To my feminist mentor, Megan Tagle Adams

A reflection by Amelia Meman on her feminist mentoring relationship with Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams.

Megan and I in the NWSA photobooth.

Megan (right) and I in the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) photobooth.

With Megan’s departure from UMBC (today!), I feel the Women’s Center is saying goodbye to a real social justice champion on our campus. Someone who was constantly striving for excellence in our institution. More than this, though, I feel I am saying goodbye to someone who has taught me what feminist mentorship—in its best iteration—can be.

Traditional models of mentorship are often paternalistic and hierarchical. Relationships are based on a transactional relationship between a mentor–older, more experienced in a particular professional setting, more “successful”—and their mentee—a younger novice looking for their niche, to expand their professional network, and to build on their skills. Continue reading

Why is the Women’s Center Hosting an Overdose Response Training?

Today, the Women’s Center and University Health Services will host an Overdose Response Training. The training is run by the Baltimore City Health Department and it teaches individuals how to respond to opioid overdose and gives them the tools needed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Each attendee will be certified to administer Naloxone (or Narcan) and receive a prescription card for a Naloxone kit.

Is opioid overdose really that big of a deal?

2015 Total Overdose Deaths.pngUnfortunately, yes. Opioid use, whether prescription or otherwise, has skyrocketed in the US over the last few years, especially in Baltimore City. In the year 2015, 748 people died of heroin overdose and 351 people died of prescription opioid overdose in Baltimore City. That’s 1,099 deaths, not including overdoses which did not result in death.

Okay so it’s a big deal but like…why is the Women’s Center concerned about it?

Addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues. According to the CDC, LGBTQ populations are significantly more likely to engage in substance use– 20 to 30 percent compared to about 9 percent of the general populations. Women are more likely than men to be addicted to prescription painkillers, and people living in poverty are significantly more likely to be addicted to opiates. Although the rate of opioid use has not dramatically increased for people of color (as opposed to whites), this is not due to lack of use, but due to underprescription of opioid pain medication for people of color. Often, doctors underestimate and undertreat the pain experienced by people of color. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the communities we serve.

Wait, what do you mean when you say addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues?

There are several social and structural factors which contribute to substance use. Populations who lack access to healthcare may turn to illicit substances as a way of managing pain, stress, or mental health issues. These are the same populations which are unable to afford recovery programs or end up in prison instead of treatment.

One of the major factors contributing to the disproportionate rate of substance abuse among LGBTQ populations is the concept of minority stress. Minority stress is the idea that “sexual minority health disparities can be explained in large part by stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization and may ultimately impact access to care.” This concept can apply to racial issues as well as issues of poverty, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Basically, the stress of experiencing discrimination, harassment, violence, housing and job insecurity, poverty, and a general sense of social stigma and isolation drives people to self-medicate, which, can result in addiction. Addiction and substance use are a direct result of policy and social dynamics.

Whoa, okay, it sounds like this issue is way bigger than training a few people on overdose response.

You’re right, there’s a lot of factors at play here. Ultimately, overdose deaths will only go down when we fix the major issues that cause substance abuse in the first place.

But while we work on all of that, overdose response is part of an approach called harm reduction. Harm reduction is based on the idea that people who use drugs are people and the best way to reduce the harm that comes to those people is to meet them where they’re at and with compassion. According to Harm Reduction International, “Harm Reduction refers to policies, program
s and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community.” Harm reduction understands all the factors that contribute to substance abuse and rejects the idea that drug users are good or bad. It focuses instead on making sure that people have what they need and are supported as human beings.

Harm reduction focuses on the things people need right now. A person can’t get help if they’re dead, and overdose response can prevent that from happening.

Can’t we just make drugs illegal?

Short answer? Nope.

Most drugs are already illegal, but that obviously doesn’t stop people from using them. In fact, laws are huge barriers which prevent people from seeking or receiving treatment. Many people are afraid of being arrested or institutionalized for seeking help for drug addiction. Many people are arrested for substance use and go to prison instead of rehab, or only receive treatment while in jail. Besides, laws don’t change the social factors that cause people to use drugs in the first place.

Okay, so who should attend an Overdose Response Training?

Well, it’s sort of like CPR. Knowing how to do it and having the tools can save a life, so everyone should do it.

Anyone who is likely to work with opioid users (like people who work with the general public, in medicine, or with homeless and LGBTQ populations) should be trained. That means if you’re a social worker, someone who works in a hospital or medical facility, a campus RA, a health educator, or a volunteer, this training is for you.

If you know someone in your personal life who uses opioids, or if you are part of an at-risk community, this training is also for you.

If you don’t have any of these experiences, this training is still for you. Opioid use (and overdose) occurs frequently and everywhere. Frankly, everyone and anyone should receive this free training.

Where can I learn more?

Naloxone and Overdose FAQ

Baltimore City Overdose Response Program

Baltimore City Overdose Prevention and Response Information

Making Space for Faith in Feminism

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

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

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

child-of-oshun

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

A Time to Resist + A Time to Take Care

amelia-meman-headshotA reflection written by Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman

So here we are. Another day in this brave new world.

Are you exhausted yet? Emotionally, physically, psychologically?

If you’re not–congratulations! That’s really good and you are a sweet glowing angel.

If you are, though, you’re not alone and you are also a sweet glowing angel.

deadI’m tired, too. For all of us feminists, social justice warriors, and snowflakes, this is a tough time. The stream of executive actions and questionable cabinet appointments have rocked our communities and have malignantly affected some of the most vulnerable groups in the U.S. The fights we’ve been engaging in throughout every administration have been exacerbated and fear is alive more than ever. 

Seeing the reaction from social justice activists has been heartening for me in many ways. The women’s march was awesome and huge (though not without its fair share of criticism from Black women, the trans community, and many others). Other demonstrations against the refugee ban and the massive uptick in people contacting their elected representatives to demand accountability has shown us that massive swathes of the public have been activated to resist in a great variety of ways.

This work is both vital and neverending. Making an impact is difficult, exhausting work. It involves massive amounts of human energy. What I’m ultimately getting to is this: are you taking care of yourself right now? 
Continue reading

Why do Disability Issues Matter?

Prachi KocharWomen’s Center intern Prachi Kochar discusses the importance of disability in relation to many important issues that are going on today, such as police brutality and the 2016 presidential election. Rather than have disability be an afterthought, it should be brought to the forefront of our discussions about social justice issues. 

In conversations about social activism and social change, we must remember who is not being talked about. Who is being left out of these conversations and why? In particular, I have noticed a significant amount of ignorance about issues related to people with disabilities throughout my college experience, and relating to several different issues, ranging from accessibility at UMBC to the rights (and respect) of people with disabilities in 2016’s presidential race to how people with disabilities, especially those who are people of color — and especially Black people — are treated by police. People with disabilities are also often left out of conversations about social justice. Think about the last time you heard about a protest, discussion about a social justice issue, or rally. Was there any mention of wheelchair accessible-seating or sign language interpreters? This is particularly striking because 19% of the U.S. population, or 56.7 million people, have some kind of disability.

The word “disabled” and its meanings are often not critically considered, but it is important to remember that just like other identities, such as gender, race, and class, it is socially constructed. This perspective of disability emphasizes that it is society that disables people by rendering some services and institutions inaccessible to people as well as stigmatizing those who are considered to have disabilities. For example, deafness is not considered a disability by the Deaf community because within the Deaf community, there are no barriers to communication — everyone is able to use sign language and communicate clearly. It is also important to recognize that all people with disabilities cannot be lumped together. Even people who seem to have the same “type” of disability may have different needs. This is why it is especially important to listen to diverse groups of people with disabilities and center their voices and experiences, rather than non-disabled people.  

Even though I am deaf, as someone who does not have any mobility issues, I initially did not realize how inaccessible UMBC’s campus is to people with mobility issues, especially wheelchair users. For example, getting to the Performing Arts and Humanities Building only seems like a minor annoyance to me, one that just requires giving myself an extra five minutes to walk up all those stairs. However, for someone in a wheelchair, chronic pain, or with crutches, it is necessary to navigate a labyrinth of ramps, building entrances, and elevators to make it to class. Furthermore, most classroom doors, and even some building entrances, do not have buttons that allow them to open automatically, meaning that they must be pushed or pulled to allow access. The same is also true for many bathroom entrances, even bathrooms that have wheelchair accessible stalls. In this way, UMBC creates more barriers for people with mobility issues. Accessibility issues at UMBC do not exist in a vacuum; they reflect how people with disabilities are viewed and treated in American society, intersecting with other dimensions of identity, such as gender, race, and class.

Police brutality against people with disabilities, especially those who are people of color, is an issue rarely spoken about, but it is a very major one. As found in a report that analyzed incidents of police brutality between 2013-2015, up to half of people killed by the police have a disability. Police officers are typically the first respondents to mental health crisis 911 calls, but they are often not trained to deal with various mental health issues as well as physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. Furthermore, racism and anti-blackness as well as biases against people with disabilities – where they are perceived as “dangerous” and “non-compliant” greatly contribute to police brutality.

leah

Our Critical Social Justice keynote speaker Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha spoke about issues related to disability justice. You can watch the video of her lecture here!  (photo credit: Mike Mower)

Another major area in which disability issues are rarely discussed (except when something particularly shocking or offensive has been said) is the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. Yes, I can already hear your groans, but we need to talk about how people with disabilities could potentially be affected by this election, especially because many people with disabilities are women, LGBTQ+, or people of color who already face discrimination on those fronts. You’ve probably heard about Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter and him calling Marlee Matlin an ableist slur, but very little media attention has been given to the actual policy positions of both Trump and Clinton with regard to disability issues. However, these policies can actually be life or death for some people with disabilities.

disability-unequal-pay-infographic-press-releasev4-01.png

A major issue affecting people with disabilities is employment and salary equity. (credit: AIR.org)

Donald Trump has said little about people with disabilities with regard to official policy positions. Although he has praised himself for making the buildings on his properties accessible to people with disabilities (building wheelchair ramps, for example), this is mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Multiple cases have also come up in which lawsuits were filed because his properties did not comply with ADA guidelines.

Hillary Clinton has been much more vocal on the topic of disability rights, using the failings of Donald Trump to emphasize how she will support people with disabilities. However, while Clinton is miles ahead of Trump on disability issues, that does not mean she is perfect. Her campaign has been criticized for portraying disability rights from the perspective of those without disabilities, rather than amplifying the voices of people with disabilities. Furthermore, despite her stated support of people with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Clinton has not given much information on exactly how she will support people with disabilities and what specific issues she will address, creating doubt as to how effective she will be on disability-related policies. While it is important to recognize that Clinton is much better than Trump, it is also important to be critical of her policies and ask for better.

The Democratic Party has also shown their support of disability rights, by focusing on disability issues at the Democratic National Convention and having multiple speakers with disabilities as well as accommodations for all. Even though we have a long way to go with increasing accessibility for people with disability as well as awareness of the issues that people with disabilities face, it is possible for us, both people with disabilities and people without disabilities, to begin making a positive difference and to support disability justice. One of the major ways that we can do that is voting — so make sure you go out and vote if you are able to do so! Together, we can make a positive change and advocate for disability justice. 

Resource Round-Up 

Across Worlds and Identities: The Spaces in Between


Prachi KocharA reflection by Women’s Center staff member Prachi Kochar on identity and “fitting in”. How do we navigate identities that can fit into multiple categories of nationality, ability, race, etc. at once? Or identities that do not perfectly fit into these categories, spilling out and crashing into each other? 

This summer, I went to India for my cousin’s wedding, and it was a long trip both physically (twenty-four hours of traveling, with a layover!) and mentally. Even though it has technically been over for months, it continues to affect the way that I think and view the world. It has deepened my understanding of how I navigate the world, both in terms of my physical location and in terms of social situations and relationships.

Before this trip, I had assumed that India was nothing more or less than a second home to my parents, that it was their equivalent of me coming home from school for winter or summer vacation. However, after an interaction with some distant relatives, my mother turned to me and shook her head, saying “They act like we’re not even Indian!” Continue reading