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Being Her Full Self and Creating Space for Others

Welcome to SIS Voices, an ongoing series in which SIS alumni from historically underrepresented backgrounds share their experiences working in international affairs and offer some advice to current and future students who may also find themselves in the minority in their classes and professional spaces. These alumni work in varied fields, and they share a belief that the surest way to realize the SIS vision of “waging peace” is to include all voices in the discussion.

This time on SIS Voices, we’re excited to introduce Teresa Garcia Castro, SIS/MA ’18. Teresa graduated from the US Foreign Policy and National Security (USFP) program. She’s currently serving as a senior program officer for strategy, knowledge, and learning in the Latin American Program at Open Society Foundations.

What sparked your interest in international relations?
Having been born and raised in Latin America, I have experienced firsthand some of the current challenges the region is facing, including deepening inequalities, distrust in democratic institutions, the climate crisis, rising authoritarian trends, and violence. Growing up, I took an interest in political and social causes, and I decided to study international relations to better understand international politics, power dynamics, and human rights systems. My work has taken different forms, from working with governments and doing research at university institutions to conducting policy analysis and advocacy in human rights organizations.
What are some challenges and opportunities you’ve found as a Latina in the field of international affairs?
As a Latina woman and immigrant, I have found several challenges in the field of international affairs which has traditionally been dominated by political elites. The conversation and efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion in international affairs have advanced, but there’s a long way to go. For example, on average, Latinas make 54 cents for every dollar made by white non-Hispanic men. As for opportunities, I do believe my background, experiences, and skills have given me the tools to better understand and support strategies for social change.
What tools/skills/knowledge did you gain from SIS that have proven especially important in your career?
Besides the prestigious professors and practitioners, I was able to build a community of peers at SIS dedicated to international service who have a deep commitment to the communities we belong to. I particularly enjoyed the skills institutes on policy briefing, budgeting, and mediating history which gave me professional skills relevant to careers in international affairs. I was able to combine my studies with practical experiences such as working with Professor Paul Williams at the Public International Law & Policy Group, a pro bono law firm providing legal assistance to states and governments involved in peace negotiation, post-conflict constitution drafting, and prosecution of war criminals.
What advice would you give our current students of color about what they have to offer as a vital voice in the professional world?
I believe in each person’s own journey, but I would say that the path is not easy; we often face structural barriers, racism, and discrimination. I think we need to be proud of who we are and be our full selves in the work we do. We not only bring different perspectives; we also belong to those communities. Representation and participation matter. We need to occupy spaces of power and create spaces for others.
Who are your professional mentors (formal or informal) and how did they come to be your mentors?
I had the immense honor to work with Professor Philip Brenner for two years at SIS. Throughout our work together, he became my professional mentor. He challenged me and gave me the unique opportunity to co-author several articles, including a peer-reviewed article, “A Long Legacy of Distrust and the Future of Cuban-U.S. Relations” for Social Research Magazine. In addition, I was able to collaborate on his book, Cuba Libre: A 500-Year Quest for Independence. We always need experienced people who can guide us, be our thought partners, and open the door for us. I think that working together on a project is one of the best ways to enhance the mentee-mentor relationship.