Productive Discomfort

A blog reflection by Joe Levin-Manning, Graduate Coordinator for LGBTQ Programs

One thing I think we need to see and hear more of is people feeling uncomfortable. While there is a time and a place for the principle of “safe space” it has now become somewhat of a crutch to not have to face challenging issues. I will acknowledge that my introduction to this idea was through this concept of Brave Space (that is hyperlinked, so please check the article out). Last year’s theme for Critical Social Justice introduced this topic to the UMBC community and offered a social justice lens and I hope to take this a little further and throw a little Jewish spin on it as well.

In Judaism we have these things called Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud. Everything talked about in these three books is not always cut and dry. One of the things the Talmud specifically is known for is the debate that occurs between the different rabbis. Even several thousand years ago the rabbis knew that in order to grow you must be challenged. I remember talking with a colleague about studying texts and they said they missed the buzz of a Beit Midrash, a room where people study and struggle with text. Then, I wondered why have we become so content with making everyone pacified, instead of asking someone to acknowledge their bigotry and evolve. Continue reading


CSJ 101: Our Working Assumptions for Creating Brave Spaces

A post written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers

A little snow won’t get in the way of Critical Social Justice 2015!

Yesterday was the kick-off to CSJ2015 with CSJ 101: Introduction to Brave Spaces. It was a rich conversation in which everyone was really invested and we went right through our allotted time in Commons 329. We thank our invited participants and moderator for helping us start the conversation! Prior to the start of CSJ week, we also provided ways for the UMBC community to begin engaging in the idea of creating brave spaces. You can find more on brave spaces and creating brave spaces throughout our blog like this awesome video created by the CSJ Student Alliance, a few blog posts written by Women’s Center staff members (check out Daniel and Ty’s posts), the Brave Space Guidelines of the Women’s Center, and of course, the chapter that started in all, From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. These jumping off points, in addition to the diverse perspectives and experiences of our invited panelists and community members in the room took us on a journey as we uncovered the depth and breadth of brave spaces.

Arao and Clemens spend time in their chapter exploring what brave space can be. It’s grounded in the concept of safe space but recognizes that the idea of safety can be limiting when in engaging in difficult dialogues and social justice work. They find value and necessity in taking risk and engaging in controversy to facilitate authentic learning experiences about social justice. When this kind of authenticity is nourished a brave space has been created. It’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it to student leaders, staff, and faculty committed to integrating social justice into their work and communities. But what else is brave space? How is it created? How is it maintained? Is brave space the same for everyone or can it look different from person to person? These are some of the questions we explored in CSJ 101. Knowing that not everyone could attend yesterday’s event, I’m capturing some of the highlights here as a way to root the rest of the week in a better understanding of UMBC’s understanding and practice of brave space.  Continue reading

Social Justice Can Be Messy!

A reflection from Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers
This post was originally shared on the Women’s Center at UMBC’s wordpress blog

Last week, the Women’s Center staff completed spring training. As with all of our training days, we took the opportunity to explore our social identities in the spirit of self-exploration, team building, and a commitment to critical social justice. It’s something I look forward to each training knowing I always learn more about my fellow team members and myself.

This semester we did the Power of Assumptions activity which I’ve facilitated several times before at UMBC. It can be a great low-risk activity to get students considering their personal identities and those of others for the first time. It prompts students to consider how their identities have impacted their life experiences while also calling them to face assumptions and stereotypes they might have of others. With a student staff well versed in social justice 101, though, I wanted to take this activity to a new level, and conveniently the finding of bags full of yarn as we’ve been cleaning out the Women’s Center put me in the creative mood to do just that. Now, students would be asked to take a ball of yarn with them and leave a marker on each identity they visited throughout the exercise. As we were promoted with statements such as “This identity brings me the most joy,” This part of my identity is the most invisible,” “This part of my identity I have to defend the most,” and so forth, we moved around the Women’s Center leaving behind a paths of yarn that quickly took the shape of interesting tangled webs.

Our intersecting identities creating a web in the Women’s Center lounge

Our intersecting identities creating a web in the Women’s Center lounge

As I moved about the room, I quickly realized what a challenge it was to get to my next location as I walked over or under the yarn of my staff members. Suddenly, the yarn wasn’t just yarn but also the lived experiences and lives of the five others sharing the space with me. Continue reading

Submit Your Art to the Critical Social Justice Art Gallery!

Critical Social Justice 2015 is quickly approaching and we’re looking for art submissions to add to the CSJ 2015 Art Gallery! This year’s CSJ theme is Creating Brave Spaces and we’re asking for art submissions that explore and/or address what it means to create brave spaces.

Last year's CSJ art gallery located on the Mezzanine of The Commons.

Last year’s CSJ art gallery located on the Mezzanine of The Commons.

CSJ invites different types of activists — students, teachers, artists, musicians, doctors, and more — to talk critically about social justice and how they are creating change in their own unique ways. In addition to our discussions, keynotes, and reflections, the CSJ Art Gallery is intended to give another kind of voice and experience to the conversations we’re having on campus about social justice.

All UMBC community members are invited to submit their work by Wednesday, February 4th at 4pm Sunday, February 8th. Artists are asked to complete this form and email a jpg image of their artwork to 

Deadline extended until Sunday, February 8th!!!

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