Student Star: Giovanna Garcia

FSU Presidential Scholar helps others through human rights advocacy

Name: Giovanna Garcia
Major: International Affairs and Political Science
Graduation: Spring 2021

“FSU has taught me to invest my time in things that I’m passionate about and that make me feel fulfilled.”

Knowing she would double major in international affairs and political science, Giovanna Garcia felt that Florida State University was the best school to provide ample opportunities in her areas of study.

“Visiting FSU, it was immediately apparent that there was a sense of family and pride here,” she said. “All the conversations I had with other students emphasized that FSU is a place to cultivate your interests, which is important to me.”

Garcia ultimately chose to attend FSU when she received the Presidential Scholars Award. This premier undergraduate merit scholarship provides four years of support and is open to high school seniors who are admitted into the FSU Honors Program.

“I knew that if I wanted to attend a university outside of my hometown of Miami, I would need to earn substantial scholarships,” she said. “Being chosen as a Presidential Scholar not only made attending FSU possible, but the enrichment funding also allowed me to pursue other opportunities like study abroad that I did not think would be an option.”

Coming from a family of Cuban refugees, Garcia has always felt a passion for helping those in need.

“I have had family members who were arbitrarily held political prisoners or put in labor camps,” she said. “I had other family members who were denied education and had minimal access to the necessities of life. International migration only compounded this trauma.”

Garcia’s mother taught students with special needs her entire life, which exposed her to the accessibility and discrimination issues associated with being disabled early on.

“These experiences introduced me to the wide range of human rights abuses that impact marginalized communities and our society at large and made me value human rights from an early age,” she said.

These experiences acquainted her with the importance of advocating for and protecting people’s fundamental rights.

“Coming to Florida State and finding ways to merge my values with my general interest in the social sciences ultimately solidified my interest in human rights advocacy as a field,” she said.

In the summer of 2019, Garcia focused her career objectives on international human rights. With the opportunity to study abroad in Prague for five weeks through a program for international affairs and social work majors, she took two courses focused on human rights violations in 20th-century Europe and international human rights broadly.

This program allowed students to visit historic sites around Europe related to the human rights abuses they were learning about in their coursework, like the Holocaust.

“Visiting historic sites of genocide and ethnic cleansing is a deeply saddening and sobering experience,” she said. “More than anything though, these experiences reinforced the importance of being an unapologetic advocate of human rights and the terrible consequences that come when individuals, parties and governments turn a blind eye and thus become complicit in these violations.”

As a freshman, Garcia participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). She worked with her research mentor to examine the partisan effects on charitable giving during presidential election years.

She also has been highly involved with FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (CAHR), which is affiliated with the FSU Law School.

Over the past three years, Garcia has volunteered or interned with CAHR, assisting in any way she can. Most of her work with the center focused on helping with legal work in immigration cases, such as putting together applications and translating Spanish and English with clients.

“Working with CAHR has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career,” Garcia said. “Tallahassee has such a large and underserved migrant and refugee community, and there are insufficient legal services to address their needs.”

Garcia found assisting CAHR in their crucial pro-bono work incredibly fulfilling.

“My time there has also taught me about how complex and inaccessible it is to navigate the American immigration system,” she said.

Garcia currently holds a national position with Amnesty International USA as the legislative coordinator for the State of Florida. In this role, she leads Florida’s advocacy efforts around their legislative priorities and serves as a liaison between members and congressional representatives. She also serves as co-director of Amnesty International FSU, encouraging students to participate in human rights activism.

This past summer, Garcia was selected as one of five FSU students to attend the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights Seminar on the Global Ethics of Human Movement. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was canceled.

Currently, Garcia is working on an Honors in the Major thesis to examine the rise of the populist radical right movement in Brazil and Hungary. She is looking at how these countries’ respective institutions facilitated their radical right leaders’ electoral rise and how said institutions may implicate their longevity. She received the Bess H. Ward thesis award to support her research endeavors.

“In the past decade or so, we have seen a global proliferation of far-right politics, characterized by nativist, anti-democratic and authoritarian rhetoric and policy,” she said. “Typically, research on these movements focuses on what social factors contributed to their growing popularity, but it is institutional factors like the electoral system, party system and more that entrench these movements into viable political voices.”

Garcia boasts a long list of accomplishments from her four years at FSU. In addition to being a Presidential Scholar, she is a Social Science Scholar, Garnet & Gold Scholar and has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her college career.

Upon graduation, she hopes to take a gap year and teach English in Spain for a year. She hopes to attend law school and study international human rights law to work for a non-governmental organization (NGO).

“FSU has taught me to invest my time in things that I am passionate about, and that makes me feel fulfilled,” she said. “Take the opportunities as they come to you. I credit FSU for a lot of the opportunities that I have had as most of my involvement has been through Florida State.”