So I Hear You Care?

Sheila Suarez

A reflection from student staff member, Sheila, about the work that creates empathy.

As a social work major, I spend a lot of time thinking about empathy. Social work is a profession centered around the idea of empathy when working with individuals in need. Social workers are encouraged to find the strengths of a person and empower them to use them, while being understanding of their life experiences and point of view.

The concept of empathy is often gendered as a feminine trait, and perhaps that’s why the field is dominated by women. According to Wendy Chin-Taner, a writer for Cultural Weekly, “Empathy hinges on emotional labor. To have empathy, we have to be able to practice active listening, be reflexive, self-critical, and be able to act on constructive criticism. In our culture, women are more readily expected to practice these skills and are socialized to do more emotional labor, which is why intersectional feminism is at the forefront of social justice allyship.”

Personally, I agree with Wendy, I believe that the amount of women in social work has to do with the history of women being socialized and encouraged to be the caregivers and show intense emotions, like empathy. There have been countless passionate and driven women throughout the history of civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and social justice movements. What sets apart these women, though, is their use of radical empathy, a topic I’ll discuss later.

Empathy & Emotional Labor

According to Suzannah Weiss from Everyday Feminism emotional labor is defined as theexertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people comfortable, or living up to social expectations.” While, social workers are not the only ones that have to use emotional labor in their profession, they do understand the drain that comes from emotional labor and it is discussed frequently in classes and professional development.

As someone who works in the food industry, I know the necessity there is for servers or those working in retail need to have extreme control over their emotions when working with guests, in order to make sure the guest feel welcomed and taken care of during their time at the restaurant especially when they have a concern or complaint. Having empathy for another person (especially during a busy night at a restaurant!) can be challenging because you have to connect with someone else’s feelings and experiences, causing yourself  to have deeper understanding of your own feelings. It’s important to note that societal and gendered expectations often place a greater burden on women to do the work of emotional labor. As FEM author, Anya Bayerle states, Women are also frequently expected to appear empathetic and concerned for others while simultaneously suppressing any emotion that could be used to dismiss them as irrational or hormonal.” Often the emotional labor I practice at work is not just an industry survival skill but one that is expected of me because of my gender.

But, I want to move beyond just expectations and that’s what brings me to radical empathy.

Radical Empathy

While emotional labor is something that people often already have experience with, managing emotions in a classroom, workplace, or family setting; a newer concept is radical empathy. The first time I heard about “radical empathy,” I was confused, and oh so curious.

In recent years, I have lived my life following one tweet… yes you read that right. A tweet! I know what you are thinking… “but Sheila you don’t even have a Twitter!” ( it’s a confusing story about tumblr and screenshots, that’s not the point).

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This tweet, by this person I don’t know, changed my life.  “Don’t become who hurt you.” Based on some of my personal experience, I would have liked to become a hardened person, but I decided I wanted to be the person to lift up others. My hurt and pain does not need to become someone else’s trauma. It took a lot of emotional labor out of me to remember that in moments where I feel like I am being attacked or hurt personally, that the person doing whatever is making me feel uncomfortable might not be doing it knowingly harming me.

That they might be a person, just like me, who has dealt with trauma, has things about themselves they do not like, and has never had someone ask them “what is wrong?” instead of “what is wrong with you?”

Radical empathy is tough to define. At Stomping Ground, a summer camp that focuses on radical empathy, they define it as “actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others.” There are a few Ted Talks (see the links below) about what empathy is and how it impacts our ability to make connections with other human beings.

Radical empathy has had a huge impact on my life, shifted how I view the world, and how I interact with others. In the future, when I am a social worker, I believe it will allow me to better connect with my clients. It is not so much about putting yourself in the shoes of another person because you will never truly understand that person’s life. Radical empathy is more about striving to be with a person while they feel the feels, making sure that we understand our own judgement and challenging them so that we might accept everyone, actually where they are.

The real point is… Do you care?

 


Additional Resources for Learning about Radical Empathy:

Peter Laughter’s – Radical Empathy Ted Talk Video

Paul Parkin’s – Reimaging Empathy Ted Talk Video

Brene Brown’s Empathy Bear – Empathy Video

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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

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

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

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 

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
Samantha Bushee
Desiree Porquet
Mariah Rivera
Emily Wolfe

 

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.

 

Bodily boundaries or how the world told me I hated affection

Sydney PhillipsA blog written by student staff member Sydney about her journey with understanding bodily boundaries, consent, and the perpetuation of rape culture in society. Including tips about consent in daily life and resources to stay informed and about how to talk to kids and other adults about the issue.

 

If you would have asked me a month ago how I felt about touch and affection, I would have told you I straight up hate it. For years I’ve thought I was someone who just doesn’t want to be touched at all (I’m talking cuddling, PDA, hugging family…let alone kissing family, sitting a bit too close to someone, or OMG SHARING BEDS)… and in some ways this is still true. For example I will never want to be cuddled while I sleep. This is ME time, don’t touch me!

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BUT after some self-reflection and some therapy, I’m realizing that the issue is not that I don’t like to be touched or that I’m never okay with physical affection. It’s that I like certain forms of physical affection and I don’t have a problem telling other people what I want.

Unfortunately, other people find my self-awareness and assertiveness weird or wrong. Our society socializes women to think that we SHOULD want to be touched and that men should WANT to touch us (I’m using heteronormative terms here for a few reasons. 1. Because that’s the message I received growing up, and because society still looks at heterosexual couples as the norm, I think a lot of times this is the message many of us get and 2. Because I’m interested in the gendered understanding of this phenomena and how it creates tensions within consent discourse). If we deviate from that norm we feel like something is wrong. For example, here are some responses I’ve gotten when explaining not wanting to be touched to people: “but he’s your boyfriend” , “you’re such a dude”, “you’re cold/ cold- hearted”… the list goes on.

I’m okay with not liking certain forms of touch or affection; however other people have constantly been confused by it which led to me internalizing some of it subconsciously. People either seem to not understand my bodily boundaries, let along respect them, or think I’m weird for having any in the first place. Why is this an issue? Because it teaches us that knowing our boundaries and desires is abnormal and it ultimately reinforces rape culture. Yep, I went there.

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NOT LIKING TOUCH AT CERTAIN TIMES, IN CERTAIN WAYS, OR BY CERTAIN PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE ME COLD HEARTED, IF ANYTHING IT MEANS I AM IN TOUCH WITH MY BODY AND KNOW WHAT I LIKE AND DO NOT LIKE WHICH IS SOMETHING WE SHOULD BE TEACHING EVERYONE, FROM THE BEGINNING.

This blog came about from a mixture of therapy where I’m learning to be emotionally vulnerable (that’s a whole different blog…more like a book, though) as well as a trip to New Orleans where I had reached my limit in terms of explaining myself. While discussing the fact that I “don’t like to be touched,” someone I was with asked me:

“What happened to you as a child?”
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Here’s the short answer to that: Nothing.

Now here’s the long response.

    1. Don’t ask people this, especially people you may not know well because guess what… ? It’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
    2. This insinuates that something sexually traumatic (or at the very least physically traumatic) had to happen to me as a child, which is not only completely ignorant in the terms of this conversation but also could be retraumatizing for someone who has experienced sexual or physical harm.
    3. YOU DON’T NEED A REASON  TO PLACE BOUNDARIES ON YOUR BODY.

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This belief that someone has had to go through something traumatic in order for them to place limits on their own body and know what they like and do not like is downright harmful. It seeps into how we raise our children, how we parent our teenagers, and how we perpetuate rape culture in our lives. It is the reason why people struggle with saying or accepting “no”. No before sex, no during sex, and no in terms of things that aren’t related to sex. It is also why some people don’t understand that the lack of a no IS NOT A YES.

I mean look at the images and messages we give to kids and adults about sex and consent. We acknowledge that “no seems to mean yes” in Disney’s Hercules ( a children’s cartoon) we then reinforce this by “playfully” saying no but really meaning yes in Pitch Perfect, a movie targeted at young women and then music touches on this “I know what you really want” (go away “Blurred Lines”) narrative all the time. The Notebook, a “love story for the ages” has the man threatening to jump from a Ferris wheel if the girl doesn’t agree to a date.  And then we reach adulthood, alcohol companies market to people by hinting at roofies and being so drunk you “won’t say no”. But yet we expect people to navigate this media and know what is right and what is wrong? How?

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In order for bodily boundaries and autonomy to be realized by all people we need to consciously and actively teach consent. Consent in sex education, consent in relationships (all of them), and consent for children. In order for adults to look at people taking a stand over their body, wants, and needs, we need to teach our children that they can say no to touch at any time from any one and that they can tell us when they feel uncomfortable (I’m talking kisses, hugs, sitting on laps, and, yes, even high fives). We need to teach adults that this is okay and that affection or gratitude can be shown in other ways, and that that is normal. We need to teach children what age appropriate consensual touching looks like, yes this means SEX ED.

So what are some ways we can incorporate consent into our daily lives, parenting, and relationships? Aside from the things above about teaching consent early, here are a few tips that are helpful for me when I’m feeling frustrated…

  • Ask people before you hug someone. This may seem simple or silly but some people do not like to hug and THAT’S OKAY. Asking allows them to say no to a situation that may make them uncomfortable. They may want a high five instead. Personally, some days I want to hug and other days I don’t, especially with people I may not know very well. You can also ask for touches when you need them as well, but people still reserve the right to say no.
    • Shoutout to Reese for having this exact respectful conversation the other day. She listened, questioned, and then accepted what I had to say. And even though she may be an affectionate person, she always asks others “would you like a hug or high five” when saying hello and goodbye. sometimes people respond with neither, or how about a fist bump, and they go from there. Phrases like Would you like a hug? Is it okay to hug you? Are important and may start off awkward but get easy when we practice them regularly.

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  • Don’t be afraid to express your boundaries. I’m very open about my limits from the get go, no matter the situation. When sharing a hotel room bed (with a romantic partner, friend, classmate, etc.) for the first time, I make sure to tell them I’m not a cuddler, I explain that I may not always want to be touched to people, I explain that I don’t like to be “smothered”. I also continuously reinforce these boundaries.
    • Example: Someone touches me when I don’t want to be?  I say: “Please stop that” They don’t stop? “I’m being serious I don’t like that” Still touching? “If you touch me again I will kick you…. Guess what comes next. If I’m touched again, you got it, I kick em.

→ I realize this doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation but if you have healthy relationships and friendships I would hope you’d be able to discuss your boundaries and have them respected.

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  • Remember that consent is not just about sex, it’s not even just about affection. This is a super complex issue and there are a lot of people that we steal bodily autonomy from regularly based on their varying identities. Think about when someone touches a Black woman’s hair (don’t do that. Just don’t, even if you ask) and how that invades her right to her body and her space. Consent also isn’t always about touching, think here about Trans individuals who are constantly asked if they “got the surgery” (also don’t do this). It’s none of your business, it’s personal, it’s intimate, and a person’s gender identity/expression does not give you the green light to ask such a question.

These conversations aren’t easy because society doesn’t give us space to discuss bodies and sex, but they’re necessary and important. They may be awkward and people may not understand but that’s why we need to start teaching children at younger ages, so that there may come a time when we don’t have to continuously have these talks as adults.

Feeling overwhelmed? Confused? Or just want some more information? Check down below for a list of resources regarding consent at all ages, sexual education, and rape culture/toxic masculinity and the effect it has on both women and men

Resources:

  • Children
    • I Said No! was written by a boy named Zack and his mother to help him cope with a real-life experience and includes discussion on how to deal with bribes and threats.
    • My Body Belongs to Me, is about a child who gets touched inappropriately, so prepare to have a thoughtful conversation after reading together.
    • No Means No! stars an empowered young girl and includes a “Note to the Reader” and “Discussion Questions” to aid crucial dialogue.
  • Teens and Up
    • The Hunting Ground is a companion book to the documentary of the same name that delves into the rape culture prevalent on college campuses.
    • Sexual assault survivors from every kind of college and university and multiple backgrounds share their stories in We Believe You, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “one of the most important books of the year.”
    • Asking for It by Kate Harding explores the idea that our culture supports rapists more effectively than it supports victims.
    • Michael J. Domitrz takes a friendly, collaborative approach to the topic of express consent in Can I Kiss You?
    • Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape
  • On Teaching Consent: Ask. Listen. Respect. In the classroom. By Age, How to instill boundaries, Physical and Emotional Boundaries
  • On What Consent Means: here, here, and here
  • Sex Ed Resources: Sex Ed Rescue (Includes puberty, consent, sex, and ebooks), Lesson Plans and Legislation, For Parents, Planned Parenthood, Ability Based Sex Ed
  • On Fighting Rape Culture: What rape culture is, Steps to take, What rape culture sounds like
  • Other
    • The yes no maybe so checklist is AMAZING. It goes over all different forms of touch and asks you to rate them on if you like it, don’t like it, or could maybe be into it. You can even rank things as hard or soft limits and discuss how they may vary depending on the situation.
    • The Hunting Ground: Documentary on Netflix. This exposé tackles the disturbing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and school officials’ efforts to cover up the crimes.
    • The Mask You Live In Documentary on Netflix. The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence.
    • The Women’s Center’s Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence Workshop (Check MyUMBC for events next semester)

 

Makeup Microaggressions: Let Me Wear My Full-Face Makeup in Peace

Samiksha Manjani Student staff member, Samiksha Manjani, takes a deeper look at the impact of makeup microaggressions.

I normally hate getting ready to go out with girls; or well, I hate putting on my makeup in front of other girls. Instead, I’ll put it on in my own house and then go to my friend’s house to “get ready” aka just to put on a dress. I started to do this after having the same interaction time after time with various friends. It goes something like this:

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Me standing in front of the mirror, happily doing my sparkly silver smokey eye, tongue out (because you can never put mascara on with a closed mouth).

“Wow! your eyeshadow looks amazing!”

“Thank you!! I really like smokey eyeshadow looks.” At this point, I’m feeling super awesome about how I’m looking and my makeup when…

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t even know how to put on makeup. I just do whatever, you know. I don’t even wear makeup,” she says dismissively.

Aaaaaand there it is.

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Her comment may seem like an honest admission of not knowing how to put on makeup, but it’s not that simple; especially when I’ve gotten similar responses from other girls. If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, allow me to explain: this “compliment” implies that she is somehow better than me because she doesn’t wear or know how to put on makeup; this insinuates that I need makeup because I’m not confident enough to go without it. Simply put, if I wear makeup, I’m not naturally attractive enough.

What makes the situation worse is that, at that moment, I can feel the need to justify myself building up. I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I also know that my decision to wear or not to wear makeup doesn’t make me any more or less of a woman, but instead I say,  

“Oh, yeah I mean I don’t really know how to put on makeup either. I barely wear it…”

Knowing damn well I’m lying. I didn’t watch countless MUA (“makeup artist”) Instagram and Youtube videos to act like I didn’t know how to put on makeup. Plus, my friend had the sharpest winged eye I had ever seen. How could she say she didn’t know how to put on makeup?

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Other times, especially when I’m talking to guys about makeup, they’ll say, “Oh! I like you better without makeup” or “You look better than girls who wear makeup, I don’t like girls that cake on.”

Am I supposed to say thanks?

To be clear, I’m perfectly happy with the way I look when I wear makeup and when I don’t. I don’t think my value is somehow better or worse depending on whether I wear makeup. Likewise, I don’t think I’m suddenly better than other girls because of my decision to wear or not to wear makeup. Some days I just want to sparkle (literally)!

After having the same exact encounter time after time, and being inadvertently shamed for knowing how to do my makeup… I stopped going to get ready at my girlfriends. I stopped feeling comfortable in what was supposed to be an empowering environment.

Why couldn’t I enjoy putting on a full face some days and having a fresh face on others?

It may seem really small or that I’m being overly sensitive, but that’s exactly how microaggressions make you feel. A microaggression is a negative statement directed at a subordinated group; it can be intentional or unintentional. Although microaggressions are essentially micro, their accumulated impact can be quite large (here’s a video to better explain). At the Women’s Center, we like to refer to the impact of microaggressions as a “death by a thousand cuts.” The first time you experience a microaggression, it may not get you down too much, but after hearing either the same one or similar ones so many times, it’ll get to you.

It’s not just the microaggression itself that hurt, the hurt doubled because it was coming from other women. Women that should have been allies. I couldn’t understand,

Why were women perpetuating these unrealistic dichotomies onto each other? Why couldn’t we both be great in whatever we were doing?

I realized that these microaggressions between women were essentially internalized sexism caused by heterosexist patriarchy. Under patriarchal norms, women’s value is dependent on their attractiveness to men. As feminist theorists suggest, when women internalize heterosexist patriarchy and associate their source of worth, identity, and strength with men, they’re compelled to compete with each other for the attention of men. Essentially, we turn on each other when our value is tied to men.

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However, we don’t have succumb to it.  Maybe instead of feeling intimidated by women who inspire us, we could feel empowered by them.

I recently came upon Shine Theory at the Women’s Center and think it’s a phenomenal way to reframe female competitiveness. Created by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Shine Theory prescribes that “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her.”’ Friedman and Sow contest that “surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

When we apply Shine Theory to the makeup debacle, we can acknowledge if our friend is better at something than us, but also that it doesn’t reflect a deficit in ourselves. Maybe I did know how to do a smokey eyeshadow look when my friend didn’t, and that doesn’t mean I have to use makeup to feel more attractive. Likewise, her decision to not wear makeup doesn’t mean that she is inherently more attractive, valuable, or confident than me. Wearing makeup skillfully doesn’t add or detract value from a person. It just means you wear makeup. 

So the next time you’re around a powerful woman that you perceive is rocking something better than you, befriend them instead of feeling self-conscious.

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What are Pop Culture Pop Ups?! The Golden Globes: Black Out and Oprah

Sydney Phillips

A blog post written by student staff member, Sydney.

 

It’s official! The Women’s Center has a new ongoing event starting this spring semester. What is it you ask?

Pop Culture Pop Ups!

You’re probably wondering, “What the heck is a Pop Culture Pop Up?” Well, that’s what I’m here to explain.

If you frequent the Women’s Center you know that it is often a space for spontaneous discussion with others regarding shared interests (about life, events,  and school to include the awesome, the good, the bad, and the frustrating – and more!). The energy and critical dialogue that comes from these conversations are what make the Women’s Center the Women’s Center and we wanted to nourish more of these moments by carving out time for more intentional dialogue surrounding both fun and serious topics that come up in our daily lives. Hence, the pop up of these Pop Culture Pop Ups.

We envision these pop ups will create a space for anyone who is on campus and wants to discuss an event, movement, hashtag (and more!) that has gotten huge attention or gone viral to come to the Women’s Center and have a brave space to discuss their feelings, reactions, and ideas linked to the topic. Of course, we’ll make sure to talk about how these pop culture moments intersect with gender and women’s issues, feminism, and social justice. Yet, unlike many of the other events that we hold in the Women’s Center, there won’t be a planned agenda, prepared questions, or a panel of experts and practitioners to guide the conversation.

Essentially, our plan is to take the conversations we notice people are often having on social media and make them into IRL conversations! We may do a bit of background research or read an article that shows up on our Facebook, but this is really a space for raw, immediate reactions to what it happening in a fun and thoughtful way with other people on want to engage in a conversation around the same topic.  That’s why our Pop Ups won’t come with a “save the date.” While they will be held on Wednesdays at free hour, they will be spur of the moment decisions (get it, Pop Ups?) in reaction to an event. This means we we could decide to have one the Sunday before or Tuesday night so check our social media for updates!

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Some of you may still be confused about what it is we’d talk about or what is considered pop culture, and the ambiguity is kind of the beauty of it (it can really be anything), but it may help to have an example.

A Pop Up we would have loved to have, but unfortunately weren’t able to because of winter break was all things Golden Globes. From the second I heard about #TimesUp and the #whywewearblack Black Out/ Protest, I was hooked and invested. This is something I wanted to discuss and dissect with others. Who was involved in the decision? Did everyone wear black? What is the point? These would all be questions that would definitely come up in a Pop Up.

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Hollywood showed up in black this year at the Golden Globes.       Photo Credits: Getty/WireImage

If you watched the show, or saw any of the coverage after the fact, you’d know that almost everyone did indeed wear black, but you also would have seen the backlash about why this form of protest just wasn’t good enough. Wearing black isn’t that hard-especially for men, said some while others said that a better idea would be to protest the event all together. Not only did the dress-code come under fire, but so did the men (and some women) who showed up wearing black and the Times Up pin. What about the actors and actresses that are wearing black but work with Woody Allen or other stars that are being held accountable? What does wearing black do when you’re still silent about sexual violence and believing survivors in your daily life as well as career? I know these questions flew around my head and basically everyone’s on the internet. I wish we could have had a Pop-Up to really reflect on how we were feeling post black-out. I still don’t know how I feel about the whole thing. I love the men and women who came out to support, I love that a lot of them made donations and brought activists as their dates, and I love that we’re finally TALKING ABOUT IT…. but I also ask, is it enough? This is why Pop Ups are important. They’ll come together fast, bring us together about current issues, and let us digest these potentially confusing emotions and reactions.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

While the Blackout is something that could take up a whole Pop Up on its own there was another highlight of the night that we would have LOVED to talk about. You guessed it folks — OPRAH!

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Me listening to Oprah’s speech!

Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement (the first Black woman to do so) and delivered a speech that BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. She discussed growing up and representation in the media, people who took a chance on her and how that led to success in her career, her value of the press and the pursuit of the truth, the sexual violence in the entertainment industry and beyond, and the women who are speaking up.

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It was moving, brought tears to my eyes, had me fist-pumping, and cheering her on (I encourage you to watch it here). I wish I would have had the chance to see how others felt in person rather than on Facebook and tumblr, especially with so many mixed feelings surrounding the activism at the Golden Globes. Not only could we have discussed this epic speech, but we could also unpack the public’s call for a presidential run and what that really means. Should Oprah run? Some say HELL YEAH, others think she’s just another billionaire and we should support other Black women who are already in politics, while others are saying no more to celebrity presidents. There’s a lot more to unpack here in terms of politics, who we support, and how the institution (both Hollywood and politics) may be changing.

Discussions about how we feel in the present as well as how we move forward in the future about this moments in time are important to have and that’s why the Women’s Center will be bringing you these Pop Culture Pop Up moments.

To stay informed about when Pop-Ups will happen make sure to follow us on myUMBC, Facebook and Twitter. Also follow us on Snapchat (@womencenterumbc) where we will be posting more about daily happenings in the Women’s Center.

If there’s something that comes up over the next semester you want to talk about, be sure to let the Women’s Center staff know (you can also use the hashtag #WCPopUp). It just may become the next Pop Culture Pop-Up! 

 

For more on the Blackout:

On why it’s about more than a dress

On what it means for designers

For more on Times Up:

On the Time’s Up Movement

On how #METOO and Time’s Up relate

For more on Oprah’s Speech:

On Black women being the “clean up” crew for America- and why that’s a problem

On the “missed point” of the speech

(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!

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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!

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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!