Joining the History of Feminist Activism

Kate Drabinski is a lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and director of the WILL Program at UMBC.

Kate Drabinski, UMBC (square)Most students who enroll in my course, Studies in Feminist Activism, expect to learn about the history of feminism and feminist movements. We do that, sure, but the course also encourages students to see themselves as activists, as part of the history of feminist activism. They do so by organizing activist projects addressing issues they are personally passionate about that affect their communities, from UMBC to their hometowns, Maryland to the globe. As a teacher, it is incredibly exciting to see what UMBCers can do when given the time and space to figure out what making a difference means to them. 

Students reflect on their projects–what worked, what didn’t, what they’d do differently should they do a similar project again–and post them to a course blog that serves as a permanent archive of what students imagine as “activism” and how they become activists themselves. Check out their final projects at

Contact the author, Kate Drabinski, at

Global Leadership Starts Here

Romy Hübler (Language, Literacy & Culture), Doaa Rashed (Language, Literacy & Culture) and Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez (Biological Sciences) are UMBC doctoral students. All hold, or have held, leadership positions in UMBC’s Graduate Student Association.

Earlier this year UMBC joined the Public Sector University Consortium of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by the U.S. Department of State and the Seven Sisters Colleges and now housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  The Women in Public Service Project empowers, connects and mobilizes the next generation of women around the world to address critical public issues.

Romy HublerRomy describes UMBC’s involvement with the Women in Public Service Project:

UMBC has taken an active role in the WPSP by showcasing and providing developmental opportunities for graduate students. At the WPSP conference on “Conflict Transformation Through Economic Development and Innovation” at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell this summer, Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez and Erika Nesvold (Physics) gave short TED-style research presentations as part of theSharing STEM session. Doaa Rashed and I served as facilitators for the session on The Material Basis of Violence Against Women and Engaging Men in Promoting Change.The conference included women leaders from the U.S., Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Liberia, and Turkey.

WPSP UN PanelLast month, WPSP presented “A Global Conversation: Why the UN Must Focus on Women’s Leadership” at Barnard College in New York City. Three of us (Doaa, Nandadevi and I) made the trip, sponsored by the UMBC Graduate School’s Graduate Student Development Unit. The panel featured Dr. Debora Spar, President of Barnard College; Jane Harman, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center; Wafa Taher Bugaighis, Deputy Foreign Minister, Libya; Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, UN; Melanee Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women; and Kimberly Marten, Professor of Political Science, Barnard College.

Doaa RashedDoaa reflects:

The panelists discussed diverse contexts in which global women leaders have assessed societal needs and provided long-term sustainable solutions to local problems. Their examples illustrated that women are not only capable of making important contributions, but that they have  already been practicing leadership across the globe. The question that arose is: “what is next?” The panel addressed this question by calling all women leaders to promote and support emerging leaders as they find their paths into public service, which will create the space for empowerment. As President of UMBC’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) , I have a great opportunity to interact with graduate students and help address their concerns about leadership skills, a topic often overlooked in the curriculum. As a response to such need, the GSA started a new Graduate Student Leadership Committee (GSLC) where graduate student leaders work together to identify their leadership needs and develop training workshops and seminars to address those needs. Another goal of this committee is to put committee members in leadership positions as they support fellow graduate students. For me, working with the GSA Executive Board and the Office of Graduate Student Life (OGSL) has helped me see team leadership in action where leaders work together to build a strong graduate student community. Leadership is ours if we choose it and it is through self-efficacy and strong belief in our strength that we can reach this goal.

Maria Nandadevi Cortes RodriguezNandadevi reflects:

Listening to the panelists, I realized that women leaders have many good intentions to end some of our contemporary social challenges, such as poverty, illiteracy, hunger, discrimination, violence and a lack of access to resources including health, shelter, sanitation or water. Unfortunately, they often encounter difficulties when they attempt to change the mentalities of more traditional leaders. In order to achieve prosperity, it is essential that men and women work together and treat every human being with the same rights. Reaching powerful leadership roles has not been easy. I admire all those brave women before me who stood up for their ideals and who fought to vote, study, or even access health care. As a biologist, my research focuses on the genetics of birds and how these genetic changes are related to past and present climatic events; eventually, these results can be used in areas such as conservation and healthy wildlife populations. As a member of PROMISE AGEP, I have been involved in different workshops and panels that promote student success and leadership not only at UMBC, but recently in Puerto Rico, with the Writing for Publication workshop. Finally, as a teacher I have interacted with girls of different cultures and environments and I always like to emphasize that as women we are the foundation of society and that a society will evolve only if we have integrity and values to overcome difficulties.

Romy reflects:

Listening to the global women leaders at the WPSP UN panel was truly inspirational. Their stories illustrated the successful entry of women into powerful leadership positions on a global scale. At the same time, we can hardly speak of equal representation. In the United States, women occupy 98 of 535 seats in Congress, 20 of 100 in the Senate, and 78 of 435 in the House of Representatives. Considering Melanee Verveer’s remarks that “no country can get ahead with half of its people behind,” I wonder how the United States can continue to make valuable democratic contributions when not even twenty percent of its government consists of women? As an organizer, I know that change is a slow and at times painful process. To stay committed, we need to celebrate successes, reflect on challenges, and continuously remind ourselves that equal participation is necessary to understand, discuss, and work toward posing and solving societal and global issues from a variety of perspectives.

UMBC WPSP Participants

 Contact the authors: Romy Hübler at, Doaa Rashed at, and Maria Nadadevi Cortes Rodriguez at

Taking a Stand against Street Harassment: WILL Chalk Out

eMaureen Evans Arthurs 2013cMaureen Evans Arthurs ’13, Gender and Women’s Studies, serves on the National Student Advisory Council for the American Association of University Women.

“Why don’t you show us what’s underneath that towel, baby?”

I heard this shouted from a car of four young men, no older than 19, hanging out the window, being obnoxious. I had been walking home alone one summer afternoon after swim practice in my suburban neighborhood and immediately looked around to see if anyone else was walking near me when I realized I was alone, ashamed, and powerless. I’d like to think if I had been older, I would have been less afraid or maybe even shouted something back. But I was 13, relatively quiet, and awkwardly uncomfortable in most settings, let alone one I had just been harassed in. Back then, I never realized there was a term for what I had experienced (street harassment) nor that there was an impending movement to educate about it and eradicate it.

This was the start of a personal story I shared on the AAUW Community blog in recognition of Meet Us on the Street, an annual week of anti-street-harassment activism, held April 7–13 this year. The campaign serves as a platform for activism, discussions and demonstrations around the world, for women and men to advocate for safer spaces that are free of catcalling, groping and lewd gestures. At UMBC, the group WILL (Women Involved in Learning and Leadership) hosted Chalk Outs and conducted a survey to gauge students’ perceptions of safety and street harassment on campus.

Diane Nnaemeka writes, “Calling me sweet cheeks ain’t cute.” Photo by Maureen Evans Arthurs

Diane Nnaemeka writes, “Calling me sweet cheeks ain’t cute.” Photo by Maureen Evans Arthurs

[Read more…]

I Am an Activist

Trishia Domingo ’14, Information Systems, is secretary for UMBC’s Information Systems Council of Majors, vice president for the Information Systems Security Association, and practice manager for the club field hockey team.

Trishia DomingoI created this video for my Studies in Feminist Activism class (GWST 200). We were given the options to create a digital story that describes our relationship to activism, our identity as an activist, or the story of an activist that we find inspiring. Our instructor, Kate Drabinski, wants to have an archive of digital stories to showcase how UMBC students see themselves as activists. I wanted to share my story because I always saw the term “activist” as ambiguous and I knew that I was not the only one who felt this way.

Contact the author, Trishia Domingo, at

Women in Science: Get Used to It

Emily Scheerer ’14, computer science, is a CWIT Scholar and Technology Editor for The Retriever Weekly. Abigail Williams ’14, chemical engineering, is the president of the UMBC chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Recently, the author of the popular blog “I fucking love science” (with more than 4 million Facebook followers) created a Twitter account and asked readers for suggestions about other scientists with Twitter accounts she could follow. Instead of answers to her question, Elise Andrew (yes, she’s female) got snarky responses expressing surprise that  that she was a woman, and even more shockingly, an attractive woman. Many of her Facebook followers leaped to her defense. Elise Andrew replied with a tweet saying, “EVERY COMMENT on that thread is about how shocking it is that I’m a woman! Is this really 2013?”

[Read more…]

Sharing Stories of Feminist Activism

Kate Drabinski is a lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and director of the WILL Program at UMBC.

Kate Drabinski, UMBCOne of the core courses for majors in UMBC’s Gender and Women’s Studies program is our Studies in Feminist Activism class, and it makes sense that we would ask all students to take this one.

After all, our program is the result of steady and dedicated activists inside and outside the academy who insisted—and still do—that human knowledge demands that all voices, experiences, research questions, answers, and ideas be heard. Gender and women’s studies programs, teachers, and students have always been “breaking ground,” and this course makes that explicit, teaching students histories of feminist activism in many arenas, from 19th century labor politics to today’s struggles for public housing and community justice.

This semester, with a BreakingGround course grant, the class is using digital tools to tell the stories of UMBC’s newest feminist activists. Our students have started a blog exploring their own relationships to activism and telling the stories of activists who inspire them. Other students are producing short digital stories that also will be featured on the blog. Later in the semester, students will use these digital tools to share their experiences in organizing their own projects on and off campus, and to tell the histories of important activist movements that still resonate today.

The students’ blog will become a permanent home for Studies in Feminist Activism at UMBC, updated yearly with the tales of emerging activists. Follow along with us at!

Contact the author, Kate Drabinski, at

Speaking Up to End Rape Culture

Jess Myers, Women's Center DirectorJess Myers is director of the UMBC Women’s Center.

The idea of “breaking ground” is the perfect metaphor for my recent first radio appearance experience. When radio producer and UMBC alum Stefanie Mavronis first asked me to speak on the Marc Steiner Show about my perspective on the Steubenville sexual assault case (you can read more about it here and here, trigger warning), I immediately thought about all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it. I’m a better writer than a public speaker. I am more comfortable speaking to small audiences versus large. How could I possibly be “expert enough” to speak on a radio show? But, then I put a pause on all of those negative thoughts and considered how important it can be to try new things, even if they seem scary.

After we finished recording, I hung up the phone and thought, “Well, I am never doing that again!” I immediately began to judge what I said, how I said it, and all the things I could have said instead.

Over the course of the week, though, I have allowed myself to once again push out those negative thoughts. As a young professional, I am reminding myself that everyone has to start somewhere and that if we constantly tell ourselves reasons not to do something, in fear of our imperfections, we will never give ourselves the opportunity expand our boundaries or be agents of change. Without giving myself permission to do something new, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have follow-up conversations with colleagues, students and family members about the desperate need to end rape culture, the messages women are socialized to believe about themselves, or the important work of the Women’s Center’s men’s engagement program. [Read more…]

Women in Politics!

UMBC’s Women Involved in Learning and Leadership (WILL) will host a panel discussion this Wednesday, October 10, called “Women in Politics!,” featuring campus, state and national leaders (7:00 p.m., Lecture Hall 4). Kelly Martin Broderick and Cassandra Morales, UMBC undergraduates who are among WILL’s co-leaders, tell the story of their inspiration to plan and host the event.

WILL (Women Involved in Learning and Leadership) students are committed to bringing issues of gender equality to light in addition to actively working to resolve these issues. Within our group, we have maintained an equal-power structure, in which no member, including the co-leaders, has a bigger voice than the others. Most of all, WILL remains a safe space to talk about every day confrontations with gender inequality. WILL is a student group, but we are also supported by the GWST program and have a Living/Learning Community in Harbor Hall. If you are interested in WILL, please contact Kate Drabinski in the GWST Program.

Cassandra reflects:  

This past June, WILL’s co-leaders participated in the United States National Committee-United Nations Women conference at George Washington University. The final panel focused on why it was important for more women to be in politics. The panelists discussed obstacles women face in politics, including the fact that when a woman is asked to run for office, she has to be asked three to five different times before she even seriously considers it. This is a significant statistic because a man barely has to be asked; all it takes is being approached once. This is why when asked what advice she would give to women, Erin Prangley, the Associate Director of Government Relations for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), simply stated “RUN. FOR. OFFICE.” This was repeated four more times—encouraging every woman at the conference to get out there and run for office. It doesn’t matter how big or little the election, just get out there and get on a ballot. [Read more…]