The Women's Center
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Since 1981, The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation has provided scholarship funding for mature women students at UMBC. The University's commitment to academic excellence, its diverse student body, and its early and continuing commitment to establishing a way to meet the needs of women students are exceptional. The Newcombe Foundation is delighted to join with UMBC in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Women's Center on the campus of UMBC.
The following is an overview written by Jess Myers, Acting Director of the Women's Center at UMBC.
"...the Women's Center will enhance the lives of people-It will be an advocate for women fighting persistent marks of social inequality and prejudice that limit their potential-whether they are students, staff, or faculty... There is no doubt that the Center will play an important role in attracting students to come to UMBC and in improving the quality of their university and subsequent careers."
- Angela Moorjani
Women's Center Committee member, 1991
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) has established itself as one of the Nations "best value" public universities (Princeton Review) and for the third year in a row, and tops the U.S. News ranking of "Up-and-Coming Schools" - a designation that recognizes that UMBC consistently finds new ways to improve the educational experiences of its students. This may not have been predictable to the founding members of the Women's Center at UMBC twenty years ago when Ms. Moorjani laid out her vision, but she did indeed create the foundation upon which the Women's Center companions these successes. Just as importantly, in the twenty years the Women's Center has been open and serving the diverse community of UMBC, it has transformed and grown to meet the increasingly complex needs of UMBC's women students. This anniversary year is a time to celebrate this transformation and the stories of all 100,000 individuals who have been a part of this space. Each personal story gives meaning to the services provided. From complementing academic explorations of gender in the classroom to offering a lactation room to our nursing mothers, being the home of feminist student groups or advocating for survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence, the Women's Center offers a safe place on campus where all individuals are welcome as long as they respect women's experiences, stories, and potential.
The Women's Center is located in a comfortable space in the lower level of The Commons, easily accessible by all students. Open from 9 am to 7 pm, the Center offers a cozy lounge area, lending library, kitchen, computer for student use, and a meditation/lactation room. Its resources include information about essential issues facing women including career development, interpersonal and power-based violence, eating disorders, harassment, and empowerment as well as a staff ready to provide referrals for additional assistance. A monthly film series with staggered show times offers the opportunity to view films addressing significant issues related to women and gender today. Professors from UMBC facilitate discussions at the end of each series. This dedicated space, rich and welcoming, invites students both traditional and non-traditional to engage in meaningful conversation that enriches their experience at UMBC.
One special opportunity for mature women students at the Women's Center grew from the University's participation in The Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship program. While primarily focused on providing financial support to mature women students, the Newcombe Scholarships program created a core of women upon which to build an expanded cohort of non-traditional women students who are now benefitting from a group called Newcombe Scholars and Affiliates. This program has become a central staple of the Women's Center, each year growing larger and stronger. Every Wednesday at noon, members of the mature women's community can be found warming up their lunches and sitting down in the lounge to catch up with each other. They share stories of success and struggle and offer each other a sense of belonging. As each week passes, this mature women's community, many of whom are transfer students, establishes bonds and connections among its members. The feeling of "I'm not alone in this journey" is palpable. Even for those who can't regularly attend these meetings, a sense of support still extends their way. Through access to the Women's Center and its staff, the ever-increasing list-serv and Facebook group, the hope is that these women will never feel alone.
Over the past semester, the programs at the Women's Center have become more intentional in the support offered to UMBC's mature women students. When women voiced concern about feeling overwhelmed, or having difficulty juggling multiple responsibilities, or feeling guilt caused by issues raised by trying to fulfill the dual role of being a student and a mother, workshops were created to address such issues. In an expression of gratitude, a recent graduate's mother who is a family therapist came to the Women's Center with a workshop she created that addressed navigating the multiple roles of mature women students. She uncovered ways to creatively handle the stress that comes with these many responsibilities and provided talking points about how to start difficult conversations with loved ones about needing greater support and understanding. A follow-up workshop from a professional life coach expanded on these concepts and helped the participants define and set their personal and professional goals. In both of these sessions, an overwhelming sense of relief was present as these presenters gave the participants permission to feel vulnerable and embrace the idea that they cannot always be super-human. For many of these students, who never think about putting themselves first but live on the instinct of "do-for-others," this was huge. Future workshops will include skills related to career exploration, networking, mentoring, and personal finances. In addition, these mature women will continue to explore the challenges presented by their multiple identities and roles as student, partner, mother, caretaker, employee, and more. Campus collaborations among others groups and partners, such as Off-Campus Commuter Services, campus veterans, several faculty and staff, and the Women's Center's Mothers' Group also have stepped up to play an active role in the success of these mature women students.
As UMBC celebrates the Women's Center's 20th year of existence, the past is remembered and the future is imagined with the goal of creating services that will continue to meet the needs of this university's community of women. The Women's Center continues to nurture women students, enjoying its role in offering alternative and/or complementary resources that account for differences in experiences or needs, acting as a bridge between available resources and those in need when obstacles make seeking support a challenge, and creating opportunities for community building through the discovery of commonalities across differences. Much like the Women's Center as a whole, special programs for mature women students will also continue to grow and develop into a resource for camaraderie and support for the community of non-traditional women students.
For further information about the Women's Center at UMBC, please visit www.umbc.edu/womenscenter.