Feminist Friendships

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

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

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

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

The personal is political… and the political is personal

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

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

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

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

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

Shine theory

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

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

Seriously take like 15 seconds to meditate on that.

Alright, now you can come back to me.

Didn’t that make you feel shiny?

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

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

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

GWST-ers 4 Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

More resources, if you’re interested:

Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life”

Dan Willey, “Gay Hair”

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

Cori Wong, “Feminist Friendship” TEDxCSU

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



Stories from Survivors – Kayla Smith

We see you. We believe you. You matter.


“What would it mean to survivors for  the entire campus community to be behind them in their healing? What would it mean for survivors that the care we give to them is not limited to the few on campus either whose job it is to do this work, or who have taken a special, personal interest in it?”*

The Women’s Center has meant a lot to many alumni and we have their continued support for this season’s fundraising campaign. For Black and Gold Rush, we were lucky to chat with former (and current) community members about all of the ways the Women’s Center has been a useful and meaningful resources. Take some time to hear from Kayla Smith, a recent graduate, and ambassador for our Grit Starter Campaign for Survivors of Sexual Violence, and get some insight into why the Women’s Center was a big part of her UMBC experience! 


kaylstaffshotName – Kayla Smith

UMBC Major/ Minor – Interdisciplinary Studies – Public Health Advocacy

Hometown – Laurel, Maryland

Current Job Title/ Employer – J.D. Candidate (Law school student)

How did your time at the UMBC Women’s Center support your current work or career path? Working at the Women’s Center gave me a framework to explain and further understand the importance of intersectional activism and feminism when I approach a particular issue in the law.

How would you describe your UMBC experience? I loved being at UMBC. I made my best friends and had some of my most personally rewarding experiences while I was there.

DSC_3426 - Kayla Smith

Share a special moment from your time in the Women’s Center. How did it shape your experience as a survivor? After I led my second Take Back the Night march, I was approached by multiple women who told me that they were able to share their stories and process what happened to them because of my bravery and courage in sharing my own experiences with trauma and recovery. To me, that was the most rewarding experience because it reminded me why my work with the Women’s center was so important.


Kayla! Thank you for your bravery, for sharing your story, and for being a lifelong supporter of our mission!

UMBC Giving Day Black and Gold Rush is an inspiring example of what the UMBC community can accomplish together. If you would like to support survivors of sexual violence at UMBC, and build a coalition of supportive allies, consider giving to the Women’s Center’s GritStarter campaign during UMBC’s Giving Day this February 28th. 


(No Longer) Returning Women Students: The Final Chapter – Graduation!

On the eve of UMBC’s undergraduate commencement, we are thinking of all the graduating seniors out there who finally made it the finish line. Congrats!

We’re especially proud of the graduating students we work with through the Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program and want to shout your success from the rooftops! Since the Women’s Center is located on the ground floor of The Commons, though, we’ll exchange the rooftop for our blog.

The Women’s Center is proud to support the Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program for 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. Returning women students (or you may have also heard the term “adult learner” or “non-traditional”) not receiving a scholarship are still welcomed (and highly encouraged) to participate in our events that are open to any adult learner at UMBC. Students can also participate in our program more fully as an affiliate. For more information, visit our website.

But, enough shameless plugging, onto celebrating our graduates!

We reached out to each student graduating tomorrow and asked them to write a short paragraph about what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners. Here’s what they had to say!


Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates at the end of the year graduation celebration and pinning. This has become a special tradition of our program where each scholar + affiliate receives a purple paw print pin they can wear at graduation to represent their membership in the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program.


wc17_228Meriam Bahta
Despite the fact I only had an eighth grade level of education when I moved to the U.S., with hard work I put in and ambition I carried with me, I earned my certificate in just one year while working 30 hours a week to support myself. I subsequently enrolled in Montgomery Community College for two years. In the fall 2015, I transferred to UMBC with a GPA of 3.80. I am now graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in physics. Last summer, I participated in a summer internship program at the National Cancer Institute of the NIH and I had an amazing experience. Since I extremely enjoy my lab courses, I always thought that I would be good at research and my experiences at the NIH has truly showed me that research is where I thrive, and I would love to engage in research during my gap year before I enroll in medical school by the fall of 2019. As a returning woman student, I consider my unfortunate circumstances and struggles as the driving forces behind all my achievements. If it wasn’t for all the responsibilities, which includes caring and supporting my mother and four younger siblings, I juggled while going to school full time, I would not be the strong person I am today.

My sage advice is this: The Women’s Center is a great place to connect with other returning women students and to get inspired by their stories. I highly recommend taking advantage of the different events.


Parents Club - Fall 2017Janiqua Dunn
My name is Janiqua and I transferred here to UMBC in Fall of 2015. I’m graduating with my B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. During what now seems like such a short time here, I got involved in a ton of things! My largest and most long-term commitment was co-founding and serving on the executive board of the Parents Club, which we started in Spring 2016. I started off as the Secretary and I am now the Vice President. We started the Parents Club to provide a space and support system for UMBC students who also have children, and so far it has been a success! It’s been such a great feeling to be a part of that! Outside of that, I have served as a Student Ambassador, Research Lab Assistant, Writing Fellow (for the Psych department), and I’ve taken on a number of internships, both on and off campus. This all in addition to raising my 5- and 6-year-old sons! Plans for after graduation are to land a full-time job and begin my Masters within the next year or two.

My sage advice is this: If you’re a student parent, join the Parent’s Club! You can find out more about this student organization at their myUMBC group.


emmaEmma Matthews
My name is Emma Matthews. I’m a Richard & Roselyn Neville Scholarship recipient. In the last 4 years at UMBC I have been a McNair Scholar and a member of the Honors College. I have developed and presented research in psychology regarding stress and oppression in college students with Dr. Shawn Bediako’s lab, and I interned at the Special Victim’s Unit at the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office. I have been accepted into the University of Baltimore for their Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice and Trauma Informed Certificate Programs and am awaiting news on acceptance, stipends and assistance-ships from two other graduate schools. I intend to focus on victim services and domestic violence issues.

My sage advice is this: It’s not easy being a first generation, non-traditional student, but I think that every student at UMBC faces their own unique challenges. Gratitude and humility will help you take inventory of what you have and what you need, and carry you through each new obstacle.


LTLindsey Titus
Lindsey Titus transferred from CCBC (Essex) to UMBC in the fall of 2015. I have been involved with Tau Sigma, a national honor society for transfer students, and was president of the UMBC chapter last year. I also held positions in the Sociology department, such as a peer mentor and grader. For the past two semesters, I was a part of the Accelerated Graduate Program in Applied Sociology, taking two graduate classes along with my undergrad coursework. Last spring, I was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa, one of the oldest honor societies. I am graduating summa cum laude with a double-major in Sociology and Anthropology with a minor in Management of Aging Services. I am excited to continue my journey at UMBC in the spring, working on my Master’s in Applied Sociology.

My sage advice is this: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for assistance if you need it. I have found that my professors can be understanding to plights occurring outside of their classrooms. Whether I spoke to them after class or during a visit to their offices, I usually felt better about having my feet solidly on the ground for my education. I guess that’s why I’m sticking to these professors for grad school! Also, Jess and the Women Center are the best. It was always a treat to visit the Center, even if I didn’t get to visit very often. It was the one place on campus that felt like a warm and welcome hug when you opened their door. And we can always use an extra hug sometimes!

Big congrats to Sungeun Oller and Lily Glushakow-Smith who are also members of the  Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program graduating this December!

So while these students will no longer to “returning” to campus as undergrad students after tomorrow, we welcome you back as alumnae! In addition to celebrating these students, we hope hearing their stories will provide encouragement to other students still working towards their degree. You can do it!


At the Returning Women Students End of Year Celebration and Graduation Pinning!

Look out for our full list of Returning Women Students events later in January. We host events each month. Additionally, Returning Women Student Scholarship applications will be available beginning in early January! 

Women are Funny, TOO or “Why do we have to keep writing these posts?”

A team effort by some of the Women’s Center staff!

So in 2015, UMBC brought Hannibal Buress to campus as our homecoming comedian. We rejoiced. We love him as Lincoln in Broad City, we appreciate his stalwart bend toward social justice, and he’s hella funny.

We were ALSO frustrated. For every UMBC Homecoming comedy event, we have invited men. Nick Offerman. B.J. Novak. Bo Burnham. Donald Glover. Lewis Black.  Hannibal Burress. All funny folk, but also male folk. And we’re not trying to pretend this is an issue isolated to UMBC. The general global representation of women in comedy is dismal. So at the time, we wrote it out and we compiled a list of awesome women in comedy with the hopes that someone at UMBC would say, “Oh wow. Sexism. It exists here, too. You know what would exemplify our campus values of inclusive excellence and commitment to diversity? A lady!”

Unfortunately, our naive hopes were dashed again this year. Trevor Noah is coming.

Don’t get us wrong, Trevor Noah is a cool dude. But he’s a cis male dude.

A dude who is critical of oppression and injustice, but also one who has a past that includes some disturbing episodes of sexism.

So again, the Women’s Center is dusting off its trusty soapbox and presents our dear readers with a humble compilation of awesome comedians who also just so happen to be women. ❤

Aparna Nancherla – Amelia’s Pick


Maybe she’s born with it, maybe she’s born into a societal prison of impossible standards.

– Aparna Nancherla,  “Just Putting It Out There”

Aparna is a comic that has been all up in my social media feeds, podcasts, and Netflix-ing, so I decided to check her out—and now I love her and am a huge fan.

Aparna is a stand-up comedian. She recently released her debut album, “Just Putting It Out There” (the first release on Tig Notaro’s new comedy label Bentzen Ball Records), which I can’t recommend enough. Her subject matter is dry, observational stuff, but she’s also just goofy and off-kilter. She talks a lot about being a woman, a woman of color, a woman with anxiety and depression, and all of these things at once (that’s called intersectional humor, friends). At one point she describes her anxiety as a really bad, but enthusiastic improv group who keep taking suggestions from a sadistic audience—and that description is the closest anyone has ever come to defining what my anxiety is.

Aparna is a writer and performer on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, has done work on Master of None and Bojack Horseman, can be heard on a whole bunch of big popular podcasts, has features in really notable papers and magazines, and has opened for numerous big names like John Oliver, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Kristen Schaal, and Hari Kondabolu (just to name some of my favorite folks).

Her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are LI-HIT. She is very awesome, and I hope you also check out the video below.

Kristen Becker – Marie’s Pick


In 2006, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with Kristen Becker while she was performing in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a Dykes of Hazard Tour.  She has been named “One of America’s Funniest Lesbians” by CURVE magazine, and has opened for national comedy acts, and even for Ani DiFranco.

Not only is Becker hilarious, she works extremely hard as an LGBTQ activist and supporter of social justice.  While touring with her current project “Loosen the Bible Belt,” she was able to successfully complete her first “Summer of Sam” endeavor in her hometown of Providence Rhode Island.  If you have a few minutes to check out her comedy…do it..it will be worth your time!

Samantha Bee – Hannah’s Pick


The first version of this post pointed to a gender disparity in comedy on a level greater than UMBC—there were no female late-night talk show hosts. But even though we are still writing this article, progress is being made; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee broke that glass ceiling in February 2016 with Bee as the creator, writer, executive producer, and host. Before that, she was the longest tenured correspondent for The Daily Show, and was the only woman for five years before being joined by Kristen Schaal (who is another great woman in comedy you should definitely check out).

In addition to her humor, I love the fact that she uses her platform as a woman in a male-dominated field to do good for others. In hiring writers, she and the producers set up a blind process which hid the gender, race, and experience level of the applicants. As a result, the writing staff is about 50% female and 30% non-white. Additionally, proceeds from the show’s merchandise go to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Karam Foundation, Distributing Dignity, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Hispanic Federation

Negin Farsad – Sydney’s Pick

negin20farsad20promo20photoI first came across Negin when researching many, many women for this post. I was instantly intrigued with the short clip I saw in which she made jokes about dating while being Muslim and her mother’s expectations of her as a Muslim woman. Negin considers herself a social justice comedian who uses her platform to discuss pressing issues in a way that makes them easier to talk about and get a dialogue started. She was named one of the Funniest Women of 2015 by the Huffington Post and one of the 10 Best Feminist Comedians by Paper Magazine. Due to her work in social justice through comedy she was also named a TEDFellow (watch her TED talk here), has written for major networks, published a book, and hosts a podcast. She also has a documentary, The Muslims are Coming, which follows comedians across America as they try to combat issues of Islamaphobia while facing backlash from both non-Muslims and Muslims throughout.


Leslie Knope (AKA Amy Poehler) – Jess’s Pick


Okay, I know Leslie Knope isn’t a real person. Amy Poehler is the real person who makes Leslie Knope come alive on a regular basis in my living room via Parks and Rec. This show makes me laugh and rejuvenates my soul after a long work day. Leslie is also present in the Women’s Center, because she makes me giggle in my office when I’m looking for the perfect reaction gif (almost always from Parks and Rec) to send in an email.

Thank you, Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler.


Ellen DeGeneres – Samiksha’s Pick


I really struggled to think of female comedians when I was asked to write about them, my mind was blank. That is until I watched an episode of Ellen interviewing Michelle Obama, and it clicked. Ellen is definitely a female comedian, but sometimes we forget because she’s become so ingrained in our lives. She’s the funny best friend we’ve always wanted and the big sister that always makes us feel better when we’re down.

The Ellen show has been airing new episodes since September of 2003 and still going strong. That’s 14 years, and most of my life.  What’s great about her humor, in the words of Barack Obama, is that it “has a way of making you laugh about something, rather than at someone.” Ellen’s humor doesn’t need to put anyone down to get a laugh out of you, and trust me, she will have you laughing till you cry. After watching her show, I guarantee you will have a smile on your face as I always have.

On top of that, Ellen is a prominent humanitarian. Ellen has used her show as a major platform to do humanitarian work; she has given away more than $50 million dollars on her show to various causes. She has been involved with causes like fighting breast cancer, Hurricane Katrina disaster effort, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, and for families struggling economically. It’s hard not to find something to love about Ellen!

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! Who are the funny women you would add to the list? Let us know by commenting on our social media pages.


Honoring our graduating UMBC moms, parents, and returning students

GiveCorps WHM 1

With Mother’s Day still in the air and with UMBC’s 50th Commencement quickly approaching, the Women’s Center is reflecting with immense pride on all of the UMBC mothers and parents who have passed through our doors, used our services, and who have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Our moms and parents, whether they are a part of the Returning Women Student Scholars Programs, use the lactation room, or just come in to the Center to hang out, exemplify the eponymous “grit” that is so integral to UMBC’s identity. UMBC moms balance an enormous amount of responsibilities as they work to advance their careers. From partners to full time jobs and from children to parents in need, moms returning to UMBC face unique challenges and require unique support.

Being a parent and being a university student are often identities that are invisible. As most traditional students create their schedules and hope to get into a class with their favorite professor, UMBC moms and parents are striving to create a schedule that enables them to balance family, school, work, and their own self-care. The Women’s Center is a place where we strive to honor the complexities of being a parent and a student through supportive and dynamic services. Our moms and parents have access to scholarships, professional development workshops, our lactation room, and 1-1 support services.

This Mother’s Day the Women’s Center is proud to recognize the mothers and parents who are a part of the UMBC community and who we are honored to serve everyday. As this year comes to a close, please consider making a donation to the Women’s Center in honor of our 25th Anniversary. Your gift goes on to support UMBC moms and make our services even better. 

Give today, and help us support our UMBC moms, parents, and returning students.

Check out the stories of two of our graduating Returning Women Scholars on UMBC News:

Erin Callahan and Natacha Ngea.

Women’s Center 25 Then vs. Now: Take Back the Night Flyers

WC 25 Logo - PurpleThe Women’s Center at UMBC turns 25 this year! We’re excited to share our important milestone with UMBC’s 50th Anniversary and will be celebrating throughout the year with the rest of campus! We were inspired by Special Collections archival project Archives Gold: 50 Objects for UMBC’s 50th and decided to do our own digging into the Women’s Center archives. Over the course of the year, we’ll be sharing 25 “Then vs Now” archives to celebrate the origin and evolution of the Women’s Center at UMBC.

This week we’re featuring event flyers from of our Take Back the Night. 

Since Take Back the Night 2017 just happened a few weeks ago, the experience may be fresh in many of our minds. As social media and technology has enhanced over the past several years, it’s always interesting looking back at old event flyers and Take Back the Night is no different! As we’ve been diving over the archives this past year, it’s neat to see the ways in which promoting Take Back the Night has evolved. From basic event flyers to hashtags and geofilters, the importance of getting students to this critical event remains constant.


One of our first TBTN flyers from 1991. 



Take Back the Night 2003


A last minute advertisement located in The Retriever Weekly in 2003



One of the newer TBTN flyers from 2016. 



This year Kayla Smith shows off our newest flyer and logo! Kayla-ception via SnapChat!!

You can learn more about the history of Take Back the Night at UMBC by checking out our recent blog post on just that!

What are the memories you have of the Women’s Center over the years that are meaningful to you? What does the Women’s Center mean to you today? Share your memories and pictures with us in the comment section below!

Stay up-to-date with our 25th anniversary on social media using #UMBCWC25. Share your Women’s Center experiences and memories with the UMBC community using #UMBCWC25 AND #UMBC50!