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Faculty voice: Living my passion

October 12, 2022 - Galia Benítez, Ph.D.

Galia Julieta Benítez Cabrera is an associate professor of international relations in James Madison College. She completed her undergraduate political science degree at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and moved to the U.S. to study at Indiana University where she earned her master’s degree in Latin American studies and a Joint Ph.D. in Public Policy and Political Science; Benítez Cabrera has taught in James Madison for the last 10 years.

Woman standing in a desert wearing a hat and Frida Kahlo shirt

I grew up in Colombia in the capital city of Bogotá, home to 7 million people. This is a beautiful cosmopolitan, hectic and alive city. I came to the United States to do my master’s degree at Indiana University. While I was there, I took an amazing class in public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

When identity and experience inform action

My professor asked the class how we can create a civil society. Such a simple but at the same time complex question opened my eyes to the application of abstract ideas such as citizenship and democracy. I became keenly aware of the difficulties of designing public policy, in dealing with concrete issues, actors, ideas, ideologies and interests. Considering the day-to-day issues of government fascinated me. I found my passion and pursued a Joint Ph.D. in Public Policy and Political Science.

Most of the classes I teach are on international political economy. I also teach classes on regional trade agreements and Latin American politics and illegal drugs.  

My area of expertise and my passion is studying the impact of illegal drugs. Having grown up in Colombia, I have been a front row witness to the War on Drugs and the societal consequences.

I was a little girl when Pablo Escobar, an international famous drug lord, was putting bombs all around the city. He was trying to intimidate the Colombian government and to negotiate a possible term of surrender and avoid being extradited to the United States. He even offered to pay the entire national debt of the country.

After Pablo Escobar’s death, the Narco-Guerrilla FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, took over the drug trafficking business, and my family — like many families in Colombia — lived through much violence. Memories from my childhood, my teens years and my adulthood have been influenced by the War on Drugs and the resulting violence.

For me, my area of study is much more than a topic; it is my commitment to my country and all the people that die because of partisan and misinformed policies.

Honoring Hispanic Heritage

There are not a lot of spaces in the United States that celebrate the tenacious values, the heart and the work that my community contributes to the economy and social and political fiber of this country.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, for a moment, the faces and voices of my diverse people, the Indigenous, Black and the Mestizo, are hopefully seen, recognized, heard and valued. I am optimistic that even during this short month we as Latinos, Latinas, Latines y LatinX can have a voice and are able to express the richness of our cultures, the power of our ancestors and the importance of our ideas and presence in every space we occupy.

Doing what I am meant to do

I love academia. I love the promise of generating knowledge. I love teaching and the possibilities of discussion and the creation of ideas. I cannot imagine another life, but if I had another profession, the only thing that I am sure is that I would be doing it with heart.