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.

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What Does Self-Care Really Look Like?

Prachi Kochar

A reflection of what self-care really looks like for each of us, especially during finals, by Women’s Center student staff member Prachi Kochar.

It’s a common refrain that we’ve all heard, especially around this time of year. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself during finals week!”, “Remember that self-care is important!”, and so on. But what does taking care of yourself look like? Does it look like buying yourself your favorite drink at Starbucks? Does it look like going to the gym for a hard session on the treadmill? Does it look like sleeping in an extra hour? Does it look like going to the movies with your friends? Simply put, there is no easy “yes” or “no” answer to these questions. Self-care looks like what is right for you at this point in time. And self-care does not always fit into a neat little box of “Do this and you’ll feel great!” Self-care can be an ongoing process, a process that is sometimes painful and sometimes exhilarating. And it is something that everyone has their own interpretation of, which can be incredibly overwhelming – googling “what does self-care look like” yields over 29 million results!

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Besides these yummy cupcakes, what does treating yourself look like?

For me, self-care can take the form of sleeping in a few hours and giving my body and mind the time to rest and recover from stresses. It can also take the form of waking up early and going to the gym for a 7 AM yoga class or going for a run. Sometimes self-care means showing up for all of my commitments, even when I am tired, and sometimes it means saying “no” or “I can’t do it.” Sometimes self-care means pushing myself to finish all of my assignments when I am not feeling my best so that I will not be thrown into crisis mode later when all of my commitments pile up. What is most important is that I take stock of how I am feeling, mentally and physically, and do not become upset at myself for not being able to do everything, but also recognize that sometimes it is necessary for me to push myself to take care of myself. In other words, self-care sometimes involves doing the hard things and showing up for yourself. Continue reading

(In)Visible Disabilities and Women Resources Round-up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff members Meagé and MJ

In case you missed Tuesday’s roundtable on (In)Visible Disabilities and Women (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), we thought it might be useful to summarize some of the discussion in addition to linking some useful reading materials and resources.

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As with all of our roundtables, we reached out to our panel members and asked them to keep a few guiding questions in mind as they shared their stories and examples. Some of these included:

  • Where do the intersections of (in)visible disabilities and gender show up for you personally? In the classroom, peer networks, etc.?

  • How does disability relate to issues like reproductive justice, sexual violence, or gender socialization?

  • How is the way we talk about disability influenced by gender and sexuality?

  • How does ableism impact women with visible vs. invisible disabilities differently?

  • Why is this a social justice and/or feminist issue?

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Trans Identities + Mental Health Resources Round-Up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff members

In case you missed yesterday’s roundtable on Trans Identities + Mental Health (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), we thought it might be useful to summarize some of the discussion in addition to linking to some useful reading materials and resources. Trans + Mental Health - event

As with all of our roundtables, we reached out to our panel members and asked them to keep some of guiding questions in mind as they shared their stories and examples. Some of these questions included:

  • Where do the intersections of trans identities and mental health show up for you personally? In the classroom? In your activism? In your peer networks?
  • How does stigma against mental illness impact trans people’s experiences seeking support or other mental health services?
  • How are the needs of trans people different and/or similar to those of LGB+ people with regard to mental health?
  • Why is the intersection of trans identities and mental health a social justice and/or feminist issue?

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Black Trauma + Mental Health Resources Round-Up

A resource round-up provided by Women’s Center staff member, Meagé Clements

In case you missed yesterday’s roundtable on Black Trauma and Mental Health (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), I thought it might be useful to share some resources that have helped me, as a Black woman, deal with my own experiences of Black trauma. It’s hard to summarize everything that was discussed; however much of the discussion revolved around the problematic “Strong Black Woman” stereotype. We also discussed the experiences of tokenization, involuntary (or feeling it necessary to have to be the) spokesperson in class, and microagressions. Black trauma isn’t just one kind of experience, and certainly isn’t only what is captured by the media. Rather it is a daily and ongoing experience – much like a death by a 1000 cuts. Below are just a few resources I’ve found helpful in learning that I, too, can be strong AND vulnerable.

The poem Dr. Jasmine Abrams shared: The Strong Black Woman is Dead

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Dr. Abrams kicked off the discussion by asking us to close our eyes as she read the poem, “The Strong Black Woman is Dead”

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White Womanhood + Critical Whiteness Resources Round-Up

A resource round-up provided by Jess Myers, Women’s Center director 

In case you missed last night’s roundtable on White Womanhood and Critical Whiteness (or if you were there and want to keep the conversation going), I thought it might be useful to share some resources that have helped me on my ongoing journey of what it means to be a white woman and how I show up and impact those around me as a white woman. As I mentioned, white women need to “hold up the mirror” for ourselves and engage with our reflection of whiteness and white privilege. Having resources and community to help hold up the mirror for us and work through what we see is vital as we engage in this self-work. Below are (just) some resources I’ve found helpful and transformative in my journey. This is not an exhaustive list so I welcome suggestions as well!

It was standing room only at last night's roundtable on White Womanhood and Critical Whiteness! We can't stop here, though, let's keep the conversation and learning going!

It was standing room only at last night’s roundtable on White Womanhood and Critical Whiteness! We can’t stop here, though,  white women, let’s keep the conversation and learning going!

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