • Also! You do not need to know everything in order to do this work! Quality, not quantity! Frankly, the best thing you can learn to do is reorient your yourself so that you are open to feedback, open to learning more and/or changing your mind, and not having easy answers (see more on practicing cultural humility). Those paradigms do not come naturally to most people. We are acculturated to feel shame in not knowing and to hold fast to deeply entrenched beliefs, and so this work is difficult.
  • There are many ways to support Black lives and do anti-racist work. It’s not always about being in the streets. It’s sometimes about taking the time to have hard conversations with friends and family who are not totally getting it yet. It might be in taking the time to read a book. It might be in journaling and reflecting on how power and privilege come to play in your life. Just like any movement or group effort, it takes as much work as it does rest and reflection.

Are your social media posts effective in creating change? Or are they performative?

  • Social media messaging comes easily. It also means little to nothing beyond helping people see that you “care” about a cause. If you want to join in on hashtags and/or social media campaigns, that’s fine, but that should only be auxiliary to all of the work you can do to support Black lives. Those things include all of the recommendations in this blogpost and put more succinctly:
    • Donating
    • Reading
    • Listening
    • Contacting government officials and those in elected office
  • Always. Be. Critically. Engaged. It can be tempting to retweet, repost, share messaging from others’ making powerful statements—BUT when you’re jumping into the trend, look at the “why” and the “who” of what is being posted.
    • Quick killjoy jab: corporations do not care about Black lives right now. They care about where you would like to put your money. Just like with human activists, look at what companies DO and NOT what they SAY.
    • For a case study on this, see the origins of #BlackoutTuesday and how far it strayed from the initial campaign by Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, two black women working in the music industry.
  • Ask yourself why you are posting anything at all:
    • What purpose is this message serving?
    • Who is this message serving?
    • Who is the audience?
Graphic from the @take.back.theinternet.
Graphic from the @take.back.theinternet.

Solidarity is the way.

Quick preface: If you’re reading this blog, you have probably gotten to a place of understanding with the difference between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” The idea of Black lives mattering does not negate others’ importance. Rather it shines a light on the discrepancy between how certain lives are valued more than others.

  • The only way through is together. This is not a feel-good statement—it is a hard truth. My survival is tied to yours and we can only do the radical work of anti-racism by understanding that solidarity is key. This means allying with causes and movements that do not necessarily center your own social identities.
  • Deepa Iyer writes about the difference between transactional and transformational solidarity practices. She uses the case study of attending a rally: in transactional solidarity, one would attend a Black Lives Matter rally in support and return home to post pictures from the rally on my social media profiles. In transformational solidarity practice, one brings friends to the rally, learns more about the historical roots of the cause you’re supporting, engages in deep and meaningful dialogue, and shows up to more rallies on and on.
    • Transformational solidarity practice stretches the activist and the movement in beneficial ways. The actions taken in this practice have the potential to create meaningful change.

I know that was a lot. If you’ve read to the end here, then you might be feeling many different things. Offended, confused, validated, relieved, upset, guilty–and that’s okay. This is the time and the space for sorting through the discomfort of anti-racist work.

Please know that I write this with as much love (albeit tough) as I can muster. I believe in you.

Quotation from Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Australian visual artist and activist.

Thank you to the Mosaic Center for curating many parts of the following Resources list in their recent posting on myUMBC. As UMBC’s leaders in helping our communities embrace and affirm diversity and inclusion, the Mosaic Center is more important than ever. The Women’s Center is, as ever, in close partnership and solidarity with the Mosaic, and we will always commit to that. Thank you, Mosaic Team, for all you do to make the UMBC community and our world a better place.

Resources*

* There are a lot of resources below. A lot. This work is not being timed. There is no deadline. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Many folks feel an urgency to read! All! The! Things! And yes, this work is urgent but also must be sustainable. Take breaks. Breathe. Set SMART goals when it comes to reading, learning, and digesting so as not to burn yourself out. 

Books:

Readings:

Podcasts:

Collections:

Resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children:

UMBC Organizations:

More Organizations:

Trans Women in Women’s Spaces: A Reflection on the Transition of Privilege and Belonging

Autumn is a junior Meyerhoff Scholar (M29), pursuing a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Gender, Women and  Sexuality Studies dual degree, and currently a student intern at the Women’s Center.

Content Note: The content of this blog may be triggering. Topics addressed by this blog include transphobia, menstruation, pregnancy, dysphoria, and gender-confirmation surgery.

When I first received an offer to intern at the Women’s Center, I was very excited. Throughout my years at UMBC, the Women’s Center quickly became my home away from home and was a place to feel safe, included, and accepted. I participated in as many events as possible and volunteered whenever I had the time. I even had the privilege of being able to facilitate Spectrum meetings for a semester before formally joining the staff. By working in the Women’s Center, I thought I would be able to help create an even better space for the people I shared the space with and new community members alike. 

However, even while writing this blog post, I experience imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is “the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications—was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.” I think that the sheer complexity of how this imposter syndrome is taking effect for me (and people like me with a pretty fraught, tenuous and ever-changing relationship with womanhood) is demonstrated in the carefulness of the words that I am using in this blog. This is a really multifaceted issue that deals with dysphoria, internalized transphobia, the differences of experiences between marginalized identities and intersectionality. 

Vaginas!? 

When I was born, the doctor looked at my genitals and proclaimed to the world and the government that “It’s a boy.” For those who know me, it is somewhat obvious that this label did not stick for the “normal” amount of time (read: the entire lifespan). If you’ve not caught on yet, I’m very much not a boy anymore and I identify as a nonbinary trans woman (I know its a bit of an oxymoron; gender is FUNKY).

gif of person dancing

I experience marginalization and oppression, but I also have privilege in this identity. I struggle with the privilege I have by being a trans feminine person that was able to come out early on in my life and that I was able to start my medical transition when I still was in high school. 

Even so, working in the Women’s Center at UMBC as a nonbinary, transgender woman is peculiar. Because of my experiences with transness and my body, I am not the best equipped to assist with issues that students may come to the Women’s Center to address. For example, I don’t have a vagina (YET!), and I didn’t grow up with one, therefore I don’t have the first-hand knowledge that comes with menstruating, pregnancy, or growing up as an AFAB person in a heterosexist and misogynistic society. 

This has made interactions with some community members weird when they ask for help with things I don’t have experience with. I’m deathly afraid of giving the wrong advice or having an interaction that makes someone uncomfortable. If a community member comes into the Center and asks about internal condoms or pregnancy tests (while I’m not uneducated on the subjects) I cannot give as good of an answer as someone with experience.  Even when I am pointing out the tampons and pads that the Women’s Center offers to the community for free, I deal with that fear and alienation. 

As a transfeminine person, I am acutely aware of how “womanhood,” as the greater society knows it, is defined in bioessentialist definitions. When doing the work that involves vaginas and helping people with vaginas, I am always reminded of the “essential” difference of my body and that I am not fully “them.”

I am wondering how much this anxiety stems from internalized transphobia that I have surrounding transgender women, including myself, not really being “full” women or that I don’t truly belong in a women’s space. Throughout my life, the topic of periods, reproduction and menstrual products have always been a sticking point for me and my experience: a constant trigger for my dysphoria. It’s a common trigger for a lot of trans women, not just because of the consistent TERF bioessentialist dog whistles, but because we as trans women lack the thing that is worshiped as a pillar of western societal femininity: the ability to reproduce. Of course, I want to acknowledge that this is a completely bogus measure of femininity because the ability to reproduce is completely disconnected to femininity. Femininity and reproduction are two distinct aspects of humanity that are conflated in a way that serves to not only enforce exclusion but to oppress those who do not fit the societal standards. To some extent, I believe that I’m invading a space that I really do not have the right to inhabit. 

Privileged Transitions

In terms of my transition, I am exceptionally privileged. I was born to an accepting family who supported me when I came out after my freshman (literally “man”) year of high school. Me coming out to them was a bit of an accident even, but it went well. I was able to access hormones soon after and I just scheduled bottom surgery for after I graduate from UMBC. I’m white and I pass as a cis woman reasonably well, and I have the resources to access my endocrinologist regularly and I am able to afford my medical treatment. I also have the privilege of growing up as someone who was assigned male at birth in a society that greatly values maleness, especially in science and in leadership. Because of my socialization, I am allowed a higher level of confidence and ownership in science and leadership than someone who was reared as a woman in the same fields.

All of these compounding areas of privilege greatly influence how I can exist in a space, and how much space I take up, especially at a women’s center. As someone who was reared as a male in our society, it sometimes feels really weird to go to events that specifically cater to women.

I also see my own experience paralleled in a previous Women’s Center staff member Daniel, as they had to grapple with the realities of being a trans man when working in the Women’s Center. In their blog post about male privilege, Daniel discusses how they strive to be cognizant of the space they take up within the Women’s Center because Dan’s privilege is not as cut and dry as one might see between a cis man and a cis woman. Their blog posts detailed how they saw themselves within the Women’s Center as a “white, medically transitioning, ‘passing’ man,” and how that influenced Dan’s participation. Even though they have the privileges afforded to white men, because of their transness, Daniel is precariously perched on the Glass Elevator and experiences marginalization at the hands of a heterocissexist society. Although the experiences of all trans people are not the same, I can deeply relate to Dan’s experiences as a student staff member at the Women’s Center.

Privilege aside, there is a level of marginalization that I experience in entering and being a part of the Women’s Center. Cis women come into this space and feel entitled to it. Me? I do… and I also pause. I enter the space tentatively because my sense of belonging is not always assured. 

Existing Within the Bounds of My Triggers

Throughout my transition, my dysphoria, anxiety, and depression has been pretty intensely triggered by the topics of menstruation, reproduction, and topics around cis-women bodies. 

I was really, really worried about this when I started at the Women’s Center because I imagined that it would be very hard for me to remove myself from potentially triggering situations when I’m working (such as a community member needing assistance with something). I still really struggle with this even as I am halfway through my internship. However, I’ve been a lot less triggered by these situations than I thought I would initially.

I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I feel like this ease comes in part from the ability to put boundaries between my own sense of self and my sense of representing the Women’s Center. Regardless of what this means about my self-esteem and coping, boundaries allow me to exist and operate in this work.

Ultimately, I think that it is okay and normal to be uncomfortable in some spaces. This discomfort is good. The oppressive nature of the gender binary and the heterocissexist society is diametrically opposed to the reality that trans people live so discomfort is inevitable. But when dealing with big, overarching systems of power that influence our lives, sometimes identifying that there even is a problem is the first step of trying to challenge the norms. In other words, without identifying the problem, it is impossible to generate a solution. It may seem like the big, overall problem is the Gender Binary™, but I think there is a smaller, more pervasive issue when thinking and talking about how transgender people fit within the model of a women’s center. 

I think that the problem isn’t that transgender people do not fit into the current framework of mainstream feminism. The real problem is with those who either knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate systems of oppression (read: most everyone), and don’t use their power or privilege toward the radical but simple process of affirming transgender identities. In spaces like the Women’s Center, trans people should not only feel welcome but also a sense of home and belonging–and it’s cis people’s prerogative to either build those bridges with intentionality and care or continue a system that oppresses everyone: the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

My transness is an integral part of my identity, and I’m exceptionally proud of it. However, I know that my belonging in the Women’s Center is not just tied to my identity as a nonbinary trans woman. In the Women’s Center, I am surrounded by people who support and care for me and it is in that where the promise of real and actionable liberatory justice resides.

Women in Writing Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

Queering Your Queue

Shira Devorah A short reflection by student staff member Shira Devorah ( She/Her or They/Them) 

I really love queer media. I’ve probably watched most of the movies in the “Gay and Lesbian” category on Netflix, as long as they didn’t look too dull or exploitative. There are some really fantastic and challenging shows and movies available at the click of a button. Why am I so drawn to television shows with women kissing, to movies with actual trans actresses playing trans women? I know I’m not the only queer woman who revels in the opportunity to see a new lesbian drama. Why is this?

Well, it all boils down to one thing: The need for representation. The queer community is constantly portrayed by the media through stereotypes and tropes that are incredibly harmful and inconsistent with the realities of our queer lives. This article from the queer- woman’s website Autostraddle recently went viral – because it listed all 162 (and counting) dead lesbian and bisexual women killed on television and how they died.

The post circulated widely using the hashtag “bury your gays,” which was created after a beloved lesbian character from The 100 was killed off as a cheap plot device – a trope all too common in any media that portrays queer women. While I never really watched The 100, I understand what it feels like when a fan favorite lesbian meets an early demise. Continue reading

A Call to Prayer: My Return to the Muslim Community

MJ Profile PicA reflection written by Women’s Center staff member, MJ Jalloh Jamboria

The following is a little of my experience as a queer Muslim person. I recognize that my experience is not reflective of Islam, nor of the community of people I met at the Interfaith Center.

For the first time since last Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holy holiday, I went to Jumu’ah (congregational Friday prayer). I met a person on campus who extended a warm hand and invited me to prayer which took place at the Interfaith Center. I was both excited and terrified for a plethora of reasons. I was excited to sit amongst my sisters, to rejoin the community I had left behind me as I entered college, and to listen to the guest Sheik that was invited to give the khutbah, the congregational sermon.

In the days leading up to the Friday prayer, all I could talk about was how excited I was that I finally had a friend to go to Jumu’ah with. I quickly realized, I had no idea how to be practicing Muslim anymore. I was once a Sunday school teacher and was really quite good at incorporating Islamic teachings into my life. However, since the start of college, I hadn’t really thought about being religious. I am not hijabi, a woman who wears hijab full-time. I’m not even a woman! I sometimes eat gelatin (oops!) and I don’t think I own a single piece of ‘modest’ clothing. I am a fat, queer, shorts and T-shirt wearing, ‘you kiss your mother with that mouth?’ swearing, mess of a person! Muslim people can be all of these things, but in prayer there are certain rules we must submit to. The expectation for women is to stand in a section separate from men, covered in appropriate prayer attire and hair and neck wrapped in a veil. The thought of completing some of these actions made me nervous.  Continue reading

“Barely Black”

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Meagé Clements. This post is an expansion of her statement in the UMBC Women’s Center and Women of Color Coalition’s “I’m Not” anti-stereotype campaign for the Telling Our Stories project, which we posted about here.

Meagé Profile PicIt’s been over a year since I first read recent UMBC alumna and former Women’s Center student staff member Bria Hamlet’s blog post Blackish: Telling My Story and her words continue to resonate with me. She described how she often felt that her blackness was invalidated by others because she didn’t fit the “stereotypical Black mold.” Her blog post made me recall my own experiences with microaggressions and respectability politics, even before I had words to describe what I was facing.

Upon thinking about my “favorite” microaggressions to include on my anti-stereotype poster for the Telling Our Stories Project, a million ideas popped in my head; several about my name, a few about my natural hair, but most were about me being — or not being — “Black enough,” and how other people often take it upon themselves to decide when I am capable of being associated with my blackness.

Growing up, I attended predominantly white schools, but I had always surrounded myself with a small yet diverse group of friends. I remember several times when my Black and non-Black friends alike would joke about how my “Black card should be revoked” or how I was “barely Black” for any number of reasons.

Most often, it came down to the fact that by being an introvert, I couldn’t possibly be Black. Because I wasn’t the stereotypical “loud Black woman,” I wasn’t Black enough. Because I grew up in a two-parent household, I couldn’t be Black. Because I “spoke like a white girl,” I wasn’t deemed Black enough.

Since when did each of these things become associated with Blackness and why were they the determinants? What exactly did it mean to be “Black enough?” Continue reading

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Natacha Ngea

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Natacha Ngea
Computer Engineering
CWIT  Scholar & Newcombe Scholar

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Meet Natacha Ngea! A CWIT Scholar and computer engineering major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

I have always been interested in Science and Technology. My favorite classes were biology, chemistry and Mathematics. I still remember how excited I was to perform experiments with test tubes. In my country of origin, Cameroon, you specialize in high school and your admittance in College depends on what you graduate in. I was placed in Modern Languages. It never felt right. When I got the opportunity to come to the US, I decided to use that chance to finally do what I always wanted to do. In order to do so, though, I needed to pay my way to school and fill the gap I had in technology so I had so I enrolled in a professional certificate at Howard Community College (HCC). My first class was a computer repairs class. I loved it. I wanted to know how computers work. My professor knew so much on the topic that I asked him what was his background was in. He told me he was a mechanical engineer. That is when I started thinking about getting a degree in engineering. After meeting with my advisor, I took some tests and I enrolled in a second degree in engineering. After physics I, I knew mechanical engineering was not the right fit for me but I found out there was a computer engineering program. I read the curriculum and I was sold. In the meantime, I was invited to join the STEM community at HCC. Through this program, I grew more and more confident. I also joined the Computer/Network support team as an intern. I discovered that I liked troubleshooting and taking things apart. I learned a lot there. I am a visual learner and English is not my first language so being able to relate a concept I learned in class with an application I encountered through my internship was great. After an A.A.S in Computer Support Technology and an A.A in Computer Science, I transferred to UMBC in fall 2014 to pursue a degree in Computer Engineering and I also work for DoIT as a network technician. Continue reading

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Rachel Cohen

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Rachel Cohen
Computer Science
CWIT  Scholar

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Meet Rachel Cohen! A CWIT Scholar and computer science major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

When I first decided to attend UMBC as a freshman, I originally declared my major as biochemistry. In high school, I had always excelled in my science and math classes and knew that I wanted to major in something that would allow me to hone in on those skills. After taking the gateway biology and chemistry courses, I came to the realization that I wasn’t exceedingly passionate about what I was studying, so I decided to switch my major to computer science. Having no prior experience in the subject, I was a bit hesitant to make such a drastic switch. I knew that computer science was a prevalent field with a great number of job opportunities, so I knew that if I were able to develop the skills needed to get the computer science degree, I would have a successful future ahead of me. Since switching to computer science after freshman year, I haven’t looked back! Continue reading

CWIT Spotlight: Elyse Hill

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Elyse Hill
Mechanical Engineering
CWIT  Scholar

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Meet Elyse Hill! A CWIT Scholar and mechanical engineering major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

My interest in STEM was sparked in middle school by my mother. I had a heavy interest in architecture at the time and my mom suggested to me that I should look into pursuing the math and science behind the architecture. That led me to look into engineering, which I found to be a very broad field. In the summer of my 10th grade year, I went to an Exploring Engineering camp at the University of Maryland, College Park where I was exposed to the many disciplines in engineering that UMD had to offer. After coming to UMBC, I decided on mechanical engineering because I found that it was the most versatile of the engineering programs we offer here.

Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.

Last summer, I studied abroad in Lille, France at the Catholic University of Lille. There, many other students and myself engaged in culture classes, french classes, and discipline-specific classes (I took a solar energy course) while getting to experience French and European culture. I was very proud of this experience because I got to successfully apply the language I studied in high school while immersing myself in a foreign culture. The day I was the proudest was the day I wandered around the city of Brussels all by myself with only my map and a language I barely spoke as my tools.

Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field? How have their stories influenced your educational or career goals.

I have many role models in my major, the most impactful of which have beenUMBC’s  Dr. Maria Sanchez and Dr. Anne Spence. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in the field of engineering education, something both Dr. Spence and Dr. Sanchez do research in and hold a passion for. When I discussed this field with each of them, they expressed to me their own opinion on the subject and how it is a rising field of great importance. Since hearing their explanations, I have been more motivated to consider the field as a research topic for graduate school. Thanks to an email from Dr. Spence, I found out about an REU focused on engineering education that I applied for and got accepted to for this summer. In addition to their advice, just them being women in engineering is influential to me, and motivates me to become a college professor who inspires students, just as they have inspired me.

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A Winter Leisure Reading Book Report

A winter lesisure book report compiled by Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers

The winter term is wrapping up and the “spring” semester (and winter storm Jonas) is right around the corner. I’m already mourning what I know will soon be the inevitable dry season of leisure reading which will be replaced by amazing Women’s Center events and programs (plus, let’s be honest, the last season of Parks and Rec is finally on Netflix and Leslie is calling my name). Before that, though, I thought I’d report out on my winter reading list.

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I gave myself few rules to follow as I selected my books for the winter break. I purposely avoided the critical feminist textbooks I have on my reading list and did not seek out books with themes of sexual violence (I’m still recovering from last winter’s reading Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State. Amazing and heartbreaking.). I steered myself in the direction of “light” and “fun,” sought out stories with women positioned as critical characters, and kept to the intentional practice of reading books authored by women or people of color only. I’m already reflecting on the more intentional ways I’ll need to craft my next binge reading session. While most of my winter reads ended up on my list through recommendations from feminist and social justice-orientated friends or podcasts, the end result still produced a very white-centric cast of women authors. This is in contrast to last winter, when I sought out specific authors such as Gay and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and took away a much more intersectional and global perspective through my reading. I’ve (re)learned it’s not good enough to just exclude white male authors when seeking out book recommendations if you’re really looking to expand your perspective beyond stories of whiteness and white supremacy.

So here’s my report (I’ve also included links for the full official summary of each book): Continue reading