By Alexandra Zigomalas
Ciara Bennese (ΦBK, 2016) is a junior at Florida State University and a proud member of Amnesty International at FSU. As an advocate for human rights, Bennese has brought a passion to her campus that has not only inspired her peers but also those outside of her community.
Bennese learned about Amnesty International at Amnesty FSU’s first Human Rights Conference. “I got to learn more about different human rights issues that changed my perspective on the state of human rights worldwide,” Bennese recalled, “such as indefinite detention in Guantanamo Bay, torture, and human trafficking.” After being inspired to help Amnesty’s many efforts, Bennese applied to serve on Amnesty FSU’s executive board and took a position as their public relations officer for the 2016-2017 school year. “I’ve been with Amnesty for almost a year now,” she said fondly. “Next year I’m honored to serve as Amnesty’s director.”
During her time with Amnesty FSU, Bennese has used her position to focus on an issue closest to her heart: the refugee crisis. “I’ve had the privilege of presenting to our general student group about the rights of refugee children, and I advocate for refugee rights whenever I can,” she said. “Many members of Amnesty FSU are also passionate about refugee rights, and we’ve become actively involved in helping the International Rescue Committee.”
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is an important, organization that has helped refugee families find homes in Tallahassee, Florida. Being students in Florida, Bennese and her peers have worked to help the IRC with the collection of clothing, food, and other essential items to help refugees in need.
As an FSU student, Bennese cares about her local community and uses her position to help her peers. When President Trump’s travel ban was first instated, Bennese and her fellow Amnesty members used social media to see if any of their classmates were affected. Through Facebook they learned that one of their peers who had visited his home country of Iran was unable to return to the United States. Bennese spoke of the group’s efforts to bring him back to campus:
“We shared his story on our Facebook page, and through over 30,000 views, we got the FSU administration to acknowledge the situation and declare their support for international students. We put the student in touch with our advising professor and immigration lawyer, Terrence Coonan, who worked with him to successfully get his return visas within weeks. Not only did we help the student get back to the US, we shared his story through our social media to show the impact of the executive order in a real and relatable way.
Bennese does not intend to end her fight for human rights with graduation next spring. As an international affairs and political science major, she hopes to work for Amnesty International or for other human rights organizations. Ultimatley, Bennese aspires to become a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department, where she would use her position to represent the United States in Latin America. “As a second generation Mexican-American, I’d love to serve in Mexico and work on strengthening the United States’ relationship with Mexico and other Latin American countries,” Bennese explianed.
The Phi Beta Kappa chapter at FSU inducted Bennese in 2016, halfway through her junior year. She said she had spent her time at FSU working toward being elected, and when she received the invitation last fall, she was incredibly proud. Bennese loves education and has dedicated herself to all of Phi Beta Kappa’s values throughout her undergraduate career so far. Bennese views her membership as a source of both reflection and motivation. “Phi Beta Kappa has helped me recognize all of the hard work I’ve put in throughout my college career,” she said, “and motivated me to keep striving both in college and beyond.”
Alexandra Zigomalas is a junior at Stony Brook University double majoring in history and art history. Stony Brook University is home to the Alpha Beta of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.