Graduate discovers the personal in the political

Friday, April 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

At the age of 16, when most other teenagers were learning how to drive, Jordan Garcia was learning how to live with systemic lupus, a chronic and mostly invisible autoimmune disease that can affect any organ or tissue in the body, with symptoms that include fatigue, joint pain and headaches.

Some days are fine, but some days it’s hard to do even simple things like take a shower. There is no known cause or cure, and the onset of symptoms is completely unpredictable. But because you can’t see a headache or feel someone’s exhaustion, Garcia often felt dismissed by doctors.

Then, when she got to college, the Arizona State University political science major took a course called “Everyday Forms of Political Resistance,” and it sparked something inside of her.

“It completely transformed my thinking,” Garcia said. With the powerful newfound realization that the personal is political, she dove headfirst into exploring the topic further in her thesis.

“The question that I ask is what are the implications of expanding the definition of disability, specifically invisible disability,” she said. “Overall, I just found that we need to create more understanding through democratic collaborative processes in which there is listening.”

As the president of Ability Counts, a disability awareness club at ASU’s West campus, Garcia took what she learned and applied it in the real world, amending the club’s charter to specifically acknowledge both “visible and invisible” disabilities.

She is also a member of Lupus Foundation of America, has served on the planning committee for the AZ Walk to End Lupus and is an active volunteer with the Arizona Arthritis Foundation.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: This goes back to second grade when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, but I think it really grew in about sixth grade. That’s when I started noticing things that were happening in the world. The presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain automatically sparked my interest in politics. For the past 13 years, I’ve lived with my maternal grandparents and I would always hear them talking about political issues and I just really found a passion in it. When I came to the university, I found that the personal is political, and that sparked a big passion for writing my thesis, titled “An Invisible Politics,” which shows that everything involves politics. My thesis is also a form of resistance itself, against those particular spaces (medical and academic institutions) and the power relations and dynamics that are within those spaces.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: That the personal is political. Taking Dr. Behl's (assistant professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences Natasha Behl) class “Everyday Forms of Political Resistance” is what sparked this whole nuanced conversation and idea for my thesis. It completely transformed my thinking. I'm so passionate about that topic and politics within our everyday lives and the everyday forms of political resistance that exist. And to be able to take my story and have it transfer to other people's lives ... that's politics itself. Not just voting or anything to do with institutions but looking at people's everyday lives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: First, because it's close to home. I wanted to be near family. But I think that the opportunities and resources that are here are amazing. And specifically, on the West campus, it feels like a small liberal arts college with all the resources of a public university. I’m also exceptionally grateful for the Barrett Honors experience. With all the extra little projects and honors enrichment contracts I've gotten to do, I've found a lot more of what I'm passionate about and what I want to advocate for.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Behl. Her mentorship has been unbelievably amazing, and the topics that she allows her students to explore and take on are very important. She's had such a tremendous impact on me as a critical and analytical thinker, speaker and writer. She’s just an absolutely wonderful professor and political scientist overall.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Learn time management. It's very common advice but honestly, it really is so impactful and helpful. And also finding something that you're passionate about. It can be anything, just join a club or take a class or meet with a professor. But to be able to do those things, it's important to have good time management.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The Sands courtyard. I just love how it's very tranquil. And also Fletcher Library. I'm always in there getting Starbucks and writing. But the courtyard is a great place to stop and think and do your assignments.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I hope to go on to law school and I plan on becoming an attorney in either disability law or juvenile justice. I applied to some law schools in Arizona and some (others), including the University of Michigan and the University of Florida.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: It would definitely be research for lupus and other invisible disabilities and chronic illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, that need that money and research to help advocate and create awareness and understanding around them. Because there are no known causes and there's a lack of understanding within that lived experience.

Top photo: Jordan Garcia will soon receive her BA in political science through New College on the West campus. In the fall, she's aiming to attend law school and specialize in disability, juvenile or criminal law. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now