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Women’s Center networking event puts spotlight on feminist friendships

As Women’s History Month 2018 came to a close, students, alumni and faculty came together to celebrate feminism and community in the Skylight Room. Complete with buffet, free trinkets like buttons and stress balls and a photo booth, the Women’s Center-sponsored event served as a space in which members of the UMBC community interested in feminism could get to know one another.

Attendees were encouraged to sit at tables labeled with various “affinities”—sociopolitical issues and identities that intersect with feminism, such as “supporting survivors of sexual violence”—as a way to meet others with similar interests. After a brief presentation on the history of the feminist movement, Amelia Meman, program coordinator for the Women’s Center and one of the organizers of the event, also arranged a few ice-breaker activities to stimulate conversation.

One such activity was a game of bingo in which attendees were encouraged to find people in the room who fit of the descriptions listed in the squares on the board, which included items like “someone who is a woman in a STEM field” and “someone who has the same astrological sign as you.”

“This is really one of the best places to be your authentic self,” said Meman, urging even the introverts in the room to take part. “I want to challenge you to let your authenticity shine.” From that point on, the room filled with chatter and laughter as participants began mingling.

Shira Devorah, who worked for the Women’s Center for three semesters when she was a student at UMBC, is one of several alumni who visited campus for this event. She said that the work she did at the Women’s Center will always stay with her and that it helped to inspire her career path into social justice. “It’s a little hidden gem at UMBC,” she said. “Whatever I do afterwards, I definitely am going to take all the lessons I took from the Women’s Center with me.”

For freshman media and communications major Hope Mesgnon, however, this was her first Women’s Center event. Though she came to the event unsure of what to expect, she found that the atmosphere was actually quite welcoming. “I don’t know anyone here, but I could still approach people and we could still talk about something, whether it be that we’re both Virgos or that we’re both interested in feminism,” she said.

In that sense, this event was a sample of the values that the Women’s Center works to reflect on a daily basis. “We’re just a place that likes to cultivate community,” said Meman. “We like to be a springboard for relationships to build.” Meman recalled that during her own time as a student at UMBC, the Women’s Center was where she spent much of her time and cultivated many of her closest friendships; she hopes that others can have the same positive experiences that she did.

And that seems to be the case: Devorah came away from the event having made many connections. Not only did she meet a number of new people, but she also found that “there [are] people that I’ve known kind of peripherally but have met a little bit more tonight, which is cool. I appreciate that.”

Lisa Grey, Associate Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion within Campus Life, also noted that the people she met at the event had from varying backgrounds, cultures and perspectives. “We had probably one of the most multi-generational, visibly and invisibly diverse, events just now,” she said. “So kudos to the Women’s Center for being courageous enough to present an opportunity for us to be real and authentic and build community across difference.”

The biggest lesson of the evening? The value of feminist friendships. “The basis of feminism and any sort of social justice movement is really the idea of connecting with people and building relationships,” said Meman, when asked what inspired her to create a feminist networking event. As all of the attendees stood in a circle at the end of the night sharing what they had gained from the event, it was evident that this lesson made quite an impact.