Bodily boundaries or how the world told me I hated affection

Sydney PhillipsA blog written by student staff member Sydney about her journey with understanding bodily boundaries, consent, and the perpetuation of rape culture in society. Including tips about consent in daily life and resources to stay informed and about how to talk to kids and other adults about the issue.

 

If you would have asked me a month ago how I felt about touch and affection, I would have told you I straight up hate it. For years I’ve thought I was someone who just doesn’t want to be touched at all (I’m talking cuddling, PDA, hugging family…let alone kissing family, sitting a bit too close to someone, or OMG SHARING BEDS)… and in some ways this is still true. For example I will never want to be cuddled while I sleep. This is ME time, don’t touch me!

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BUT after some self-reflection and some therapy, I’m realizing that the issue is not that I don’t like to be touched or that I’m never okay with physical affection. It’s that I like certain forms of physical affection and I don’t have a problem telling other people what I want.

Unfortunately, other people find my self-awareness and assertiveness weird or wrong. Our society socializes women to think that we SHOULD want to be touched and that men should WANT to touch us (I’m using heteronormative terms here for a few reasons. 1. Because that’s the message I received growing up, and because society still looks at heterosexual couples as the norm, I think a lot of times this is the message many of us get and 2. Because I’m interested in the gendered understanding of this phenomena and how it creates tensions within consent discourse). If we deviate from that norm we feel like something is wrong. For example, here are some responses I’ve gotten when explaining not wanting to be touched to people: “but he’s your boyfriend” , “you’re such a dude”, “you’re cold/ cold- hearted”… the list goes on.

I’m okay with not liking certain forms of touch or affection; however other people have constantly been confused by it which led to me internalizing some of it subconsciously. People either seem to not understand my bodily boundaries, let along respect them, or think I’m weird for having any in the first place. Why is this an issue? Because it teaches us that knowing our boundaries and desires is abnormal and it ultimately reinforces rape culture. Yep, I went there.

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NOT LIKING TOUCH AT CERTAIN TIMES, IN CERTAIN WAYS, OR BY CERTAIN PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE ME COLD HEARTED, IF ANYTHING IT MEANS I AM IN TOUCH WITH MY BODY AND KNOW WHAT I LIKE AND DO NOT LIKE WHICH IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD BE TEACHING EVERYONE, FROM THE BEGINNING.

This blog came about from a mixture of therapy where I’m learning to be emotionally vulnerable (that’s a whole different blog…more like a book, though) as well as a trip to New Orleans where I had reached my limit in terms of explaining myself. While discussing the fact that I “don’t like to be touched,” someone I was with asked me:

“What happened to you as a child?”
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Here’s the short answer to that: Nothing.

Now here’s the long response.

    1. Don’t ask people this, especially people you may not know well because guess what… ? It’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    2. This insinuates that something sexually traumatic (or at the very least physically traumatic) had to happen to me as a child, which is not only completely ignorant in the terms of this conversation but also could be retraumatizing for someone who has experienced sexual or physical harm.
    3. YOU DON’T NEED A REASON  TO PLACE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR BODY.

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This belief that someone has had to go through something traumatic in order for them to place limits on their own body and know what they like and do not like is downright harmful. It seeps into how we raise our children, how we parent our teenagers, and how we perpetuate rape culture in our lives. It is the reason why people struggle with saying or accepting “no”. No before sex, no during sex, and no in terms of things that aren’t related to sex. It is also why some people don’t understand that the lack of a no IS NOT A YES.

I mean look at the images and messages we give to kids and adults about sex and consent. We acknowledge that “no seems to mean yes” in Disney’s Hercules ( a children’s cartoon) we then reinforce this by “playfully” saying no but really meaning yes in Pitch Perfect, a movie targeted at young women and then music touches on this “I know what you really want” (go away “Blurred Lines”) narrative all the time. The Notebook, a “love story for the ages” has the man threatening to jump from a Ferris wheel if the girl doesn’t agree to a date.  And then we reach adulthood, alcohol companies market to people by hinting at roofies and being so drunk you “won’t say no”. But yet we expect people to navigate this media and know what is right and what is wrong? How?

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In order for bodily boundaries and autonomy to be realized by all people we need to consciously and actively teach consent. Consent in sex education, consent in relationships (all of them), and consent for children. In order for adults to look at people taking a stand over their body, wants, and needs, we need to teach our children that they can say no to touch at any time from any one and that they can tell us when they feel uncomfortable (I’m talking kisses, hugs, sitting on laps, and, yes, even high fives). We need to teach adults that this is okay and that affection or gratitude can be shown in other ways, and that that is normal. We need to teach children what age appropriate consensual touching looks like, yes this means SEX ED.

So what are some ways we can incorporate consent into our daily lives, parenting, and relationships? Aside from the things above about teaching consent early, here are a few tips that are helpful for me when I’m feeling frustrated…

  • Ask people before you hug someone. This may seem simple or silly but some people do not like to hug and THAT’S OKAY. Asking allows them to say no to a situation that may make them uncomfortable. They may want a high five instead. Personally, some days I want to hug and other days I don’t, especially with people I may not know very well. You can also ask for touches when you need them as well, but people still reserve the right to say no.
    • Shoutout to Reese for having this exact respectful conversation the other day. She listened, questioned, and then accepted what I had to say. And even though she may be an affectionate person, she always asks others “would you like a hug or high five” when saying hello and goodbye. sometimes people respond with neither, or how about a fist bump, and they go from there. Phrases like Would you like a hug? Is it okay to hug you? Are important and may start off awkward but get easy when we practice them regularly.

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  • Don’t be afraid to express your boundaries. I’m very open about my limits from the get go, no matter the situation. When sharing a hotel room bed (with a romantic partner, friend, classmate, etc.) for the first time, I make sure to tell them I’m not a cuddler, I explain that I may not always want to be touched to people, I explain that I don’t like to be “smothered”. I also continuously reinforce these boundaries.
    • Example: Someone touches me when I don’t want to be?  I say: “Please stop that” They don’t stop? “I’m being serious I don’t like that” Still touching? “If you touch me again I will kick you…. Guess what comes next. If I’m touched again, you got it, I kick em.

→ I realize this doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation but if you have healthy relationships and friendships I would hope you’d be able to discuss your boundaries and have them respected.

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  • Remember that consent is not just about sex, it’s not even just about affection. This is a super complex issue and there are a lot of people that we steal bodily autonomy from regularly based on their varying identities. Think about when someone touches a Black woman’s hair (don’t do that. Just don’t, even if you ask) and how that invades her right to her body and her space. Consent also isn’t always about touching, think here about Trans individuals who are constantly asked if they “got the surgery” (also don’t do this). It’s none of your business, it’s personal, it’s intimate, and a person’s gender identity/expression does not give you the green light to ask such a question.

These conversations aren’t easy because society doesn’t give us space to discuss bodies and sex, but they’re necessary and important. They may be awkward and people may not understand but that’s why we need to start teaching children at younger ages, so that there may come a time when we don’t have to continuously have these talks as adults.

Feeling overwhelmed? Confused? Or just want some more information? Check down below for a list of resources regarding consent at all ages, sexual education, and rape culture/toxic masculinity and the effect it has on both women and men

Resources:

  • Children
    • I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
    • My Body Belongs to Me, is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
    • No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
  • Teens and Up
    • The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
    • Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
    • Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
    • Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
    • Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
  • On Teaching Consent: Ask. Listen. Respect. In the classroom. By Age, How to instill boundaries, Physical and Emotional Boundaries
  • On What Consent Means: here, here, and here
  • Sex Ed Resources: Sex Ed Rescue (Includes puberty, consent, sex, and ebooks), Lesson Plans and Legislation, For Parents, Planned Parenthood, Ability Based Sex Ed
  • On Fighting Rape Culture: What rape culture is, Steps to take, What rape culture sounds like
  • Other
    • The yes no maybe so checklist is AMAZING. It goes over all different forms of touch and asks you to rate them on if you like it, don’t like it, or could maybe be into it. You can even rank things as hard or soft limits and discuss how they may vary depending on the situation.
    • The Hunting Ground: Documentary on Netflix. This exposé tackles the disturbing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and school officials’ efforts to cover up the crimes.
    • The Mask You Live In Documentary on Netflix. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
    • The Women’s Center’s Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Workshop (Check MyUMBC for events next semester)

 

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What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & the Survivor Speak-Out 2018

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 6th consecutive Take Back the Night on Thursday, April 12th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered we started the “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN last year and are continuing on the tradition, so stay tuned for more posts over the next week. This is an updated post to last year’s information focusing on the survivor speak-out.

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View from the survivor speak-out at Take Back the Night 2015. 

The survivor speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where 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 publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

Kayla Smith, UMBC Class of 2017, started the speak out in previous years and cherished that moment as a time where she could share her experience with people who she knew wouldn’t judge her. She could look out into a crowd of people who wouldn’t tell her its her fault, ask what she was wearing, ask if she was drinking, or tell her that she was responsible for her assault. “Speaking out about my assault empowers me to talk about my experience with confidence.”

This year we want to focus on dispelling the myth of the “perfect victim” that often times dominates sexual violence discourse. There are a variety of stories and experiences that are shared during the speak- out. Some may share stories or healing while others are still angry, sad, or scared. Many stories may come from women-identified folks and/but male survivors are also invited to share their stories at the speak-out. All of our stories and experiences are valid. And, no matter where you are at in your experience as a survivor (i.e. your assault happened 10 years ago or just last week) or what your identities may be, you’re welcomed to share your story.   

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Former Women’s Center Student Staff Member Kayla Smith speaking to the crowd at TBTN 2017. (Photo Credit: Jaedon Huie)

If you’re thinking about speaking at Take Back the Night, feel free to reach out to Women’s Center staff ahead of time if you feel like it would be helpful to talk to someone ahead of time about your story and how you may want to share it. Of course, we know many survivors may not plan on speaking at TBTN and then feel called to do so once the speak-out begins and that’s okay! If you feel uncomfortable sharing during the speak-out, that’s also 100% okay! There will be a chance to be recognized during the March at the Survivor Circle (which will be a new part of this year’s march – stay tuned for our updated What You Need to Know about the March post for more details!) or discuss your experience in a more intimate setting at We Believe You’s survivor discussion group post march.

It’s also totally okay if don’t feel ready to share your story at Take Back the Night there’s many other ways you can share your story in less public ways throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month (like making a t-shirt for the Clothesline Project or attending the Monument Quilt workshop or the other ways at TBTN we mentioned in the above paragraph) and Take Back the Night (counselors will be available throughout the event and there will be the self-care station). Survivors or anyone impacted by sexual violence can also always schedule a time to talk to Women’s Center staff – we’re quasi-confidential resources on campus and can link you to additional support and resources.

Here’s some helpful information about the speak-out we think is helpful for everyone to know whether they’re speaking or listening:

  • Any one can be a survivor of sexual violence. Any survivor regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation is welcomed to share their story at the speak-out. At the beginning of TBTN’s creation the speak out was only for women, but we welcome men and all others who may have differing gender identities to speak out. We wish for the speak out to be an inclusive space of healing and representation of different identities can help dispel the dangerous “perfect victim” narrative.
  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence. Thank you in advanced for respecting this request. Allies are also encouraged to attend the Women’s Center workshop on Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence on 4/26. A faculty and staff version of the workshop will be held on 4/3. 
  • Since TBTN functions as a public forum, normal reporting procedures look a bit different. If you choose to share your story, and want to go no further in the reporting process, we encourage you not to disclose any names or other specific identifying information, such as locations or familial relationships, as those details may prompt staff to follow up with you for reporting matters. Staff are available at the event for those who do want additional resources and want to report their experience through UMBC’s Title IX reporting process or police.
  • We ask that you try to limit your story to about 3 minutes. We know it may be hard to do so but we want to make sure as many survivors as possible can speak during the allotted speak out time which is one hour long. If you’d like to continue sharing your story, you may want to go to the We Believe You discussion group after the Take Back the Night march.
  • Speakers will have the option to identify their story as confidential by placing a sign marked “confidential” on the microphone. Speaking from the “confidential” microphone prohibits anyone from taking pictures, quotes, or recording of any kind.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.

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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Feminist Friendships

Program coordinator Amelia Meman reminisces about her feminist friendships and analyzes how these relationships foster empowerment and powerful networks.

This Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center was inspired by feminism’s legacy of collective action. While feminism is very much based in the personal and individual, it is also a movement built through the camaraderie, collective consciousness, compassion, and connections between people. That’s why, this March, the Women’s Center is celebrating feminist friendships. That’s also why I’m writing this blog post.

Every time I come to think about this theme, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because I immediately think of the bonds I made at UMBC that have continued on. More on this later, but I’ll tell you this much: nothing brings you together, like the hot crucible of simultaneous existential crises via The Patriarchy. Our angst-ridden mental toil aside, describing a friendship as “feminist” might feel weird to some people, but I wonder what it means to those it resonates with.

For me, it’s not about the friends who encourage me to burn my bra and always validate my decision to not shave–although they also do that. It’s also the friends who affirm me and remind me that I am a person with power who deserves good things in the world. My feminist friends go to rallies with me and talk Butler with me, but they also are the first to watch Neighbors 2 and they’re the best at recommending sci-fi and fantasy novels.

The personal is political… and the political is personal

I think that all of my relationships are political. This is probably by virtue of being a feminist and a philosophical thinker, but it’s also because my friends are my political allies. We are constantly thinking about the political power that comes with being women, being queer (AF), being trauma survivors, being white and/or people of color, being (dis)abled, etc. and being radically together. We’re friends who empower each other to live when so many other things in this world act to kill us. We’re constantly navigating privilege and oppression, and we get a lot of things wrong. We teach other, call each other in. We are committed to the process of constantly learning how to be better humans to one another and all of the people we interact with.

Does anything scream friendship more than this group shot of the Great British Baking Show judges?

So when I say that the personal is political, I mean that things we like to keep in private (i.e. whether or not we’re having sex, what kind of sex we’re having, birth control, abortions, survivor status, etc.) are personal experiences that are also–with feminism–political. Rather than continue to make the prudish world of vanilla, purely procreative sex comfortable, feminists talk reproductive justice, use the words “vagina,” “penis,” “vulva,” “anus,” etc. Those things that people would rather sweep under the rug? We dig those out and we burn the rug.

Just so, the political is personal. This, for me, is feminist friendship. My unity and belonging with other feminists is tied, not just to our affinity for one another as funny weirdos, but also to our political mindset. As we dance, we move toward liberation. As we laugh, we banish the silence pressed into us as women and femmes. As we eat together, we feed each other the love and power we deserve.

The political is personal, because my liberation is tied to theirs, and we both know that as we watch the latest season of The Great British Baking Show.

Shine theory

So as we move throughout Women’s History Month and think about all of our herstorical sheroes who give us life (often literally), think about those friends that are around you who make you shine brighter. Whether that’s your mom, your professor, Oprah, think about the women who inspire you.

Take a breath, and think about your best memory with that person. How did you become friends? What do you all do best together? How do you feel when you’re around each other?

Seriously take like 15 seconds to meditate on that.

Alright, now you can come back to me.

Didn’t that make you feel shiny?

In the Women’s Center, we like to talk about shine theory. Jess is the one who introduced me to this concept a while ago (see her awesome UMBC Women Who Rock series), but basically, shine theory is a lens through which we can think about friendship. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow (of Call Your Girlfriend) coined the term “shine theory” in an article on powerful women as best friends. Friedman wrote: “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

Friedman and Sow add that in its simplest form, shine theory is this: “I don’t shine, if you don’t shine.”

Feminist friends, to me, push you and support you so that you can shine as bright, if not brighter, than them and we all get a little better for it.

GWST-ers 4 Life

I would be remiss to not note that the thing that brought some of my best, most steady feminist friends together was our journey through the UMBC Gender and Women’s Studies Department. We were knit together through a shared affinity for feminist politics, and I know I was able to find myself through them. Not because they showed me a self I wanted to be, but because they allowed me to actually BE the person I always wanted to be.

It wasn’t all hearts and rainbows and radical self-care quotes from Audre Lorde. It was a lot of shit. We went through heartbreak together, we grieved together, we powered through classes like beleaguered Weather-people in a hurricane. In queer theory, we read Michel Foucault’s interview, “Friendship as a Way of Life,” in which he lays out this idea of queer community:

The notion of mode of life seems important to me. Will it require the introduction of a diversification different from the ones due to social class, differences in profession and culture, a diversification that would also be a form of relationship and would be a “way of life”? A way of life can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized. It seems to me that way of life can yield a culture and an ethics. To be “gay,” I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the bisible masks of the homosexual but to try to define and develop a way of life. (p. 137-138)

Being “gay” or “queer” or, in our case, “feminists,” is not about defining who we are, but about creating a way of life that suits our needs and that is, potentially, radical. When the institution is so often your oppressor, molding new culture and ethics through friendship becomes a way of also creating new futures and pathways that the institution did not initially have open to you. For example, I don’t know where my self-confidence would be without my therapist and the power of my friends, but I know that the impacts of sexism, racism, ableism, etc. were limiting my self-confidence, and when I learned about myself as someone who was strong and capable of loosing that sort of weight, I was able to achieve more and better. I have a job, I’m pursuing my (very high) educational goals, I’m publishing this blogpost; this is all enabled through this alternative way of life that teaches me that I have power, I am power, and that my friends and I disrupt oppression.

Feminist friendship, shine theory, all that glorious glowing goodness that brought us together–it created power.

So the next time you think about your friends, your shiny people, your feminist sheroes, think about the power you all cultivate and bring forth by being your badass selves together. Think about how that power can grow with you and the friendships you share. Think about what your perfect world would look like for you and your feminist friends–and then make it. 

More resources, if you’re interested:

Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life”

Dan Willey, “Gay Hair”

Gaby Dunn, “It’s A War Out There: How Queer Female Friendships Can Save Us All”

Cori Wong, “Feminist Friendship” TEDxCSU

Make feminist friends and build up your network at our Women’s History Month celebration on March 28th from 6 pm to 8 pm in the Skylight Room! RSVP via myUMBC!

 

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.

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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.

Women $POWR in the Crypto World!

Missy SmithStaff member, Missy Smith, takes a deeper look into cryptocurrency trend.

Every winter break or summer season, I choose something to study and dive into when I’m in between “stuff” with a little more time to grow a hobby or a part of my dream. Last summer, I scratched my creative butch itch and learned how to do some woodworking. I sanded and polyurethaned a bench in my driveway in the hot summer sun. The result is pretty awesome! Here is an after and before pic. 

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Someone asked me what I learned in the process. I made a list. 

  1. Sanding by hand is tedious, but I got to know the wood better by taking my time and using patience with each stroke, resting when necessary, and being more perceptive of changes when I come back to approach the canvas.
  2. No shortcuts. I cannot rush the work. When I rushed or tried to take shortcuts, the end result was blegh. 
  3. There are not a lot of women hanging out at Home Depot and sometimes I had to figure things out on my own or wait for a long time before anyone would help me.
  4. I met a lot of cool folks in the woodworking and refurbishing community!

This past Winter break, I decided to dive into creative work and finish some lingering music projects from 2017. After reading headlines about something called Bitcoin and pondering my own investments, I accidentally stumbled into cryptocurrency. Like Home Depot, when I started researching, I didn’t see a ton of women (or African Americans) talking about it. I did some digging. To no surprise, I quickly learned that there are not a lot of queer folks, women, or women of color in the crypto universe, just like STEM, corporate America, and higher education. But I know we exist. I see us all the time, and I am one of the few in these spaces sometimes. Being an outlier is not new to me, so I was curious about crypto. If the boys can do it, why can’t I? Why can’t we?

What is it? A Blockgeeks Inc. guide explains it well. “If you take away all the noise around cryptocurrencies and reduce it to a simple definition, you find it to be just limited entries in a database no one can change without fulfilling specific conditions.” Even more simple, your bank has a ledger that accounts for transactions, but in the crypto world a network of your peers owns the ledger. Everything is tracked, there are not mistakes (so far. And yes, I know things get hacked. Banks get robbed too!). If you are still confused, here is an image that links to a deeper dive.

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Why am I so interested in cryptocurrency? I think that for the first time in a long while (however long that is), there is something that is leveling the playing field for folks who might not have a chance to get ahead. Millenials know that should save money and invest in their retirement. Some folks are fortunate to be able to do it, and others may not be so fortunate. For me, I am in the weird generation before Millennials, and I have a unique outlook on tech, financial security, and I’m DIY enough to want to make my own way. Beyond investing, there are some great companies doing innovative work and reimagining the ways we send, spend, and receive money. 

I found some Facebook and Reddit groups for my identities as a woman and as a black person investing in crypto. There are minority professors and business leaders working as admin, holding FB live chats to talk about new coins and market strategies, all while growing the network of folks who are looking for a different way to make and spend money, digitally. I even learned about an LGBT cryptocurrency that wants to showcase the buying power of small(er) and mighty communities!  

Working at the Women’s Center has exposed me to global issues that impact women, and after studying eco feminism for one of our events last semester, I was excited to hear about sustainable currency initiatives. There are a lot of women and minorities working in the crypto space, leading companies that are offering innovative solutions to 20th century problems, thinking forward and manifesting a better future.  I learned about Power Ledger ($POWR), an Australian company that wants to recreate buying and selling of energy using blockchain technology. Their CEO, Dr Jemma Green is taking her team from Down Under to work in North America, earning headlines as “the woman powering the energy industry on the blockchain” from her peers! 

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Lympo ($LYM), a new coin that may change the healthcare industry, is led by CEO Ada Jonuse. Her company is changing the way the internet uses healthcare, data, and fitness apps and incentivizing wellness. There are even some companies that are making it easier to send money to family members in other countries. They do it faster and cheaper than traditional currencies. Women are also creating their own powerhouses networking groups to support each other and teach the world about crypto. So after all my digging over break, what did I learn? For starters, I am not a financial advisor.  But also . . . 

  1. Coming back from break is hard, but I get to know myself by studying the pieces of my bigger dream. I’m in school to make my dream concrete, so I continue to dive into work that I love. By thinking of the future, I am able to find joy vs stress in the work.
  2. There is no quick way to make money. I cannot rush the calendar year. When I rush, I stress and become obsessive. Be careful with your spending. Learn about investing and how to use the different exchanges! 
  3. There are not a lot of women working in the crypto space. I had to search for us, and I know we are knowledgeable about making money in the crypto world. We make our own networking groups to empower each other #girlsclub 
  4. I learned about a ton of cool people (people that look and live like me) making big headlines and leading 21st century companies, global entities, that will change the world.

Many mornings, I wake up and find headlines about women in crypto. We are leading and contributing and the world is taking notice. Crypto will not last as another boy’s club, not if we can change the narrative. If you want some more reading, here are a bunch of recent articles, mostly about women and crypto, that have made my morning coffee more enjoyable! Have fun!

Stop Wearing My Clothes

 

Harini Narayan Educating yourself and being yourself: the dangers of cultural appropriation by Harini, a student intern. 

I was the only brown kid at my school until ninth grade. Growing up in a town I once described as “never realized the Union won the Civil War,” it was no surprise that all my friends were white. I was careful to conceal any aspects of me that did not mirror their own personalities, effectively whitewashing myself. I laughed along with their mockery of desi culture, its gaudy outfits and pungent foods, all the while ignoring the guilt and defiance that part of me felt at hearing my own culture ripped apart by people who had none of their own.

Once I reached high school and began making friends with people from similar backgrounds to me, I realized the error in my ways and embraced my heritage with a group of people who respected and shared my culture. I packed the foods I liked to school, and posted pictures of me, donned in traditional clothes, to social media for the world to see.

Around that time, American culture began to shift. Suddenly, the ingredients in our foods that were once considered ugly and smelly were now labelled “superfoods,” and they were all the rage. Our jewelry was considered the epitome of fashion, despite being practically taboo not too long ago. This led me to the question: why is something considered acceptable only after Western cultures adopt it? People have been wearing naths and eating turmeric for centuries, so why was it suddenly considered a trend? Moreover, why was it a trend to begin with, when the sole reason the elements of our culture exist with a meaning and value that was being completely disregarded by Western culture?

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Actress Sonam Kapoor wears a nath on the red carpet.

I grew angry each time I would see someone that once made fun of desi culture wearing bindis for Instagram. This was a piece of Hindu culture that was symbolic, and it was being reduced to a costume. For these people, this was an expression of appreciation, because apparently there was no better compliment to a culture than the validation of a westernized person. There was no consideration that disregarding the meaning behind these things (whether they are intended for brides, as a mark of celebration, etc.) was offensive.

However, white people are not the only ones guilty of doing this. Non-desi people of color often see their non-whiteness as a free pass to appropriating cultures outside their own. Desis are guilty of appropriating other cultures as well, so no ethnic group is entirely free of this offense. The entertainment industry is the worst offender, with a history of using blackface to depict villains and demons unscrupulously.

Of course, appreciation of a culture is acceptable. For example, eating ethnic food, consuming media, and learning a new language are all forms of appreciation that are inoffensive.

When a person uses an element of a culture they do not belong to as a costume while ignoring the ethnic, national, or religious significance of said element, they are appropriating a culture. Appropriation is not just about material items. It can take different forms, like stealing opportunities that should belong to people of an ethnic group or religion. This is seen too often in Hollywood, with white actors playing roles that represent people of color, with (see Matt Damon playing a Chinese general in The Great Wall). White actors find themselves under fire for accepting roles depicting Asian characters that are heroic and central to the story, while actual Asian actors are too often offered minor roles that exist for comedic effect or to create a backdrop for the important white characters. The way in which the West regards Eastern culture is dubbed “Orientalism,” a concept that has come to possess a negative connotation only because it reflects said perception.

Furthermore, brown actors are used interchangeably, regardless of their ethnicity. A recent example of this is the casting for the live-action Aladdin movie, in which Naomi Scott, a biracial actress of Indian descent, is playing Jasmine, the princess of the fictional Agrabah, which is canonically located in the Middle East. So, why are brown people seen as transposable? Why is our culture regarded as easy?

Bridging the gap between Western ideals and pride in one’s heritage is in the hands of brown peoples’ white peers and the media. Looking back on my journey as a brown girl growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, I can see my growth from someone who tried too hard to imitate her white friends, to someone who is unashamed of who she is. Much of that personal development came from being receptive and open to criticism. Often, people don’t realize their actions are offensive because of how common appropriation is. Ignorance is a slippery slope, so being informed is vital, as is holding others accountable for their actions. Learning the difference between appreciation and appropriation is the first step to respecting all cultures and regarding them as equal.

 

Below are some articles about recent instances of brown culture appropriation and orientalism:

American Orientalism

What is Orientalism, and how is it also racism?

Gucci accused of culturally appropriating Sikh turban

People Are Seriously Pissed That “Vogue India” Got Kendall Jenner For Their 10-Year Anniversary Shoot

Coachella Queen Vanessa Hudgens Loves Cultural Appropriation

Zara comes under fire for cultural appropriation

In ‘The Problem With Apu,’ Hari Kondabolu Discusses South Asian Representation

Supporting Survivors – Kelsey Donnellan

givingday3.jpgWe see you. We believe you. You matter.

Yesterday, across the UMBC campus, community members came together to support the Black & Gold Rush! The Women’s Center is so happy for the donations this year. We raised almost $700 on behalf of our campaign yesterday! We cannot express our gratitude, so we figured we’d let someone else tell a story about how awesome it is to be a part of the Women’s Center. For our final post, we got some stories from a West Coast alumni, the amazing Kelsey Donnellan! Kelsey shares a story about creativity and art as meaningful ways to heal.

Name – Kelsey Donnellan

UMBC Major/ Minor – Interdisciplinary Studies

Hometown – San Jose, CA

Current Job Title/ Employer – Analyst, Health Improvement

How did your time at the UMBC Women’s Center support your current work or career path? The UMBC Women’s Center was instrumental in my success at UMBC and in my career. The staff, resources available, and partners helped me recover from trauma that impacted me everyday. My need to survive affected me in ways I didn’t even know, which is why I needed the kind and gentle support of the Women’s Center.

How would you describe your UMBC experience? My UMBC experience was filled with activities and experiences from clubs to living on campus to working on campus. One of my favorite experiences was with the Women’s Center as I healed from trauma and learned how to be a better advocate for myself and with others.

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Share a special moment from your time in the Women’s Center. How did it shape your experience as a survivor? During my second year at UMBC, I worked as an RA and had the opportunity to host events. Another RA and I decided to host spaces for survivors, like us, to create shirts for The Clothesline Project. Art therapy was a major part of my healing. Seeing people come in reminded me the importance of creating these spaces as people processed artistically. I was also reminded that my story, while only mine, was not unique. For those hours we painted, there was a shared understanding of the trauma we experienced and the healing we had left to do.

Kelsey! We thank you for sharing your stories and for the work that you did/ do to help other survivors. There are so many people who benefit from having a supportive community!

UMBC Giving Day Black and Gold Rush is an inspiring example of what the UMBC community can accomplish together. If you would like to support survivors of sexual violence at UMBC, and build a coalition of supportive allies, consider giving to the Women’s Center’s GritStarter campaign.  Giving Day at UMBC may be over but our campaign plans to keep going strong through the end of Sexual Assault Awareness Month which is in April.