Rethinking Intellectual Activism

Emek Ergun, Satarupa Joardar and Autumn Reed are doctoral candidates in UMBC’s Language, Literacy and Culture (LLC) program and serve on the organizing committee for “Rethinking Intellectual Activism: The 1st Annual LLC Graduate Student Conference,” which will take place at UMBC on April 12, 2014.

Emek describes the conference, and reflects:

Emek ErgunShould scholars be activists? Should they confront and challenge dominant cultures, or safeguard the status quo from the privileged comfort of the ivory tower? We envision “Rethinking Intellectual Activism,” the conference we are working to organize, as a forum for collaborative exploration of these questions. We plan to engage scholars, activists and artists in stimulating conversations about the future of the university as a political place of knowledge production and social justice promotion.

Over the course of my doctoral education, I have had the opportunity to participate in several graduate student conferences across the US. The last time I presented at such an event, at Georgetown University, I came back with an exciting question in my mind: “Why don’t we organize a similar conference at UMBC?” To me, graduate conferences are exciting and comfortable spaces where graduate students in the early stages of their “intellectual” careers can share their research ideas and studies with each other. Since such conferences tend to be relatively small in scale, participants also get a chance to know each other and build networks across disciplines and campuses. If organized well, these events have a great potential to build strong academic, professional, and activist communities. And what better place to achieve this goal than in the interdisciplinary LLC program?

Conversations with colleagues back on campus generated enthusiasm and ideas, and eventually we pulled ourselves together more formally to make such a conference happen here. The open-ended title “Rethinking Intellectual Activism” reflects our desire to bring together graduate students in many disciplines and activists working for social justice on various political fronts. We also want to facilitate many kinds of conversations, and so the conference will feature invited panel discussions, round table sessions, performative works, and art installations. Now, we are enthusiastically waiting for proposals that will contribute to the creation of a critical discursive space wherein to rethink intellectual activism. We hope this will be just the first of many LLC graduate student conferences to come.

Satarupa reflects:

Satarupa JoardarWhat began as a series of casual conversations among students in the hallways and graduate student offices of the LLC program is now morphing into a promising graduate student conference about broad themes that can impact the intellectual community in different ways. While we are envisioning an academic conference, we are not limiting the dialogue to academics, but including artists and activists and practitioners from various fields so that we can hear many dissenting voices at once. The spirit of interdisciplinarity is writ large on the conference Call for Proposals, and we hope to hear not just from students in the arts, humanities and social sciences programs, but also from those in the sciences and engineering. We want to hear from anybody keen to solve real-world problems through research. It is a lofty ambition to bring together graduate students and others from such broad, far-reaching and diverse backgrounds but as LLC students we are taught to think big and broad, and we are doing just that!

Autumn reflects:

Autumn ReedAs the Program Coordinator for Faculty Diversity Initiatives and the ADVANCE Program in UMBC’s Office of the Provost and as a Ph.D. candidate in the Language, Literacy, and Culture program, I can tell you that one thing we love to do on campus is plan. Since September 2013, a busy and diverse group of LLC students, including myself, have been meeting about every other week to plan for this inaugural conference. I will be the first to admit that meetings have not always been easy, and opinions have sometimes clashed, but I am proud to report that our process reflects the values of the UMBC community. We listen to and respect one another’s viewpoints, which is the cornerstone of any successful plan. Most important, throughout this planning process, we are engaging in real-world activism, or as my dissertation committee member, Dr. Jodi Kelber-Kaye would say, we are “putting theory into practice.” Because let’s be honest, almost every effective activist project requires a strategic plan (i.e., theoretical grounding) to serve as the guiding principles for the ensuing negotiations between activists about how to get the job done, and done well.

Now, having agreed on a conference date, secured a keynote speaker (LLC alumna Dr. Kaye Whitehead), publicized our call for proposals, set up a conference website, and identified a space for the conference, we plan to just keep on planning. Meanwhile, we hope that you will share our conference with your colleagues, students, and friends, or better yet, send a proposal our way.

Look forward to seeing a lot of you on April 12, 2014. Spread the word!

Contact the authors: Emek Ergun at; Satarupa Joardar at; and Autumn Reed 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

Graduate Students and Faculty Share Civic Innovations (Video)

K. Jill Barr is senior assistant dean for graduate school enrollment management at UMBC.

K. Jill BarrHow does one go about creating and being the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi suggested over 65 years ago? Graduate students and faculty at UMBC are answering the question through research designed to make a difference, classes organized to address civic challenges, and significant community projects in locales ranging from Baltimore to Kenya. The Graduate School is a key player in the BreakingGround initiative. At the recent Graduate Research Conference, a panel of graduate students and graduate faculty shared their civic experiences.

I love working with our graduate students as they become creative change agents on campus and beyond, and appreciate that they are connecting research, learning and action in immediately relevant and potentially life-altering ways. We’re all excited by their success.

Contact the author, K. Jill Barr, at