Article Written by Desiree Peltola. Photo provided by Elizabeth Berila. 

Step into the vibrant world of Ethnic Gender and Women’s Studies at St. Cloud State University, where Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) Berila is the Co-Director of the ethnic Gender and Women’s Studies Department at St. Cloud State alongside Dr. Mumbi Mwangi.

Dr. Barilla has been at St. Cloud State for 22 years and the program director for 20 years. Chatting with her about the department and her role, Dr. Berila said that the department’s goals are to look at issues of Gender in its relationship with race, class, sexual identity, and national identity, especially all factors of people’s lived experiences and how they impact our lives and relationships with others, teaching students to come to their voice and the value of individual experiences and understanding how or why they are similar or different from our own.

Dr. Berila could not do it alone; she shared great gratitude for Dr. Mumbi Mwangi.

The ethnic gender and women’s studies program is a transformative journey that incorporates intersectionality, the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and Gender. This program, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage, is not just about looking at Gender but how any gender relates to race, class, and sexuality. It’s about understanding power dynamics, social institutions, and everyday culture. It’s about amplifying voices that are often unheard in societal structures.

Dr. Berila emphasized that the program is open to all people, not just women. It is for everyone who wants to make the world a more empowering place for everybody. The program also offers opportunities for activism and advocacy within the departments. Many classes involve a social change project in the community or on campus. These are opportunities to learn and transform, grow, and work towards a world they envision. Dr Berila also emphasized how hands-on the department is

Along with the study abroad program available to Gender and women’s studies students in South Africa that Dr. Mumbi Mwangi leads with her focal feminism class. Zoe Larson, a sophomore, got to experience this study abroad in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth). this past spring break; she mentioned it was the best experience she could have had and how eye-opening it was for her.

“Though it was a wonderful city with tons of life and culture just a few minutes outside of town you’ll find a ton of people in these small tin sheds, these are known as townships. In these townships, people are living right next to one another, most often without a proper water source(if one at all), electricity, and much more.”

She hopes to take another extended study abroad to do more activism work.

Dr. Berila also highlighted the practical nature of the Ethnic Gender and Women’s Studies program. Many students have the opportunity to work at the Women’s Center, where they learn leadership and programming skills. This is not just theoretical knowledge put into practice but a real-world experience that empowers students to make a difference in their communities.

She also emphasized the inclusive nature of the Ethnic Gender and Women’s Studies program, welcoming individuals from all backgrounds and identities. This program is a space where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. Through hands-on experiences like the Women’s Center and study abroad opportunities, students gain practical skills and insights into creating a more equitable society.

It’s a program that educates and empowers, making everyone feel a part of the change we want to see.

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