UMBC Women Who Rock: Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’ve been writing since last year and it has become one of my favorite things to think and write about for the Women’s Center blog. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.   – Jess 

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry, Assistant Director of Health Education

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Mickey, UHS’s Health Education Assistant Director, shares her I’m Not as part of the Telling Our Stories Project

Mickey Irizarry is a #girlboss. She is also a UMBC Woman Who Rocks.

What is a #girlboss? She is many things. “A #girlboss is in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it.” #Girlboss is also more than just a type of person but a platform that is meant to inspire women to lead deliberate lives. It’s not just about being about the boss of other people, but being the boss of your own life.

It’s Mickey, who first shared the concept of #girlboss with me last fall. There is a book by the same title written by Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of fashion retailer Nasty Gal. Inspired by the book (and there’s also a podcast), I began hearing and seeing Mickey use the hashtag often in support or to congratulate other women on campus. I too was on the receiving end of a #girlboss shout-out from Mickey and it felt really great.

That’s what also makes Mickey a UMBC Woman Who Rocks. She didn’t just take #girlboss as an inspiration for herself and hold it tight and privately. Rather, she shares it with others. Mickey isn’t just the boss of her own life, but it is important for her to encourage and support others to do the same. When I asked her more about this she said, “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will either” and then went on to say but “it took me a long time to master that – and its still hard to fight the impostor syndrome.” This is why its so important for her to support other women, to show them that she sees potential in them, and give them credit where credit is due. This of course, reminds me of shine theory which I’ve written about in other UMBC Women Who Rock posts. Shine theory as explained by Ann Friedman in her article states that “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.” Otherwise known as, “I don’t shine, if you don’t shine.”

So, I wanted spotlight Mickey as our in-residence #girlboss for this UMBC Women Who Rocks post. Between my initial reaching out to feature her and the time that it took me to write this, though, Mickey was offered and accepted a new position at American University as the Director of the Wellness Center! Her last day with us at UMBC is March 11th. So while this didn’t start off with the intention of being a tribute post, it seems that this is where this post is going to have to go. So you’ve been warned, it might get a little warm and fuzzy up in here.  Continue reading

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UMBC Women Who Rock: The Women Behind the Staff of Color Network

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’ve been writing since last year and it has become one of my favorite things to think and write about for the Women’s Center blog. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
The Staff of Color Network Co-Chairs

“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful, white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”
That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
– Viola Davis, Emmy Award Speech on September 20, 2015

The Staff of Color Network co-chairs. Women who ROCK! L-R: Lisa Gray, Donna-Lee Mahabeer. Mickey Irizarry, & Alexis Melville

The Staff of Color Network co-chairs =Women who ROCK!
L-R: Lisa Gray, Donna-Lee Mahabeer. Mickey Irizarry, & Alexis Melville

What a powerful counternarrative. How unapologetic and courageous. As I’ve watched Viola Davis’ acceptance speech several times this week and seen the gif-ed articles on all the ways Black women were each other’s biggest fans at the Emmy’s, the women behind of the Staff of Color Network (SCN) at UMBC keep coming to my mind. Donna-Lee, Lisa, Mickey, and Alexis are women of color on campus who are challenging that line and finding ways to create opportunities for themselves and others on campus as people of color. While Davis calls for more roles to be written for Women of Color in Hollywood, these UMBC women are creating safe and validating spaces for themselves and other people of color on campus. They’re asking important questions about lack of visibility, calling out (and in) racial microaggressions, and being each other’s allies and advocates. This has taken raw courage and bravery as they challenge the institutional and systemic white narrative and experience. Indeed, they are UMBC Women Who Rock. Continue reading

UMBC Women Who Rock: Rehana Shafi

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year (and now perhaps beyond). In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Rehana Shafi, Director of the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program

In the few UMBC Women Who Rock blog posts I’ve written over the past year, I end with the same paragraph every time. I ask my readers about which UMBC women inspire them and how the counter narratives they’re sharing with us allow UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be. I absolutely love the power of counternarratives and their ability to expose assumptions and reveal complexities and depth. And, while it’s so important to emphasize the counternarratives, after connecting with Rehana Shafi earlier this summer, I was reminded of the importance of also simply knowing the narrative of someone’s life.

Rehana speaking at the dedication of the naming of Sherman Hall.

Rehana speaking at the dedication of the naming of Sherman Hall.

Rehana and I are both a part of the Undergraduate Academic Affairs (UAA) Division and for the past four years have shared time together at leadership team meetings. During these meetings, I have looked to Rehana as a role model as I design my own concept of women’s leadership. I appreciate the time I have to sit with her around the UAA leadership table. She asks important questions, provides important context to discussions, inserts moments of humor and light-heartedness, and exemplifies confidence. I have learned a great deal from Rehana by simply being at the same table with her. And, despite having spent this time with Rehana, I recently was reflecting on the fact that I knew very little about her and who she is. This realization inspired me to set up a time to meet with her under the guise of a UMBC Women Who Rocks interview.

So, I asked her “Who are you?”

But, let me take a step back. This actually wasn’t the first question I asked her.  Continue reading

UMBC Women Who Rock: Ashley Sweet (a Mother’s Day shout-out)

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Ashley Sweet, GWST & Social Work double-major & Returning Women Student Scholar

When I was in second grade my mother graduated from Essex Community College (now CCBC). I vividly remember her graduation day. The special occasion provided me the opportunity to wear my first communion dress again. We sat in the make-shift auditorium of the gym waiting and waiting for my mom’s name to be called. I’m not sure if I connected her studying and note taking throughout my childhood to this special day. Though I remember her watching her classes broadcast through local TV on Saturday mornings while she folded the laundry, I’m also not sure if I correlated those memories to her graduation day. But, finally hearing her name called on that hot day in that gym with tons of people was like music to my ears. My mom was special. She was somebody special enough to have their name read out loud in a crowd.

Richie and Benny trying on mom's graduation flare in preparation for the big day!

Richie and Benny trying on mom’s graduation flare in preparation for the big day!

I can only imagine the way Richie and Benny will feel when they hear their mom’s name called from that very impressive stage from inside the downtown arena on May 21st. When they hear “Ashley Sweet, summa cum laude,” I am certain their ears will perk up. They’ll smile and wave and know in their heart of hearts that their mom is someone special.

And she so very much is.

In her three years at UMBC, Ashley has maintained a 4.0 GPA. 4.0 folks! She was one of the leaders of Women Involved in Learning and Leadership which led her to projects like acting in and directing Vagina Monologues, advocating for pay equity, and working to end street harassment (i.e. she’s also a bad ass feminist). She spearheaded a “Prove It” proposal that would have provided drop-in childcare at select campus events. She completed hundreds of hours at her social work field placement and is now working to complete her GWST capstone project about birth stories and experiential knowledge. She spoke at the Women’s Center Healthy Masculinity event about her experience raising boys and ensuring their masculinity isn’t confined to societal norms and expectations. She is a Returning Women Student Scholar and has received additional awards throughout her time at UMBC. She attended conferences like the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders and the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference while forming important and meaningful friendships and mentors. Did I mention that she’s raising 2 young boys while doing all of this as well?!  Continue reading

UMBC Women Who Rock: Amelia Meman (a birthday tribute)

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Amelia Meman, GWST major & Women’s Center staff member extraordinaire 

Birthdays are my most favorite of holidays. I love birthdays, and I’m not just talking about my own birthday, I’m talking about all birthdays. I love the celebration of life which is why you’ll often hear me say to the birthday person, “Thank you for being born.” And, today, it’s Amelia’s birthday. Happiest of birthdays to you, you brilliant feminist killjoy.

Life-giving and killjoy? Yes and I’ll get to that.

I first met Amelia in the spring of 2013 when she and several other Gender + Women’s Studies students would take over the Women’s Center lounge for “lunch bunch” in between their morning and afternoon classes. They would swoop in with their feminist theory and activism and the whole place would come alive with laughter, pondering, and thoughtful conversations. Consequently, I was excited when Amelia reached out to me over the summer to interview for an internship through the Honors College. The Women’s Center hasn’t been the same since.

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Meet Amelia!

In her two years working in the Women’s Center, Amelia has come to be one of the hardest working people I know. She is wicked smart. She cares deeply about the quality of her work. She takes self-initiative to include commissioning herself to be the Women’s Center’s artist-in-residence. She is also a good friend who is genuinely committed to the well-being and support of those she loves. After she graduates and I think back on Amelia’s time in the Women’s Center, I’ll think of laughter. The laughter that comes from underwater animals, a blog post created entirely through gifs, and the reenactment of Leslie Knope and Burt Macklin misadventures.

And, just as importantly, I’ll think of the cracks and the fissures Amelia has taught me to see. In preparing to write this post, I explained to Amelia that I use the UMBC Women Who Rocks series to explore the ways in which the featured woman has challenged me to reconsider the assumptions and stereotypes I hold and I asked Amelia how she believes she’s challenged me. Her reply, “My challenge is that I always challenge people.” Touché, Amelia. As a self-identified feminist killjoy, I should have seen that one coming. She went on to wonder, though, if always recognizing and pointing out problems is unproductive, but conclusively ended with “the only way for change to happen is to recognize the cracks and fissures.”

There’s nothing more I can do than to whole-heartedly agree with her. For example, it is in the embracing of the imperfect that led Amelia to envision what is now Critical Social Justice. When Amelia looked around at social justice movements and thought about her experience at UMBC, she saw gaps and inequitable hierarchies, missed opportunities to engage in critical conversations, and a sense of apathy. Instead of just ignoring those issues or complaining about them, she considered an alternative that sought change. An alternative which in just two short years has been a transformative experience for the Women’s Center and has excited many UMBC students about the role they can play in social justice movements.

As I’ve written, back spaced, written some more, and back spaced again, I have felt challenged throughout the entire exercise of writing this post about Amelia. For someone who means so much to me (and on her birthday of all days), I wanted this reflection to be perfect, but I kept seeing its faults and all that it wasn’t. It’s a reminder to me how perfectionism can be limiting. A perfect sentence that is never written is just an unwritten sentence. So I back spaced some more and wrote again and this one particular image of Amelia kept coming to mind. It’s an image of Amelia crying and being frustrated with herself. She’s just finished up an activity at summer STRiVE (where she was a participant and I was a coach) and she doesn’t like what she’s learned about herself. In this activity that was solely centered in privilege and power and the haves and have-nots, Amelia took it all and loved it. In the debriefing of the activity, though, she was quick to see the cracks and fissures of her own actions. For someone who lives and breathes the practice of social justice, she was surprised by the ease in which she placed those values aside for a game and that scared her. Amelia could have easily hid her feelings or pretended like she was just acting out the part of the big bad capitalist. But she didn’t. She owned every part of her actions and recognized the cracks and fissures in an effort to create change within herself. And, in that moment I was never more proud of her.

Amelia and the Women's  Center staff at last year's Lavender Celebration.

Amelia and the Women’s Center staff at last year’s Lavender Celebration.

Being a killjoy takes honesty, vulnerability, and courage, especially when looking at oneself. In my identity as a feminist and advocate for social justice I know there’s been times I’ve been more than shy about recognizing where I still need to learn and grow and be challenged out of fear that I wouldn’t belong. In an effort to be perfect, I’ve turned my eyes away from the imperfections shutting down the chance to let change and growth to their thing. Through Amelia’s quest to be unapologetically worthy of the space she takes up she has helped create brave spaces within myself to feel at home in my contradictions while taking strides to engage in the what’s, how’s and why’s of those imperfections. Amelia has given me the opportunity to stay connected to my imperfections and to name them rather than distancing myself from them. It’s the distancing that kills us, whereas the joy comes in living yourself into the solutions. As we wrapped up our conversation, Amelia reflected on the courage is takes to say this thing, this person, this Me may “be problematic and I still love you.” So yes, back to my point of being live-giving and a killjoy. Amelia has shown me how to be both.

When my friend, who met Amelia last November at the National Women’s Studies Association conference, recently found out that Amelia is graduating in May she instantly replied “What are you going to do?!” For someone who only briefly met Amelia this is a testament to the good work she does and most especially the important space she takes up in my heart. I replied, “I don’t know… Cry?” And, maybe I will a little, but during her time here at UMBC, Amelia has challenged me to examine my own cracks and fissures and that has helped me become a better supervisor, a better feminist, and a better me. So, I will also be filled with joy. The joy that can only come from the honesty and vulnerability it takes to freely be me in all my faults and perfections.

So, on this day, and every day, Amelia Meman, you are a UMBC Woman Who Rocks. Happy birthday. Thank you for being born.

Amelia and others from the Critical Social Justice Student Alliance - a student organization that stemmed out of the energy and passion of Critical Social Justice

Amelia and others from the Critical Social Justice Student Alliance – a student organization that stemmed out of the energy and passion of Critical Social Justice

Who are the UMBC women in your life that inspire you to think outside your expectations and assumptions? What are the counter narrative stories they’re sharing with us allowing UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be? Comment below and maybe you’ll just find them featured in a future UMBC Women Who Rock post.

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Check out other UMBC Women Who Rock:

Amanda Knapp (featured August 2014)
Susan Dumont (featured October 2014)
Jahia Knobloch (featured January 2015)
A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability (February 2015)

UMBC Women Who Rock: A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’m working on throughout the 2014-15 academic year. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.

-Jess

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UMBC Women Who Rock! A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability

With only three posts in this series, it might seem a little too early to spice things up, but the spirit of this series is really that of personal reflection (in addition to of course, celebrating other women) and I have some reflections to share. So for this post, I’m expanding the concept of the series to not just write about a particular UMBC woman but the experience of working with other UMBC women.  In this case, it’s the experience of writing a chapter for a women in leadership book series called Advancing Women and Leadership: Moving the Needle through Applied Theory Building with Virginia Byrne of Student Life and Crystal Diaz-Espinoza of CWIT. Our chapter called “The Non-Traditional Patchwork of College Women Student Leaders: A Multidisciplinary Reflection on Theory” focuses on ways in which we seek to build bridges at UMBC between marginalized groups of women leaders and the larger campus community in an effort to encourage transformational leadership development. We specifically focus on the experiences of UMBC women adult learners and women students majoring in information technology and engineering.

Now that the first hurdle of submitting our draft is behind us, I’ve had time to reflect on the experience. It was hard! I knew what I wanted to write and had all the confidence in the world until I sat in front of my computer trying to put my thoughts into words. It was like teaching someone to tie their shoe or ride a bike. I’ve been doing the action for so long that taking a step back and breaking it down part-by-part proved to be more difficult than I thought. On top of the challenge of actually writing, we were doing so with a week left before the spring semester begun. I felt behind on my work in the Women’s Center and some of our biggest programming and events were coming up in just a few short weeks. And it was cold and winter is the worst. Long story short, I was a grouchy baby.

I look back over the past week of writing sessions and writing and recognize they weren’t some of my proudest moments. I kept looking for ways to convince myself that I wasn’t smart enough to write this paper and that I possibly didn’t have anything worth including in a real-life book. I kept hoping that maybe Crystal or Virginia felt the same way and we could quit this whole thing.

Shine Theory fail.

Through my love of podcasts, I’ve recently been exposed to this concept of Shine Theory. Explained by Ann Friedman in her article over at The Cut, she explores the idea that powerful women make the best of friends. She writes, “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.” I can get on board with that, but what I really take away from Shine Theory is how Anne’s best friend, Amina, sums it up:  “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.”

Thank goodness Virginia and Crystal were willing and able to share their shine with me. As Friedman continues in her article, “True confidence is infectious.” While I know we all had our doubts, my writing partners wouldn’t let me quit. Time and time again, they’d share accolades and encouragement with me and with each other. This is great. You’ve got this. Yes, keep going. We’re going to finish this.

And, you know what? The more I heard it, the more I believed it. As our paper came together, I gained more confidence. The words came out easier and I was able to be a better teammate in the process.  I also think our chapter is pretty darn awesome and I’m really glad I didn’t give up. Thank you Virginia and Crystal!

When I hear people talk about Shine Theory, I hear it presented from the perspective of “you, good person… go find other great people to help you shine,” which I think is important and enriching for one’s personal and professional lives. We all need people to learn from and share encouragement. But, I want to hold myself accountable as well. I want to be a person that just isn’t doing the taking of the shine but is giving of the shine. This experience reminds how easy it can be to make something just about you. I wasn’t the only one who was busy and working through other deadlines or feeling challenged by the task at hand. Where could I have provided more support and encouragement to my writing partners? What steps do I need to take next time to get my shine on earlier? These are questions I’m going to keep in mind as I move into a busy spring semester and will be confronted with opportunities to shine for others and be motivated by the shine of UMBC Women Who Rock.

Shine on UMBC…. Shine on.

Who are the UMBC women in your life that inspire you to think outside your expectations and assumptions? What are the counter narrative stories they’re sharing with us allowing UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be? Comment below and maybe you’ll just find them featured in a future UMBC Women Who Rock post.

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Check out other UMBC Women Who Rock:

Amanda Knapp (featured August 2014)
Susan Dumont (featured October 2014)
Jahia Knobloch (featured January 2015)