What’s Up with “What’s the Tea?”: Starts, Stops & Lessons Learned in Social Justice Work

By Lisa Gray, Assistant Director of Student Life, Cultural and Spiritual Diversity. 

Earlier this year, Joakina Stone, then a Res Life colleague and collateral work staff with Student Life’s Mosaic Center, along with an amazing group of students, staff and faculty, helped us to co-create our new Mosaic Social Justice discussion series. We exchanged a bunch of ideas for a title – some basic and others long and academic. After ruminating far too long, I finally settled on “What’s the Tea?” Thankfully, Zach Kosinski and Jasmine Malhotra, our Graduate Coordinators, agreed and our series launched this year on October 1st.

What's the Tea SJ Discussion Series - Fall 2014Everything seemed to be going well with what we are calling our “pilot semester/year” for the series. It even had what we hope was an effective, context-setting description: “We all talk about how diverse UMBC is. But what does that mean in reality? How does it show up in how we communicate and interact with each other? When does celebrating diversity shift into inclusivity that creates positive social change in and outside our campus community? This new series hopes to help us grapple with these questions. Join us for a facilitated discussion of these topics. Voice your opinions and hear those of your fellow community members.”

This description, along with a co-facilitation model, guided questions, and a brief evaluation has helped us to move forward. Things were going really well, until our November 5th Cultural Appropriation discussion. During that discussion, our well-intentioned start had an unintentional stop. Continue reading

Guest Post: Black Lives Matter and Mental Brave Spaces

This guest post was written by Ty Philip and was originally featured on the Women’s Center blog

When discussing the concept and implementation of brave spaces, a lot of the conversation revolves around the idea that these spaces are inherently physical. We speak of transforming places into brave spaces, designating that certain locations at certain times are deemed an acceptable place to problematize and challenge the dominant power structures in society and the influence that they bear on our opinions and beliefs in conversation with others. What we never speak of is when we create these brave spaces within our own minds, grappling with these same concepts in a way that is more self-reflexive than would be in dialogue. Even though the majority of the time, these mental brave spaces do not come tethered to a specific time or location, they are still important to recognize as a valid form of creating brave spaces. The creation of these mental brave spaces are critical in that they allow people to take their individual connection to dominant power structures and problematize those relationships on their own terms. This is not to say that physical brave spaces don’t allow for the same sort of agency in choosing when to challenge oneself, but to argue that creating mental brave spaces allots for a more personal reflection on these dominant power structures at the pacing of the individual.

Ty ProtestBefore the rally and march for Justice for Eric Garner last Thursday, I was terrified. Not only for my life, but that I would not have the mental capacity to deal with facing the reality of racial injustice and police brutality. The conversation was everywhere, and I was actively engaged in it, but I did not know to what extent I was mentally and emotionally prepared to be a part of the activism in action. I was aware of the issues of police brutality and racial injustice, but I hadn’t ever been a part of something that had the potential to bring harm to me like the rally and march did. After deep and critical thought on the issue, and almost deciding that I could not bring myself to attend the rally and march, I decided to go. This was my mental brave space: challenging the conditioning that I’d had that caused me to fear the police as a black male-passing individual. The rally itself wasn’t designated a brave space, and there were no guidelines set up or enforced that would make it into one, but my complication of the effects of police brutality and racial injustice on me personally were what made me feel as though I was enacting a mental brave space.  Continue reading

How to Plan a Social Justice Event in 6 Steps

By Jasmine Malhotra, Graduate Coordinator for Cultural Programs with Student Life’s The Mosaic: Center for Culture & Diversity

UMBC’s Critical Social Justice (CSJ) Week 2015 will be February 16 -20th. As we get closer to the week and all the exciting events that will take place, you may be wondering how you can participate. What makes planning a social justice event different than planning any other event?

First, before planning a social justice event, discussion, or activity, it’s important to understand what social justice means. We recommend doing some more research on your own. A great article to read is “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue around Diversity and Social Justice” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. We also encourage you to read Amelia Meman’s CSJ blog post “Why ‘Critical Social Justice.’”  Have more questions about the Critical Social Justice campaign? The Women’s Center or Student Life’s Mosaic Center staff will be offering drop-in info sessions, so stay tuned to the CSJ Facebook page for details.

Here are a few tips to help you start your event planning.  You can also check out the Critical Social Justice Toolkit for more information on engaging in difficult dialogues. Once you have your basic plan, send us your idea here and get ready to help make a difference!

Social Justice Event Planning Tips:  Continue reading