Celebrating our May 2020 Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. While distance learning in a pandemic has disrupted and cancelled many things over the past semester, we weren’t going to let this tradition get cancelled! So, as with most things these days, we took to our computers and phones to celebrate virtually!

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A “group photo” via a screen shot during our Webex Graduation Celebration! 

This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.

In usual times at this special “pinning” ceremony, graduating seniors receive their Women’s Center Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pin to wear at graduation along with a yellow rose. This year, we sent their pins to them via snail mail and they pinned themselves!

Upon their pinning, each scholar says a few words. Despite being in their own homes and not sharing physical space with each other, graduates still invited us to share in their joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer exhaustion. “I finally made it!” rang through the Women’s Center lounge walls along with laughter and tears.

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. At a University which celebrates, grit and greatness (even during non-pandemic times), no other student cohort exhibits both with such deep grace and humility. As individuals and as a community, they are brave and unstoppable.

So, it is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words* share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners.

I also invite you to read a UMBC graduation news story I had the privilege of writing that  features a more in depth view of 4 of our students’ experiences at UMBC and their quest to graduation.

Happy Graduation!!!

Shanice Bramwell, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Health Administration and Policy (HAPP)

20200511_185525 - Shanice Bramwell

A self-submitted photo of Shanice. 

What was your experience like as an adult learner?
Adult learning is more complex than traditional learning. I loved that the Women’s Center gave me a place to belong.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Realize that it will include many sacrifices in order to do well. We work twice as hard because of our family load and our school work load. Organization and creating realistic schedules will come in handy.

What are your plans after graduation?
More school, work, and family!

Karla Gonzalez, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Social Work

Karla G- self-submission.1

A self-submitted photo of Karla and her family. 

 

What you were involved in at UMBC and what was your experience like as an adult learner?
During my time at UMBC, I was involved with the Social Work Student Association (SWSA) and volunteered at many events as well as participated in the monthly meetings. I was the service event board member position through fall semester 2019. It was during spring semester 2019 that I became involved with the Women’s Center and I wish now that I had become involved as soon as I came to UMBC.
As an adult learner, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to have a college experience like traditional students and I wanted to take advantage of all the resources available on campus. Although I knew I could never really have a traditional college student experience, I met so many people that helped make my experience at UMBC, wonderful. These included professors that were helpful in me learning the material (like human biology), other adult students who could relate to my experiences as well as younger students who treated me as any other student, not caring that I was ten years older than them. I am grateful for the Social Work department, Women’s Center, the Off-Campus Student Services (OCSS), the Career Center and the Writing Center. These resources really helped me have a great experience at UMBC.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice would be to allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone and participate in different activities. OCSS offers adult learners activities like family game nights and it was great to connect my two worlds, parenthood and “student-hood,” even if it was one night. I know it’s easier to come for class and leave right away, but take that time to make connections with other students, with professors, to get the best out of your learning experience.

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation, I will be attending the University of Maryland School of Social Work as an advance standing student.

You can learn more about Karla’s story and experience at UMBC through this UMBC graduation news story featuring 4 returning women students. 

Josephine Gyasi-Baaye, Bryson-Neville and Aegon Scholar
Major: Social Work 

What was your experience like as an adult learner?
My experience as an adult learner was motivated by my set goals as and a determination of achieving a professional growth. At UMBC, I was a member of Sigma Alpha Lambda.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice to all adult learners is never to give up on themselves as a student… and take advantage of campus resources.

What are your plans after graduation?
As mother of three, I plan to work part time and continue with graduate school this Fall. I have been accepted into the University of Baltimore for their Master’s in Social Work.

Samantha Homa, Affiliate
Major: Geography and Environmental Studies

IMG_1943 - Samantha Homa

A self-submitted photo of Samantha. 

What you were involved in at UMBC and what was your experience like as an adult learner?
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in service learning as a Peer Facilitator for the Introductory to an Honors University (IHU) courses for four semesters. As an adult learner, I felt very grateful for my professors, UMBC staff, and classmates because I could appreciate their effort in my learning experience. This was something I definitely did not see my first semester. That is growth and the beauty of perspective.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Try to understand what you need to be productive and satisfied in all areas of your life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it because you may be surprised to find out others are going through the same struggles as you.

What are your plans after graduation?
Enjoy more hikes with my handsome hound Harry! Work part time and continue to take a few more courses at UMBC to eventually apply to medical school!

Nia Latimer, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Social Work

What was your experience like as an adult learner?
Initially, I was nervous about being an adult learner, but when I saw the diversity on campus, I was very comfortable and never made to feel out of place in my classes.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Be open and don’t be afraid. You have support! The Women’s Center helped me tremendously being my home away from home.

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to attend and have been accepted to UMB’s School of Social Work’s Advanced Standing graduate school program.

You can learn more about Nia’s s story and experience at UMBC through this UMBC graduation news story featuring 4 returning women students. 

Joanna Riley, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Social Work 

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A self-submitted photo of Joanna and her son in their UMBC gear while out for a hike.

What you were involved in at UMBC?
I was a student in the Social Work program and during my free-time I visited the Women’s Center. I live an hour away from campus and a single parent to a 10 year old. It has been hard to be active with the other students on campus because I have to return home to take care of my son.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
I would tell people to utilize the Women’s Center as much as possible. I felt so out of place and the Women’s Center was the one place I felt at home. If I had more time I would have loved to attend more events and workshops.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will be in Social Work Advanced Standing at University of Maryland, Baltimore campus.

Terece Young, Bryson-Neville 2018 Scholar
Major: American Studies and Sociology 

amst - Terece Young

Self-submitted photo of Terece

Whhat was your experience like as an adult learner?
My experience at UMBC as an adult learner was challenging and rewarding. When you look around your class and see you are the oldest one or get mistaken for a professor on the first day of the semester, it’s easy to get discouraged. However, as time went on, I began to see that me being older was a benefit, because I had life experience to rely on, which helped with discussions, writing papers, projects, etc. I don’t know if I would have done as well in school fifteen years ago, so in hindsight, I am glad that went for my degree when I did.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice for current Returning Women Students is to use your age and life experience to your advantage, especially when in comes to writing papers, projects, discussions, and problem solving. No one else sees things from our point of view. Also, the Women’s Center is an amazing place, so use it. I would go there sometimes to study or relax. If you have a problem, they are there for you, and will always make you feel better and find a way to help. I don’t know if I would have made it without the Women’s Center and the people that work there.

What are your plans after graduation?
The plan I have for after graduation is to move to Florida where my dad and sister live. I want to work in the pro wrestling business, and luckily, wrestling is very popular in Florida, so I am going to find a way to get involved. I was accepted to Full Sail University for their MFA in Creative Writing Program. In the program, I plan to focus on writing for wrestling.

Lauren Hall, 2018 Newcombe Scholar
Master of Arts in Teaching 

What you were involved in at UMBC?
I was a Returning Women Student Scholar for my undergraduate career, a Graduate Assistant with the Education Department during my grad career. This year, I submitted a piece to the Bartleby Literary Magazine and I was the Creative Non-Fiction section winner. That piece also won me the Braly Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
…Never give up. Even if you get bad marks on a project, keep trying. I got a D on the first paper I wrote as an adult learner but I’m graduating as a celebrated UMBC writer with a 4.0 🙂

What are your plans after graduation?
I’m taking the summer off (something I was never able to do as a single-mom going through school) to finish a book I started during my time at UMBC. In the fall I hope to be high school English full-time while I look into grad writing programs. My hope is to make a living writing or teaching at the college level.

You can learn more about Lauren’s s story and experience at UMBC through this UMBC graduation news story featuring 4 returning women students. 


Congratulations to our other Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates graduating this May:

Tatiana Pearson , Newcombe Scholar 
Vicky Hughes,
Aegon Scholar 

Jumina Ito,Newcombe Scholar
Tomiko Shine, 2015 Newcome Scholar
Aieda Solomon,
Newcombe Scholar 

Sheila Yeelon, Jodi Mister/Newcombe Scholar 

RWS Orientation Fall 2019 - group photo with Nia, Jumina, Karla PLUS Freeman

The 2019-20 cohort of Returning Women Student Scholars and Affiliates at August orientation. 

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

 

*Minor edits were made for clarification and tone. 

A Mother’s Day Shout Out (Plus Some Action Items)

This post was written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers as a tribute to our UMBC moms. Special thanks to the moms who provided photos to help curate our Women’s Center moms collage. Wishing happy thoughts to all our UMBC moms in your first and hopefully last quarantined Mother’s Day! 


Self-Care Content Note: There’s lots of reasons why Mother’s Day can be hard for a lot of different people. We see you and your story and your pain and hurt matter to us too. Be kind to yourself. Create boundaries in ways that feel right for you. Reach out to someone who can validate your real emotions that don’t require censorship.

Image with 6 different flower bouquets to represent various challenges for people on Mother's Day. Text reads: Thinking of you: Mothers who have lost children; Those who have lost mothers; Those with strained mother relationships; Mothers with strained child relationships; Those who have chosen not to be mothers; Those yearning to be mothers.

To those who may be hurting. We see you.


Okay, so let’s just put this out there. My mom is my favorite human being. So much so, I just got teared up writing that last sentence.

How else can I explain it? I remember one Mother’s Day when I was in high school. My mom and I were in the car to go visit my Busia (that’s grandmother in Polish). We were listening to the radio and a caller request came in. The caller explained that the requested song for her mom was “their song.” And, as caller requests go – she shouted out her mom, said she loved her, probably gave a woooo!!!, and then the song came on.

It was Celion Dion’s Because You Loved Me.  

It took all of three seconds for my mom and I to look at each other with the biggest “wows” on our faces (also mom upside down is wow). A love song. A love song for a mother and daughter. By then we had pulled up to my Busia’s house, but we just sat in the car, listened to the lyrics, and cried. And, that was the moment we too had a love song.  I am everything I am because my mom loves me.

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Jess and her mom with True Grit at UMBC’s Faculty and Staff Awards celebration in 2018! 

I could go on and on, but the point of this blog post isn’t to gush about mom (well not exactly). It’s about gushing about you, Dear Moms of the Women’s Center at UMBC.

To the moms who serve or who have served on the Women’s Center Advisory Board

To the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates Moms and all of our student moms

To the moms who have spent countless hours in our lactation room pumping away

 To the moms who have served as staff members over the decades

To our Friends of the Women’s Center Moms

To the moms who have donated their money, their time, their skills to support our mission

To those who aren’t moms but support and champion the work of the Women’s Center because of the space and meaning it holds for moms

Thank you for you. Thank you for being a part of the Women’s Center community. In the words of Celine Dion, we are everything we are because you love us… you make us a stronger and richer community because we get to learn from you, benefit from your skills, and call you our friends and allies.

 


So, in honor of all these brilliant moms we offer some suggestions and action items to take this Mother’s Day weekend:

Virtual ways to celebrate or honor a mom in your life:

  • Plan a virtual Mother’s Day celebration. I know, the Zoom burnout is real but how can you get creative so it doesn’t feel like another work or school meeting? Send invites, encourage people to dress up or bring some fancy snacks to the call, or make it a game/trivia call. 
  • Not up for organizing something? Watch something together that’s already planned like Un Dia Especial con Mamá (Special Day with Mama) hosted by Creative Alliance, Somos Baltimore Latino, Nuestras Raíces Inc., and Artesanas Mexicanas. The live stream begins at 11am on Mother’s Day. 
  • Zoom again but this time with the kiddos! Give a mom you love the chance to take a deep breath by offering to entertain their little ones via Zoom by reading them a story or leading an activity.
  • Send or drop off a care package or meal.
  • Create a grateful jar. What are the things you’re grateful for when it comes to a special mom in your life. Write it down and put it in a jar so that gratitude can be called upon in times of need. This can be an individual or collective effort.  
  • Send some snail mail (or a text!). ! If there are people in your life that could benefit from feeling seen and appreciated on Mother’s Day, consider writing them a thoughtful note, reminding them you’re here for them, or simply drawing something that words can’t quite capture. As we reminded folks in the content note above, there are lots of feelings people can experience on or close to Mother’s day. Acknowledge and validate those feelings.
  •  This list not working for you? That’s okay! Let Google be your friend or let this simply be the beginning of a creative brainstorm session.

To help advocate for a mom in your life:

For those of us who aren’t moms, we may have no idea what it’s like to be a mom in quarantine. Even moms in quarantine won’t know exactly what other moms are going through. What we do know, though, is that at home and on the front line of this pandemic, women are essential.

So how can you learn more? Here’s a few recommended readings and podcasts. After checking out those, consider ways you can advocate for mothers in your own life and spheres of influence. As always, we appreciate your own ideas and suggestions in the comments!

 

Celebrating our December 2019 Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.

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December graduates from the Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates program at the graduating pinning ceremony.

At this special “pinning” ceremony, graduating seniors receive their Women’s Center Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pin to wear at graduation. Each scholar was invited to share a short reflection, many of which included joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer exhaustion. Graduating seniors spoke to the students who were still in the process of working towards their degree, Don’t worry, you can do it. You’ll be in my position soon enough.

Before the pinning ceremony began, graduating senior, Katrina Kelly, read a poem she read at a previous celebration that resonated deeply with students. As the poem was read aloud again, the group of students present became captivated by the reality this poem had in their own lives. For a non-traditional adult learner who often feels like they are taking on the weight of the world, this poem is a powerful testament to their strength and determination.

“…I’ve hated this woman. I’ve not loved her at full capacity. I’ve fed her lies & told her she wasn’t good enough and have allowed others to tell her she wasn’t good enough. I’ve allowed her to be broken. I’ve allowed others to treat her disrespectfully. I’ve allowed her to run through brick walls & battle for others who won’t even stand for her. I couldn’t stop individuals from abandoning her, yet I’ve seen her get up and stand to be a light to the world & love others despite all that. I have stood paralyzed by fear while she fought battles in her mind, heart and soul….She is who she is. Every mistake, failure, trial, disappointment, success, joy, and achievement has made her the woman she is today…. This Woman is a WARRIOR. She’s not perfect but God calls her WORTHY! She’s UNSTOPPABLE. Gracefully broken but beautifully standing. She is love. She is life. She is transformation. She is ME and She is BRAVE!”

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. At a university which celebrates, grit and greatness, no other student cohort exhibits both with such deep grace and humility. As individuals and as a community, they are brave and unstoppable. So, it is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners.

Happy Graduation!!!

Brandy Altice, Newcombe Scholar 

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Brandy and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration.

I transferred to UMBC in the fall of 2015. It had been seven years since I received my Associates degree in Sociology from the College of Southern Maryland. I was nervous to begin another journey into my college career especially with a husband and two year old daughter at home. At first I felt out of place, returning as an older student, but quickly made friends with fellow classmates. Although, it wasn’t until being accepted as a Returning Women Student Scholar that I really felt that I was part of a community at UMBC. I felt like I belonged.

Now that I’m graduating with honors, I plan to take a semester off to enjoy my family before moving on in my journey toward a Masters Degree. I am currently in the process of enrolling into a graduate program for social work or psychology. Although I look forward to having time off from my studies, I am excited to launch the next chapter of my college career. Thanks to UMBC and The Returning Women’s Scholarship Program, I strongly feel ready and capable.

My advice to current returning women students…  is to not let anything get in your way. Make your college experience your own. Take advantage of all that is offered at UMBC and the Women’s Center. Do as much as you can to enjoy your journey. Celebrate all your successes. Celebrate all your challenges. Above all, know that you WILL come out on the other side a stronger and a more confident person than before.

Josie Aquino, Newcombe Scholar 

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Josie and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration.

I transferred to UMBC from Harford Community College (HCC) in the fall of 2017 with plans to major in mechanical engineering. Earning my bachelor’s degree is a dream I’ve held close to my heart for as long as I can remember. As a first-generation college student with four younger sisters, my family is my greatest inspiration. Although I knew that attending a 4-year institution would bring me closer to reaching my goals, graduation still felt so unreachable and far away. I thought the next two or three years would feel like an eternity, especially because of being a returning student. Most of my friends had long graduated and were already well into their careers. Here I was just beginning.

During my first semester, I struggled to make connections on campus. Even though I was experiencing many of the same difficulties all new students face, I dealt with the added challenge of being a non-traditional student. Connecting with the Women’s Center and getting involved with the Returning Women Students Scholarship Program has had a huge impact on my UMBC experience. More than anything, it has provided me with a feeling of belonging. I have been so inspired by the women I have met through this program, and there are no words for how much it means to me to know that I am not alone. Hearing their stories of struggle and triumph have helped me to believe that I, too, will be able to achieve my dreams.

It is surreal to me that graduation is only days away. This day I’d thought would never come is finally here. Throughout my time at UMBC, I’ve been challenged in unexpected ways and pushed to the absolute limits of my abilities. I’ve failed more times than I can count. I’ve experienced suffocating self-doubt. I’ve cried silent tears as I walked alone across campus. The demands of higher education have strained my relationships and deprived me of sleep. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t change a thing about my UMBC journey. I am not the same person I was two years ago. I am infinitely stronger and more resilient. I know who I am, and I know what I have to offer. Every failure has been a lesson, as hard as it can be sometimes to view them that way. Every victory has brought me closer to achieving my goals.

When I graduate, I will be wearing a stole for being a Mechanical Engineering Department Teaching Fellow (TF), a cord for being involved in the M.O.D.E.L. M.E. peer mentoring program, a cord for being a first-generation college student, and—one of the most special of all—a purple paw print pin. My entire family will be in the audience cheering me on.

      If I can do it, you can do it.

My advice to current returning women students: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. Ask for help when you need it. Do things that scare you. Be kind to yourself.

Learn more about Josie’s experience featured in a UMBC news story celebrating December 2019 graduates! 

Katrina Kelly, Newcombe Scholar 

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Katrina and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration.

The first steps I took onto the beautiful campus of UMBC were from the #35 bus stop at Hilltop up the long walk to the Admissions office. I felt electrified and overwhelmed at the same time. Transferring from SUNY-Empire State College in New York, an institution crafted for working adults, into a traditional four-year university as a non-traditional student tapped into nearly every self-doubt I had and yet the necessity to complete my education left me (thankfully) with no choice but to press onward. I transferred into the Geography and Environmental Systems (GES) program in Fall 2016, having changed from my original major of Business Management and Economics because I had discovered a profound passion for many elements of this work.

In addition to being a full-time, independent student, I also worked part-time and full-time (when possible) to support myself. I participated in Federal Work Study in the Department of Music and worked as a research assistant for GES faculty, held a brief internship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as an Oyster Restoration Intern, served as the Director of the Communications Department of the UMBC Student Government Association, and am currently participating in the University System of Maryland Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) undergraduate research internship program. Among the most important aspects of my experience here has been the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students Scholarship program. The moral and financial support I have received through the center, through Jess (the RWS Angel), and the Newcombe Scholarship have been irreplaceable and invaluable.

I graduate this Fall with not only my Bachelor’s degree, but with a determination to enter graduate school in Fall 2020 to study sustainable urban planning and/or environmental engineering and an interest in international environmental research programs where I can apply the training (and Spanish language skills) I have acquired through my time here. I am so grateful. GO DAWGS!

My advice to current returning women students: Decide that you will create value from everything you experience here so that everything, even in the smallest of ways, fuels your determination and provides impetus for your ongoing success. Stubbornly refuse to quit until you feel that you have won.

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

Nonbinary in the Classroom

A person with short brown hair smiles into the camera.

This post is written by Sam Hertl (they/them pronouns), a social work intern completing their field placement in the Women’s Center.

*Trigger warning*

There are heavy topics mentioned such as the rate of violence against trans lives, suicide, and mental health issues. Please read with caution. 

There are two hearts pictured in gif form. The heart to the left has a black border with a top to bottom pattern of the colors blue, pink, white, pink, and blue. The heart to the right also has a black border with a top to bottom pattern of the colors yellow, white, purple and black.

The two hearts pictured show the trans flag to the left and the nonbinary flag to the right.


Can I just say that living in a society where the highest court must debate and make a decision as to whether or not LGBTQ+ people will be safe from workplace discrimination is incredibly taxing as a queer person? When protective factors (like employment) for marginalized communities are up for federal debate, holding one or multiple marginalized identities becomes increasingly difficult no matter if you are in the workplace or preparing to be. This means that finding a space where your identities are not only recognized but respected and affirmed is crucial to living a healthy life.

This may not be news to most, but the trans community faces tremendous minority stress and endures an alarming rate of violence. Trans students have been vocal about their struggles in educational settings, for example. They’ve reported being less involved in school due to lack of visibility, little to no connections with campus and local trans communities, burn out, mental health concerns, and structural barriers in their institution. 

Even with all the drawbacks, there are a lot of reasons why trans folks would and do go to college. Some go to learn more about themselves and the world. Others go to help increase their chances of entering a better position in the workforce. Regardless of one’s motivations, trans people in the classroom are preparing for the workplace and already seeing moments of inequity

At UMBC, students face similar issues. Recently UMBC’s student newspaper, The Retriever, posted an article noting the lack of protection for trans students who are misgendered during their time at UMBC. Journalist Johanna Alonso features trans students who detail their personal experiences being misgendered both in and outside of the classroom. 

A cartoon giraffe with heart shaped sunglasses on. The glasses have a moving rainbow color to them.


The following are specific issues myself and my nonbinary peers have experienced while in college:

Avoidance & Misgendering 

  • Being told by people, both peers and professors, that they need time to grapple with your pronouns and/or gender identity.
  • People actively avoiding using your pronouns even when you’ve asked them to use your pronouns, and instead using only your name every time they address you. 
  • Professors completely avoiding addressing you. This can be for a variety of reasons such as avoiding using your pronouns altogether, avoiding messing up your pronouns, or because they personally disagree with your gender identity. This unknown can cause excess stress. 
  • Preemptively avoiding participation in class to avoid more people misgendering you when they address you.
  • Professors deadnaming you during roll call due to numerous structural barriers that prevent you from having your name legally changed or alternated in school databases. 

Tokenization 

  • People asking extremely personal questions with the expectation that you have to share with them.
  • Sharing extremely personal experiences with people anyway to communicate how important it is for folks to use your pronouns (and they still don’t use your pronouns correctly).
  • Peers misgendering you while in class with no space to correct them in the moment. Sensing those peers didn’t realize they misgendered you and then just sitting with that through the rest of class, feeling that it’s too late to bring it up.
  • Being the only openly trans person in the classroom and feeling isolated in your feelings.
  • Acting as an educator and spokesperson for the entire trans community when you are only one person.

Content Erasure

  • Hearing and seeing “he/she” in assignments, powerpoints, and lectures when a singular “they” could easily fit into the sentence grammatically and be more inclusive.
  • Having to dissociate throughout class because attendance is mandatory even when it’s not a safe environment for trans people and being unable to learn properly because of this. 
  • Learning classroom content that applies to, but never mentions the experience of people in the trans community. 
  • Never learning about the trans community’s specific needs in classes and knowing that your professors and peers will continue to perpetuate a trans exclusive world because your professor, department, or curriculum isn’t doing the work that it should.

Take a moment to let that all settle in. Reread it. This is important. This is not made up or abstracted. These are experiences that I myself and my peers have had.

A cartoon blue owl with a pink heart on its chest is sitting on a branch. The owl opens its wings to show the trans flag colors on each wing. The colors from top to bottom are blue, pink, white, pink, and blue.


If you’re reading through these pieces and thinking that some of these things are avoidable, you’re totally right! The following are some terms and concepts that’ll help you understand how. 

Minority Stress Model

Stress that stems from systemic prejudice has a real and lasting negative impact. The National Institute of Health published an article by Ilan H. Meyer defining minority stress as, “The excess stress to which individuals from stigmatized social categories are exposed as a result of their social, often a minority, position.” There are some limitations to the focus (specifically on sexuality) in this article, but it can be extended to gender identity and other people who have marginalized identities. Meyer details the four main processes of minority stress in relation to the experiences of sexual minorities:

  • External factors, objective stressful events, and conditions (both chronic and acute).
  • Expectations of such external events and the vigilance this expectation requires.
  • The internalization of negative societal attitudes.
  • Concealment of one’s sexual orientation/identity. 

The social environment often provides meaning to people. Situations in the social environment can lead to stressors such as listed above. Although stress is not linked only to holding a minority identity, it is certainly an important aspect to note. I will use the processes in this minority stress model to further explain the three categories featured above about the nonbinary classroom experience. Refer to the listed points above while reading about each category. 

Avoidance & Misgendering

As an aspiring social worker, this is disappointing to see in my classes. Nonbinary students in other majors, such as STEM-related fields, may not get the opportunity to study other people’s identities and thereby have even less space to learn about differing identities. 

When considering the minority stress model, it is clear that external factors in educational settings such as the lack of knowledge and awareness about nonbinary identities can create stressful moments for nonbinary students. It doesn’t help when nonbinary students are exposed to harmful educational environments where professors and peers repeatedly misgender the student. Therefore, nonbinary students often anticipate these scenarios ahead of time. Worrying about when the next time someone will misgender them can cause excess anxiety and discomfort for nonbinary folks when in these harmful environments. 

Students who have “non-western” names, whether cis or trans, often face similar avoidance in their classes. Professors mispronounce names, mix up the names for students of color in the class, or actively avoid addressing students with names they frame as difficult to pronounce. This communicates to these students that their name isn’t worth learning. Rita (‘ree-the’) Kohli, an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside noted, “Is it framed as my inability to say someone’s name or is it framed as the student doing something to make your life more difficult?”. 

Tokenization 

Being an openly trans student in the classroom sometimes means that you are the only publicly known trans person in the room (and for many, the only trans person they are aware of in their lives). This often somehow translates to cis professors and peers that you are the spokesperson for the entire trans community, and that’s only if they acknowledge your trans identity. For this reason, many professors and peers expect you, the local trans person, to provide the class with real-life examples so they can better understand you, or trans people as a whole. It’s burdening to be seen as a representative of a community that you only partly embody. 

It’s endearing that some cis people want to learn, but it shouldn’t be the burden of the only trans person in the room to teach everyone about trans identities and trans lives. As a social work major, this is increasingly harmful to experience in my classes, but again it’s essential to note that trans students in courses outside of the humanities and social sciences often don’t even get the opportunity to learn about different populations of people. 

Many departments in college settings do not have a gender-inclusive and trans-affirming curricula. It’s typically only Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies courses (whose express mission it is to expand our lens on gender) that mention trans people at all, let alone those with nonbinary identities specifically. In relation to the minority stress model, being isolated as the only openly trans person in the room can create even more stressful events for trans individuals and inherently cause trans folk to internalize the act of othering created by trans unaware peers and professors. 

Erasure

Although all people experience otherness, there is often also an erasure of identity. With gender identity, it’s a constant battle in the classroom. Many professors may not realize the power and influence they have. Some students end up keeping their gender identity hidden if they face other stressors. Many LGBTQ+ students with disabilities tend to disclose only one of their potentially invisible identities when in a group setting. They may not be given space to disclose any of their identities in the first place. 

This lack of space may create an unsafe environment and make it harder for those who hold multiple invisibility identities on top of disability status to disclose other aspects of their identity such as gender identity and sexuality. This leads to an overwhelming amount of erasure faced by students with these intersecting identities which can result in both shame and isolation for these folks. Looking at the minority stress model, this can be noted as the concealment of one’s identity. 

A person is dancing by moving left and right and lifting their foot up into the air. From toe to toe, a rainbow appears while the person kicks their leg up.


Impact on Students

There is a strong need for affirmation in the classroom that is not happening. For example, language professors use in their lectures and assignments has a harmful impact. Binary language can be the usage of “he or she”, “mom or dad”, and “sister or brother” when “they”, “parent”, and “sibling” are easy and gender-inclusive alternatives for these terms. It’s increasingly difficult to learn as a nonbinary person in an educational setting that doesn’t make space for nonbinary people. The repeated exposure of seeing binary language can make nonbinary people feel invisible.

It’s also all too common for professors to teach content that applies to trans folks without mentioning them. In a social work class I took, for example, the professor dedicated a class discussion to adolescent suicide; however, there was not one mention of trans adolescents who face suicidal ideation. For the record, trans adolescents face suicidal ideation at a much higher rate than their cis classmates. When I raised this concern in class, as we are often encouraged to share our own knowledge and perspectives in the classroom, the professor seemed tense and tried to move on quickly. A nonbinary peer took this same class the following semester with the same professor and had a similar experience during the class dedicated to adolescent suicide. Avoiding these topics will cause a ripple effect in the rising class of professionals and continue to harm those who have marginalized identities that aren’t talked about in class. 

The alarming rates of violence against black trans women are a testament to this truth. Each year the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) tracks the disparately high rates of violence against the trans community, mostly impacting black trans women. This year the HRC has reported that, “2019 has already seen at least 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means”. It is indisputable that people within the trans community are faced with tremendous challenges that can put their lives at risk. For this reason, trans folks (especially trans people of color) need extra support and resources to maintain a safe and prosperous livelihood.

The probability of hardship and discrimination faced by the trans community can lead to poor mental health. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey documents the overall health and wellness of the trans community and states that, “Thirty-nine percent (39%) of respondents were currently experiencing serious psychological distress, nearly eight times the rate in the U.S. population (5%).”


The following is a quote by feminist Adrienne Rich which adequately sums up the immense impact professors can have on students. 

“When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing”

Everyone has felt invisible before. Think of a time you felt this way. Consider this in relation to everything aforementioned.

Administrators, please monitor your educational environments and aim for inclusive excellence. Professors, please put in the work to revamp your classroom content. Peers, be an advocate for your nonbinary classmates. Parents of nonbinary and trans folks, pay attention to how school impacts your child. Everyone, ask the nonbinary and trans people in your life how you can best be there for them.


I don’t have all the answers, nobody does. I just ask that you take this seriously and start to do better. The following are a few tips I have for you after reading this blog:

  1. Learn how to look at gender differently. Challenge yourself, ask genuine questions, and do the research. 
  2. Ask your nonbinary and trans friends for their preferences (and consent) when it comes to how publicly they use their pronouns and how they want you to correct yourself if you misgender them.
  3. When introducing yourself to someone new, make it habit of telling them your name and pronouns. Follow up and ask for their name and pronouns. This might not be something that you accustomed to doing, but we are in the process of unlearning, and you can’t assume someone’s name before meeting them, so how could you assume their pronouns? 
  4. Learn how to give a quick and easy presentation on pronouns to give to people who aren’t familiar with the importance of pronouns. 
  5. When someone corrects you after you’ve misgendered them, tell them thank you for correcting you and restate the sentence with the correct pronouns. 

If this work is prioritized in the classroom, imagine how inclusive the next generation will be? 

Six different people are dancing with hearts, stars, and sparkles above them. There is a trans flag in the background showing from top to bottom blue, pink, white, and part of the pink line. The people and their shadows block the bottom part of the flag.


Additionally, I want to thank the professors and peers who have been putting in the work to affirm and normalize nonbinary and trans identities. Keep up the amazing work and encourage your cis friends to do the same. 

Here are some epic resources for folks to learn more:

Resources for cis folk:

Videos

Websites

Resources for trans & nonbinary folk:

The words, “THANK YOU” appear from top to bottom seven times. Below the word thank you, the phrase, Have A Great Day” is included.


*Disclaimers*

Hi, I use they/them/their pronouns and my gender identity is nonbinary. I recognize that this is only one perspective. I am not able to represent all nonbinary identities. 

I use the term trans when discussing the whole trans community and I use the term nonbinary when talking about nonbinary people specifically within the trans community. I will also be using nonbinary as an umbrella term that is extended to, but not limited to genderqueer, genderfluid, and gender non-conforming identities. Some nonbinary people do not identify as trans, although the language I use in this blog post suggests that all nonbinary folk do. 

Celebrating our May 2019 Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.

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Many members of the 2018-19 Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates celebrate their accomplishments whether it’s finishing up another semester or making it to graduation day!

At this special “pinning” ceremony, graduating seniors receive their Women’s Center Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pin to wear at graduation along with a yellow rose. Each scholar was invited to share a short reflection, many of which included joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer exhaustion. “I finally made it!” rang through the Women’s Center lounge walls along with laughter and tears.

Students not graduating were also invited to share their reflections on the year and one scholar asked to read a poem her friend recently shared with her as a note of encouragement. As the poem was read aloud, the group of students present became captivated by the reality this poem had in their own lives. At its conclusion almost everyone said “you will you please share that?!” (we’ll share with you too… a condensed version is below). For a non-traditional adult learner who often feels like they are taking on the weight of the world, this poem is a powerful testament to their strength and determination.

“…I’ve hated this woman. I’ve not loved her at full capacity. I’ve fed her lies & told her she wasn’t good enough and have allowed others to tell her she wasn’t good enough. I’ve allowed her to be broken. I’ve allowed others to treat her disrespectfully. I’ve allowed her to run through brick walls & battle for others who won’t even stand for her. I couldn’t stop individuals from abandoning her, yet I’ve seen her get up and stand to be a light to the world & love others despite all that. I have stood paralyzed by fear while she fought battles in her mind, heart and soul….She is who she is. Every mistake, failure, trial, disappointment, success, joy, and achievement has made her the woman she is today…. This Woman is a WARRIOR. She’s not perfect but God calls her WORTHY! She’s UNSTOPPABLE. Gracefully broken but beautifully standing. She is love. She is life. She is transformation. She is ME and She is BRAVE!”

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. At a University which celebrates, grit and greatness, no other student cohort exhibits both with such deep grace and humility. As individuals and as a community, they are brave and unstoppable. So, it is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners.

Happy Graduation!!!

Lex Ashcroft, Newcombe Scholar 

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Lex and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration.

I started my journey at UMBC as a transfer student from AACC in the fall of 2016 as a psychology major. My first semester at UMBC was rough to say the least, being a single mom working full time in addition to taking evening classes. I didn’t have time to take part in any extracurricular activities or campus groups. I remember feeling very disconnected and discouraged at times. Thankfully, I came across the Parents Club in my second semester and connected with other student parents. Through them, I was introduced to the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students (RWS) program. The RWS scholarship fully covered the rest of my tuition costs, and took such a burden off of my shoulders. Not only that, it allowed me to connect with other “nontraditional students” and women who had similar challenges as mine. The support that the RWS program (and the Women’s Center as a whole) offers is so important, especially for students who have competing responsibilities outside of school.

To say I am excited for graduation is an understatement, I’m eager to get started on the next lap of my educational journey. I will be applying to doctorate programs at the end of this year, and hope to enter a program in the Fall of 2020. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing professors here at UMBC, and through them I further explored areas of study that I hadn’t considered before. I hope to combine my love of psychology and education into a career as a behavioral health policy analyst.

My advice to returning women students, don’t be afraid to explore. Your time here will pass much faster than you think. Join clubs, service based or professional orgs. Get familiar with our awesome resources like the Women’s Center, the Mosaic Center, and Off Campus Student Services. You will find your tribe within the UMBC community, and it will make your college experience so much more fulfilling.

You can also read more about Lex’s story which is featured in one of UMBC’s graduation news stories

Giovanna Carbonaro, Newcombe Scholar 

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Giovanna and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Graduation has been the front and the center of my ultimate goal since I began going to school. I still remember walking to my classes pregnant, postpartum and walking around the halls with my little guys. Yes, it was hard, difficult and exhausting; however every time I reminded myself all the reasons I am getting an education. My best gift of all! That has helped me to focus. There have been countless times where I felt despair and I didn’t know how to find school resources. Here is where Returning Women Students community has been the backbone to my success by not only offering me a safe place to rest, but also to connect with other students/adults like me. Their staff were always ready to help with a big smile which made me feel so welcome and put me at ease; for which I am SO thankful. Thank you!!!

As for my career path, I am looking into part time teaching positions so I can be around my young boys who are under 5 years old. The thought that I will be walking to receive my undergrad diploma in Multicultural Linguistics Communication has proved to me once more that if we set our minds to do it….anything is possible.

Jaime Engrum, Newcombe Scholar 

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Jaime and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I started my journey at UMBC 4 years ago after spending 4 years completing my associate’s degree. I knew that a career in social work was what I wanted and I was willing to do another 4 years of college to achieve my bachelors. Taking only 2 classes a semester, I felt it was going to take forever to finish. The time went by faster than I expected and I was 2 semesters away from graduating and an internship I felt I was prepared for was about to begin. My professors at UMBC prepared me with the knowledge I needed to enter by internship, however I was not financially prepared. I had met the limits to all my loans and I saved as much vacation time I could to help with the hours I would lose going from working full-time to part time, however it wasn’t enough. I feared all my hard work was not going to end with a degree. My advisor recommended I apply for the Newcombe Returning Women’s scholarship the semester before my internship. She said I have a story and it should be shared!

The short version to my story is I didn’t decide to go to college until 10 years after graduating high school. I was a teenage mother raising my son on my own. College to me was not an option at that time. Once he was older and I had more family support close by, I decided to go to college. It has taken a tremendous amount of time away from time spent with my family to have my degrees; however, I have shown my son the value of a college education. During my 8 years of college I have married and my son is preparing himself for college.

As my internship approached, I received a notification that I was a recipient of the Newcombe Returning Women’s scholarship. It brought tears of joy that I received an award that allowed me to finish my senior year at UMBC and earn my degree in social work. Not only did this scholarship help me financially, but it allowed me to connect with women, like myself, and have a support system to encourage me to keep going when I couldn’t find balance in my life.

I now am about to walk across the stage next week with thanks to the amazing professors at UMBC and the amazing support of the Returning Women’s Program. The following week I then get to sit and watch my son graduate from high school! It may have been a long 8 years, but the reward at the end is priceless. I plan to begin my Master’s in Social Work this fall!

Rachel Mansir, Newcombe Scholar 

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Rachel and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Sitting here, looking at the calendar, I am in utter disbelief. Thinking about graduating unleashes a torrent of mixed emotions. Chipping away one class at a time, this twenty-year endeavor has proven to be more than merely pursuing a piece of paper. This has become a personal journey. My diploma will contain the blood, sweat, and tears not only from me, but of my family. Returning to school as a non-traditional, older student is scary stuff. The college environment had become unfamiliar and was foreign ground for me. The Returning Women Students program created a place for me where I felt like I belonged. I connected with other single-mothers and found a brave, supportive place where I could spread my wings. Without the Women’s Center, their dedicated staff, and their financial support, I am not sure I would have been able to finish my degree. Of course, the support of my wonderful parents and daughters helped me persevere through the rough patches.

I am very much looking forward to the next stage of this grand adventure, graduate school. I have been accepted into the Advanced Standing Master’s program at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work where I will continue studying under the Title IV-E program, which is preparing me for a career as a public child welfare social worker.

I would love to tell you that going back to school was fun and has been a breeze. I can’t, because it is not easy. It’s just not. There are (many) days where you want to throw up your hands and quit. The late nights and bleary-eyed mornings can drive you to the brink of madness. The continual sacrifices and trying to balance work, raise children, juggle their activities and school is truly a struggle even on the best of days. Returning to school to finish my degree was the first thing I have ever really done for myself. But this has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have made in my life. It’s worth it. My children are worth it. I am worth it.

Tenier Simms, AEGON Scholar 

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At the age of 39, my journey began in Fall 2015 at UMBC. Undecided on whether I wanted to do nursing or social work, I ask myself who was I fooling to think I had four long years in me to do it. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to be a lot harder than community college. It was a rough start. Throughout the semesters I contemplated quitting, but my passion was to help others so giving up wasn’t an option. I remember meeting with my social work advisor and she was a little concerned. I reassured her I was going to do better, and after that first semester, I maintained A’s and B’s. As the years went on it, seem to get easier, and now that I am just days away from graduation, I can say I’m glad I stayed the course. On May 23rd, 2019 I will walk across that stage in front of my friends, family,  but most importantly my kids. My journey will show them and others that no matter how old you are, no matter how many obstacles come up against you, KEEP PUSHING! Push through the tears, doubts, and frustration because, in the end, I promise you it will be all worth it!

Being a Returning Women Student Scholar has meant so much to me it has allowed me to connect with a group of women from all ages, races, and backgrounds. The last few semesters I have had a few hardships, but because of the support I have received from Jess and the staff at the Women’s Center, it has given me the encouragement and motivation to get through. We as women make so many sacrifices in our personal and professional lives and to have a support system here at UMBC has been amazing.
My plans after graduation are to work at a local hospital as a Medical Social Worker as well as attend grad school at Morgan State University.

My advice to returning women students is don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of your dreams. Take full advantage of the Women’s Center and all that it has to offer; you will thank yourself later. Remember you have what it takes to be a victorious, independent, fearless woman!

Congratulations to our other Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates graduating this May:

Briana Graves, Newcombe Scholar 
Kiona Hines,
Newcombe Scholar 

Laura Popp, Newcombe Scholar 
Estelle Ra, Affiliate
Jenny Sage, Newcombe Scholar 
Ellen Tippet, Newcombe Scholar 

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Graduating Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pose together with their graduation pins.

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

What You Need to Know About Take Back The Night & Craftivism

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its seventh consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. 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 this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the fifth post in the series and it focuses on the last part of Take Back the Night which is craftivism and community building.

Hearing and sharing survivors’ stories of sexual violence can be empowering, challenging, and emotional. We know that people process their feelings in different ways, and so following survivor speak out and march, the event continues with Craftivism on Main Street. This portion of the program is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community building.

When the marchers return to Main Street, there will be tables set up with art supplies for anyone wishing to contribute to one of the community craft projects we’ll have available: sachet bags to fill with scented dried flowers and herbs, the Clothesline Project, and the Dear Survivor scrapbook. We also encourage attendees to check out the resource tables to learn more about various campus and community organizations and services.

All are welcome to add a page to our Dear Survivor scrapbook, which features messages of hope, healing, and solidarity from survivors and allies who have attended TBTN in past years. The scrapbook can be found in the Women’s Center lounge.

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Materials for the Clothesline Project will be available for survivors who would like to give voice to their experience by decorating a shirt that will be displayed during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every April, these shirts are hung shoulder-to-shoulder on a clothesline on Main Street to give public testimony to the problems of sexual and gender-based violence. Please note that while allies are invited to participate in the Monument Quilt and Dear Survivor scrapbook, the Clothesline Project is intended for those who identify as survivors.

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For those who prefer a quieter space for reflection, there will be a self-care station set up in the commuter lounge available during the survivor speak out and the rest of the evening. There will be tissues, stress balls, coloring supplies, and other resources for self-care. The station also provides a more private space where attendees can speak with one of the counselors on call, if needed.

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

Celebrating our Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.

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Returning Women Student Scholars celebrating the end of the semester and our December graduates at the pinning celebration.

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. It is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners. Happy Graduation!!!

Ariel Poirier, Newcombe Scholar

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Ariel and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I became a full-time student at UMBC in the fall of 2016. Before this I was working through my associates at AACC and completed that with a degree in general studies and photography. My major at UMBC and what I’ll be graduating with is environmental studies and geography! I’m so excited to finally end this long journey to my Bachelor’s degree.

My future plans are to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I had a great experience interning with them last summer in Jacksonville, Florida. I also plan on returning to school within the next few years to earn my Masters degree in ecology.

My advice to returning women students is to connect with your professors! I had such great relationships with my professors and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been bold and introduced myself. This goes a long way with building a rapport and establishing trust. Another thing I would say is to try not to become discouraged! You’re here for a reason!

Laura Newman, Tydings Scholar

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Laura and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I was a UMBC dropout in 2004 when I could not continue as a student. I spent years struggling with mental health issues and my family has told me how they had thought I would never be capable of going to school again. A genetic test called GeneSight helped determine what medicine to take and I quickly began to recover. I went to communtiy college for a semester and got As and gained confidence to return to UMBC. My grades have been above 3.5 my whole time here. I am proud to be graduating and already employed full time. I hope to be an inspiration to anyone who has struggled with the balance of mental health and school.

My advice to returning women students is to connect with the Women’s Center which provided me amazing professional development support for me as I began to transition into a full career. Additionally, the scholarship program provided me additional financial support and helped me work an internship that led to an awesome job. The Women’s Center had helpful workshops, including salary negotiation and helpful tips on Google apps. I was surprised how much I learned!

Lauren Hall, Newcombe Scholar

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Lauren and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Stay tuned for more from Lauren in her own words. In the meantime, let’s celebrate Lauren who is graduating with a degree in English Literature. We’re excited that Lauren will be staying on campus as she pursues a Masters in the Art of Teaching for secondary education beginning this spring. Happiest of birthdays to her son who is very excited to be celebrating his birthday on Lauren’s graduation day!

 

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

Who You Came to Be Along the Way: Celebrating Our Returning Women Student Graduates

“As you journey through life, choose your destinations well, but do not hurry there. You will arrive soon enough.

Wander the back roads and forgotten paths, keeping your destination in your heart like the fixed point of a compass. Seek out new voices, strange sights, and ideas foreign to your own. Such things are riches for the soul.

And, if upon arrival, you find that your destination is not exactly as you had dreamed, do not be disappointed. Think of all you would have missed but for the journey there, and know that the true worth of your travels lies not in where you come to be at the journey’s end, but who you came to be along the way.”

 

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As students across the country prepare for graduation, the above quote is one that deeply resonates with me. In fact, this quote was a constant presence in my own undergraduate journey. Once I heard it, I typed it up and printed it out to tape to the mirror in my residence hall room. It moved from room to room with me during my undergraduate journey, ragged and worn, reminding me to enjoy the journey as much as the final destination of graduation.

I stumbled upon this very worn paper last week and immediately knew I wanted to read it at the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates graduation celebration. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from the traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program.

And, while the quote above spoke to me as a traditionally-aged student going to college right after high school, I felt that this quote would even more so resonate with the non-traditional and often non-linear path of an adult learner. So I read the quote after the graduating scholars received their scholars pin to commemorate their time as a scholarship recipient. As I assumed, the quote did resonate with them and their journey to get to this week’s undergraduate commencement and it felt important to share it again in this post intended to highlight and celebrate these graduating students. As you read some of their stories I know, you too, will also understand why this quote about one’s personal journey to reach the final destination is one fitting of the returning women student’s experience.

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Returning Women Students at this year’s end of the year celebration and graduation event.

It is a joy and honor to work with these students and in my role as director of the Women’s Center, I want to invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners. Happy Graduation!!!

 

 

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Cynthia Colon,
Newcombe Scholar

My first semester at UMBC was in the Spring of 2015, and I admit I did not see a finish line in sight since I was only taking two classes. None the less I knew I would get there in time. In beginning the Social Work program, I knew the day would come where I would have to be in field two days a week but told myself I would cross that bridge when I got there. I was worried how I would be able to work to support myself and my family and attend field. In the fall of 2016, I met my boyfriend who has supported me in my journey and has been a great help with my children. In the summer of 2017, it was time to notify my supervisor that I would only be able to work three days a week. The prior year I had also passed my certified medical coder exam and thought if worse came to worse I would look for a medical coder job. To my surprise, my job worked with me and I agreed to work three ten-hour days in order to keep my benefits. I was relieved. At the end of July my family and I went on vacation to my home, Puerto Rico. A vacation I was looking forward to before starting my fall semester and my rigorous work schedule.

A few days after we returned from Puerto Rico I was not feeling myself and knew that something was not right. I took a pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant. So many things ran through my mind. Here I was, two semesters shy of graduating, something I had worked so hard for in the past two years and I was pregnant! How would I get through field, working three ten-hour days and taking a class? But I did it, and I will graduate Magna Cum Laude!! My son Aayan was born on April 9th, 2018 and I only missed that week of class. [italics are Jess’ emphasis because wow wow wow!!]

During my time at UMBC- USG campus I was part of the Social Work Student Association. I held the title as secretary for two semesters and then was elected vice president last semester. In addition, I was also a Phi Alpha Honor Society member. My plans after graduation are to continue working at my current job as a surgical scheduler. In the fall I will apply to the advanced standing Social Work program at the USG campus and go from there. As a Newcombe Scholar in the Returning Women Student Scholars program and a Kendall Scholar, I am proud to have shown my older children ages 14, 19, and 20, that it’s never too late to return to college and graduate.

Sage advice –  It is never too late to return to school and graduate. As long as you have the drive and determination you will succeed!

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Marie Pessagno,
Newcombe/Jodi Mister Scholar

My name is Marie Pessagno, and I transferred into UMBC as a full time student in 2015. I will graduate as a double major in Social Work and Gender and Women Studies, and have been accepted as a Title IV-E student in the Advanced Standing program at UMB School of Social Work. I hope to combine the two modalities that I have had the opportunity to study, as a social worker in the field of family and children with an emphasis on trauma-based recovery.

As a full-time single mother of two small girls, the thought of quitting my job and returning to school was daunting, to say the least. Through the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students program, I have been able to successfully complete my undergraduate program with an abundance of support from so many levels. I have been able to find a home within the UMBC campus that allowed me to feel as if I were a part of the college community. I have had the privilege of working for the Women’s Center this past year, helping with the Returning Women Students program which allowed me to form connections and friendships that will last outside of UMBC.

My sage advice would be to become involved on campus. There really is something here for everyone. The Women’s Center and the events hosted by the Women’s Center, are great ways to become involved and to meet and make friends on campus. The connections that I have made through the Women’s Center has totally changed my college experience, and has given me an opportunity to meet a group of diverse people that I am honored to call “lifelong friends!”

Marie was featured in UMBC’s Class of 2018 student profiles. You can read her featured profile here

Marjan Beikzadeh, Newcombe Scholar

As a returning woman early on in my college experience, I endured many hardships. Being far away from my home and living in this country all alone, there were times that these circumstances made it difficult for me to go on, and days when I thought that I would not make it another day, let alone to graduation. Graduation from UMBC was a huge challenge for me and I wanted to quit and take the easy way out. It was at this time, my second year at UMBC that I found out about Returning Women Students programming, and in their meetings I encountered other returning women students and heard about their life stories. Some of them had to work full time while attending college. Others had families to attend to while they still were responsible for their studies. And then there were those very strong women that had families to raise and jobs to work and school all at the same time. It was not until I witnessed their amazing courage and strong character that I found in myself the will and determination to go on. I realized that being so focused on myself and my situation prevented me from paying attention to the way that those women are going through the struggles that I was experiencing, in addition to holding multiple other responsibilities outside of the college.

Being in this program helped me stay motivated and appreciate the hardships and sacrifices of all the women who went through this path, and were brave enough to endure these strenuous circumstances to provide better lives for themselves and for their families. My advice would be for other returning women students to take advantage of this program while at UMBC.

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Whitney Pomeroy, 
Newcombe Scholar

When I applied to UMBC, my husband and I had a four year old daughter and a one year old son. We were trying to figure out how long it would take for me to complete my degree plus certification to get my bachelor degree and become a teacher. We were struggling to find ways to pay for everything, including tuition, on one income as I commuted almost an hour to campus. However, I knew I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a stronger role model for my kids. I started my first semester at UMBC in fall 2014, and though it’s been a long and bumpy road personally, I’m graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies, a Certificate in Elementary Education, and a GPA of 3.87! On my journey I was lucky to find the Women’s Center and the support they provided to returning women students (really to anyone who visits), in the form of encouragement, an out-of-the-way place to study or sit for a few minutes, and also financially. Now that I have completed my internship student teaching, graduation is next week and more big things lie ahead for me. We’re expecting baby number three at the beginning of July and I’m so excited to have been hired in my home county as a third grade teacher!

Looking back, my advice to returning women students is to let your challenges be your fuel and a reason to push harder toward your goals; and when you haven’t had enough sleep in weeks, stop by the Women’s Center for a cup of coffee to help compensate. As much as I hate to hear it, it applies to both good things and bad things, ‘this too shall pass’ and you’ll be better than okay.

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Congratulations to our other Returning Women Students Scholars graduating this May:

Christina Allen, Newcombe Scholar 
Samantha Bushee, Newcombe Scholar  
Desiree Porquet, Newcombe Scholar  
Mariah Rivera, Newcombe Scholar 
Emily Wolfe. Newcombe Scholar 

 

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

 

Take Back the Night 2018 Roundup!

On April 12th 2017, UMBC hosted Take Back the Night. The night began with an introduction by the emcees and march leaders, Morgan, Ellie, and Autumn, and Women’s Center staff member, Samiksha.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

After the introduction was the survivor speak-out. The speak-out is the heart and soul of Take Back the Night. 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 acknowledge your experience with others who believe and support you.

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

We then moved on to the march portion of the night, where we got loud and chanted in support of victims of sexual violence. We Believe You, an activist group dedicated to ending sexual violence, led the march, the survivor circle of care, and a private discussion in the Women’s Center following the march.

The survival circle is a new addition to Take Back the Night. At the peak of the march, everyone formed a circle around True Grit. Survivors were invited to the middle of the circle, while supporters chanted the refrain, “We see you. We believe you. You matter.” After the survival circle, the march back to Main Street commenced.

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 Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

After the march, community members got back together for some craftivism! This part of the night is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community-building between survivors and supporters alike. 

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Photo credit: Jaedon Huie

Thank you so much to everyone for a powerful and moving evening. Thank you to every survivor for sharing their story, to every ally who supported the survivors, and a special thank you to all the volunteers and We Believe You members who made TBTN possible!

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If you weren’t able to make it, here are some resources:

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is all of April and we still have many events happening throughout the month. Check out the SAAM calendar for other upcoming events you can attend!

 

What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & Why We March

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 couple of weeks. This blog focuses on the evening’s campus march against sexual violence.

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As a survivor of sexual assault, the Take Back The Night march reminds me that I’m not alone.

Mariana De Matos Medeiros, ’16, and former student staff member at the Women’s Center, said “To me, having the opportunity to speak and march at TBTN last year reminded me that I am not alone and that I can stand in my power to speak about my experience. It took me 3 years to finally speak about my assault and one of the very first times was at TBTN last year. Seeing so many gathered to support allowed me to speak and speaking has allowed me to heal.

It can be easy to blame yourself, isolate yourself, and feel like you’re the only person struggling with your healing; However, the march lets you connect with people who support you and believe you.

Sarah Lilly, a 2016 and 2017 Take Back The Night student leader says “Marching is us showing that solidarity is a verb, and it brings me great pride to feel so supported by my local UMBC community and to see the unconditional support for everyone else in our community.”

In an open letter in her school’s newspaper, survivor and student activist, Angie Epifano, recounted the aftermath of her sexual assault, namely her experience with institutional betrayal. She ended the letter with, “Silence has the rusty taste of shame.” Due to rape culture, victim blaming, a lack of support for survivors, and more, it is understandable that many survivors do not disclose their experience and sexual assault is rarely spoke of in public.

Much like the Baltimore-based Monument Quilt is creating and demanding public space for survivors to heal, Take Back the Night demands for space in which we will not be shamed into silence. Activists like Angie, the Monument Quilt creators, and YOU during the march are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed. Come see the Monument Quilt at UMBC on Tuesday, April 17th.

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Here’s some helpful information about the campus march against sexual violence to those attending Take Back the Night at UMBC: 

  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors (of all identities) of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence but the march is for EVERYONE to GET LOUD! 
  • We encourage individuals and groups to make rally signs ahead of time. Signs are a great way to show your solidarity and support while also representing your student orgs, res hall communities, and frats/sororities.
  • We’ll line everyone up in the march in waves. Survivors wanting to march up front with other survivors are invited to line up first along with other community members needed to take an accessible route march. Everyone else will then line up as survivors begin to march towards the south exit of The Commons.
  • As we march, walk slowly and stay together. Try to avoid large gaps in the line.
  • Due to construction, there will be a change in the march route this year. As we make out way through the new route we will stop midway through the march and hold our first Survivor Circle.
    • The Survivor Circle is a chance for survivors who may or may not have shared their story during the speak out to be recognized, come together, and be surrounded in support and healing by those attending the march. This is an opportunity for those who identify as survivors to come together without having to speak out or share their story if they do not wish to do so.
  • The march will end back on Main Street where the space will be ready for the evening’s resource fair and craftivism. As you’re heading back into The Commons, come all the way into Main Street so everyone else behind you can get into the space as well.
  • There will be one more chance to share your experience as a survivor post-march at a survivor discussion group led by the student organization We Believe You in the Women’s Center. (This event will be private and for survivors only).
  • 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.

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

Stay tuned for the next installment of what you need to know about TBTN 2018!