Diversity, equality, social justice: most people know what these words mean. The college environment is a great place to be active in these important issues. For Rhea Muchalla, a senior gender, women and sexuality studies and philosophy major, Gustavus has provided an opportunity to get involved in issues of gender, diversity and social justice through a variety of on-campus programs.
During her time here at Gustavus, Rhea has been a member of the I Am We Are social justice theatre group, the Zeta Chi Phi sorority and the Womyn’s Awareness Center (WAC). Rhea is also a vocal member of Gustavus’ active political and social community.
“I Am We Are has been one of the most important groups I’ve been a part of in my life, period,” said Rhea. “It’s a great way to get out a message of social justice in such an artistic way that communicates a lot of meaning. It uses shared experiences to increase awareness.”
As an active member of the WAC, Rhea is an editor for Heterodoxy, Gustavus’ bi-yearly collection of prose and poetry written by, for and about women. “Men can contribute to it and read it as well, but it’s really a publication that’s based on women’s issues,” said Rhea.
Rhea will also co-produce this year’s performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, a sometimes funny, always thought-provoking show that raises awareness about women’s issues. Performances will be the last week in February.
Rhea is also Gustavus’ sole representative to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), a position that allows her to provide information about political candidates’ positions on abortion issues to both the WAC and the Gustavus community at large.
As vice-president of Zeta Chi Phi, a sorority that focuses on issues of diversity, Rhea has had the opportunity to be a part of an active, accepting community that strives for ethnic and gender equality. “It’s a great opportunity to develop real sisterhood bonds,” said Rhea, “and it’s an extraordinary group because we appreciate each other’s uniqueness. It’s a place where we can really care about diversity.”
As active as she has been on campus, Rhea got a chance to take her commitment to women’s rights to a global stage when she traveled to Bangladesh to put together an exposé on the role of women in Indian society.In her paper, she specifically cited the use of dowries, a monetary gift which a bride’s family usually gives to the groom’s family before a marriage can take place.
“I did a paper on the dowry situation [because] it’s really causing a lot of problems there,” said Rhea. “When such importance is placed on a dowry, it devalues the women. It turns them into a commodity and a burden for their families. It really creates an environment that promotes open violence and hostility towards women.”
Rhea submitted her paper to the Radical Philosophy Association and was subsequently invited to present her findings at the group’s national gathering in San Francisco.
“It was great to come back from San Francisco to a community that was interested in what I learned there,” said Rhea.
Rhea is currently applying to graduate programs to earn a doctorate in feminist philosophy, and she feels that Gustavus has prepared her for a life of activism in the post-graduate world.
“I feel I’ve learned how to invest in my community by challenging it to be the best it can be. I got the opportunity to interact in meaningful, challenging ways with other community members.”