Ask BIG Questions – Understand Others. Understand Yourself. (2/21)

Ask Big Questions “What have you learned so far?” will be the topic of discussion on Friday, February 21, 2014 from 6-7.30pm in the Commons Main Street.

Join UMBC Hillel and Student Life’s Mosaic Center for dinner and a great discussion.

Mutual Support in a Caring Community

Zach Kosinski is graduate coordinator for LGBTQ outreach in UMBC Student Life.

Zach KosinskiLast month I sent an email promoting an upcoming SafeZone workshop to a UMBC listserv for student organization leaders. SafeZone is a program that works to educate and prepare folks on campus to make UMBC a more welcoming, supportive place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. My UMBC position involves me in conversations about matters pertaining to LGBTQ people all the time, so I did not view my message as particularly remarkable or noteworthy.

But the message prompted a response that caught me off guard. A UMBC alumn replied to the entire list, expressing frustration at having received a communication relating to LGBTQ people. Citing their religious convictions, the alum condemned the SafeZone program and objected to UMBC using the listserv to support, or even acknowledge, LGBTQ members of our campus community. (I’m using “their” as a gender-neutral, third-person pronoun here, a usage which is becoming more and more common and established).

After reading the reply, I tried to see the world through this alum’s eyes, and to imagine what they were thinking, how they were feeling, and what experiences at UMBC and in life had brought them to think and feel the way they did. I thought about the need to support the alum’s basic right to hold and express their beliefs, notwithstanding my strong disagreement with them and UMBC’s clear nondiscrimination policy. They needed a place to express their beliefs, a place where their beliefs would be respected, a place where they would be supported to express them in the first place. I also tried to imagine what all the students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, and others on the list were thinking, and how they were feeling, when they read the alum’s reply. LGBTQ students have shared some powerful and disturbing experiences with me: experiences no person should have to suffer. LGBTQ people at UMBC need support from a campus community that acknowledges and values them for who they are.

It took me a lot of reflection before my frustration dissipated and I saw the common ground that could become a foundation for healing and growth.  We all need support, in one way or another. If I only work to support LGBTQ people at UMBC, but neglect to support those who need to voice sometimes unpopular or controversial beliefs, I do a disservice to my campus. If I do more to support students’ right to express beliefs, perhaps they will choose to express them in more constructive ways than venting to a listserv. If I continue to support building a more affirming campus with the SafeZone program, perhaps folks of all beliefs will feel empowered to discuss them, and leave conversations still able to respect participants with very different perspectives as people: whole, valuable, multidimensional people our campus community would not be the same without.

This is a commitment that I am taking a stand to make: to support all of us, equally and without preference. I challenge others to do the same, for in the end, UMBC is what we make it. If we do not support each other, the whole campus community will be diminished.

Contact the author, Zach Kosinski, at

Seeking Alternative School Break Leaders

Mark Zachar, a graduate student in Education, is graduate coordinator for service in UMBC’s Office of Student Life

Mark ZacharAs a first year undergrad at the Illinois Institute of Technology I took a risk and decided to participate in our Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to the Dominican Republic, and ever since I’ve been trying to recreate that life-changing experience for myself and others.  My ASB trip to the DR immersed me in a vibrant unique culture, put my hands and head to work in new challenging ways, and bonded me to my trip peers in lifelong relationships.  Since then I’ve been blessed to have participated and/or lead short term service trips to Florida, Georgia, Mexico, El Salvador, and twice to Belize.  ASB was also my launching pad to my two year service in West Africa – Ghana, as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Now I have the privilege of helping our UMBC community organize profound adventures both on and off campus.

The challenge I am posing to UMBC undergraduates this week is to not only to think ahead about your Spring Break week plans, but to consider putting work into those plans now in order to have a meaningful, productive, and fun vacation from school next March. This year’s Alternative School Break trips will take place from Sunday, March 16, 2014 to Friday, March 21, 2014. Will you work with me to create unique, powerful social change experiences for yourself and your peers? Prior participation in a UMBC ASB Trip is not required, but you need to have had some kind of leadership/organizational experience.  If you are selected as an ASB student trip leader, you will take the lead in identifying community partners and designing the trip with my help.

Trips that have been offered in the past include:

IMG_0818Gesundheit Institutework at the Patch Adams clinic and grounds in West Virginia

Animal Welfareexplores several aspects of animal rights and humane treatment of animals.

ARC –  serve the mentally and physically disabled population at the Arc of Carroll County. 

Environmental work on and promote sustainable living in urban environments across four counties

Through the Eyes of a Refugee – serve the refugee population of Baltimore County

A Day in the Life – focuses on services needed by people who are homeless in Baltimore City

ASB trip leaders can pick from one of these projects or propose their own.  Any viable option will be considered as long as the ASB trip leader is passionate about the social concern and is ready to put in hard work organizing around it.

Interested? Complete the ASB Trip Leader application by midnight on Sunday, October 13th. Contact me if you have any questions.  And if you are not interested in leading a trip but want to participate in ASB, watch for applications to be released in the next two weeks.

Contact the author, Mark Zachar, at

First Year Council Addresses Weekend Dining Options

Violet Haya, Bentley Corbett, Laura Hoelzer, Saniya Chaudhry, Tahlia Tavai, Sandy Nguyen, Emily Bernstein, Steven Nguyen, Imani Spence, Sara Kim, Michelle Seu, Amanda Quinn, Eva Benvenga, Poulomi Banerjee, Sohha Ariannejad, Anthony Nguyen, Elizabeth Sines, Hayden Marshall, Ari Zaya and Molly Nicholson are members of UMBC’s 2012-2013 First Year Council.

fyc 2013We are the UMBC First Year Council (FYC), a diverse group of freshmen and transfer students who are trying to make positive change on campus for everyone. We were nominated for our problem-solving skills and campus involvement by various campus organization leaders. This year, we met once a week discuss how we could improve campus life from the perspective of new students. Here are our reflections on the year:

We explored a variety of issues that affect student life, and noticed dissatisfaction with campus dining options available to students on the weekend. We worked closely with Chartwells and UMBC administrators over the past few months in order to improve the dining experience of the UMBC community. After weeks of brainstorming and consideration, the Council has come up with the following option: opening a small food vendor in the Commons during the weekend in addition to the big food vendor that is already open, and rotating among vendors on a schedule.

If you are a current student at UMBC we want to hear your thoughts on weekend dining options. Please complete our survey by Sunday, May 19th.

We are so exited to meet next year’s First Year Council. Information on how to join FYC will be available at Involvement Fest on September 4, 2013!

The First Year Council is supported through Student Life by a peer advisor (Sam Spehr for 2012-2013) and staff advisors. Contact FYC through staff advisors Virginia Byrne at or Sara Leidner at

Connecting Community Partners

Lori Hardesty is assistant director for service-learning and K-16 partnerships at UMBC’s Shriver Center.

???????????????????????????????Positive social change is the product of collaboration: relationships that empower everyone to make meaningful contributions to the common good. This week (as a part of National Volunteer Week) UMBC will celebrate and promote empowering partnerships at the Connecting Community Partners Service Fair, sponsored by the Office of Student Life and The Shriver Center. The event will take place Friday, April 26th, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in UC 310 and 312.

The event is designed to build relationships among UMBC students, faculty and staff interested in deeper community engagement and with community organizations active in and around Baltimore. It will be valuable for faculty members looking for potential speakers or thinking about building new service-learning components into courses; students interested in tackling social issues, exploring post-graduate career options or planning events for their organizations; and anyone interested in meeting up with some inspired, inspiring people interested in making a difference.

Community partners who will participate range from U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education to Operation Welcome Home. Alyssa Budros of partner Soccer Without Borders shares:

The mission of our organization piggybacks off your mission as BreakingGround attempts to power meaningful change through community but also through the individual. … The work we do with these families cannot be done without partnerships, volunteers, mentors, and the help of the community.

I’m looking forward to reconnecting with all of these partners at the event, and hope to see you there too!

Contact the author, Lori Hardesty, at

The Stories We Share

Alonte Cross ’15, Media & Communication Studies, is an office assistant in the UMBC Office of Student Life’s Mosaic: Center for Culture and Diversity. Lisa Gray is assistant director of Student Life for cultural and spiritual diversity.

Alonte CrossLisa GrayIn recognition of National Black History Month, the Office of Student Life’s Mosaic Center will welcome humorist and storyteller Dawn J. Fraser to UMBC to shed light on the art of storytelling as a tool for learning, connecting with others and building community. Fraser has toured with internationally acclaimed author Neil Gaiman as part of the Unchained Tour, and has been featured in various storytelling shows including Story Collider, Soundtrack Series and RISK! She is one of the co-founders of the nonprofit Art in Action (currently a division of United Roots Oakland) and has worked on cultural advocacy programs in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Ghana.

Storytelling is one of the oldest, most powerful and engaging forms of communication, and history is people’s collective story. National Black History Month is an occasion for all of us to remember and retell the stories of significant people and events comprising the collective story of the African diaspora. Fraser believes that personal narratives can “inspire action, engage audiences and foment lasting social change.”

This event will take place on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in The Commons’ Skylight Room. Fraser’s presentation will be followed by a facilitated discussion and reception with refreshments. All UMBC students, faculty, staff and their guests are welcome.

This event is sponsored by The Office of Student Life’s Mosaic: Center for Culture and Diversity, the Women’s Center, the Humanities Living and Learning Community, the Departments of Theater and American Studies, the Language, Literacy & Culture and Gender & Women’s Studies programs, and Women Involved in Learning & Leadership (WILL).

Contact the authors, Alonte Cross and Lisa Gray, at

Leadership Education, Co-Created

Virginia Byrne is Coordinator for Leadership Development and Education in UMBC’s Office of Student Life

This summer I moved to Maryland to join the Office of Student Life staff, and I couldn’t be happier. In my role, I facilitate the creation of experiential and reflective leadership learning opportunities for UMBC students. Partnering with students to create these programs is essential. While I could prepare leadership development activities on my own, students are the best sources of expertise about their own experiences. And learning from experience–making leadership real by locating it in students’ lives on campus and beyond–is crucial if students are going to solve real problems and contribute their communities in ways that make a difference.

LeadingOrgs, November 2012

One of the programs I co-create with students just happened: LeadingOrgs is a weekend retreat for 30 student organization officers that took place this past weekend. You can see more of our fun photos here.

What may be UMBC’s best-known and most popular leadership program created collaboratively by students and staff is STRiVE, for which the application deadline is less than two days away (Thursday, 11/5 at 5:00 p.m.; apply here). Held each January during winter break, STRiVE is a five day, intensive and engaging off-campus leadership retreat for about 50 students. Participants experience thought-provoking hands-on learning activities, facilitated by a team of student and staff coaches. The coaching team spends the four months prior to STRiVE reflecting on previous retreats and tweaking the curriculum to provide a unique experience each year. I think the best way for students to understand why they should apply to STRiVE is to hear it from the coaches themselves:

Contact the author, Virginia Byrne, at