Francy Luna Diaz arrived in the United States from Colombia at the age of 19. After attending Pima Community College, Luna Diaz transferred to the University of Arizona, where she will be graduating this year with a double degree in law and political science
Before graduating, Luna Diaz was named the Honors College Outstanding Senior of the Year and received the Robie Gold Medal Award, an award reserved for one graduating student who embodies personal integrity, enthusiasm, humility and self-sacrifice.
“My first semester [at UA] was really hard. I felt quite lonely at first. I would just go to class and then go to the library to work,” Luna Diaz said. “As an immigrant, I had to leave my safety net and the comfort my country and culture gave me. I think that makes me a lot more resilient to change, though, and not afraid to take risks.”
As Luna Diaz settled into university life, she began to get more involved on campus and people started to take notice of her passion and hard work.
Luna Diaz got involved in the Honors College, attending the Alternative Spring Break volunteer trip and serving as a peer mentor. Luna Diaz also began volunteering as a translator at UA’s Immigration Law Clinic.
Then, Luna Diaz received an email inviting her to apply to UA’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium.
“Research has been an evolving interest of mine since I began going to school,” Luna Diaz said. “I had been interested in women in politics for a long time, especially the differences in this heterogeneous group we study as if it is homogenous, and started doing every school project I could on the subject.”
As part of UROC, Luna Diaz began working with Samara Klar, an associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy.
“Francy was interested in how Latina women in elected office influence political engagement,” Klar said.
Luna Diaz was drawn to study Latinas in politics because the Latinx community is the fastest-growing minority group in the country and there is not much scholarship on their political engagement.
According to Luna Diaz, a lot of the current scholarship on gender and politics ignores the issues faced by women of color and poor women.
“Her study’s analysis required she run regressions. She had never taken a course where she learned that,” Klar said. “We sat in my office, and, on the board, we went over regressions, and she got it. She is such an incredibly fast learner and is so motivated and open to learning new things.”
Luna Diaz found the political engagement of Latinas, especially those already engaged with the media, increased when more Latinas entered political office.
After taking a semester off classes to intern with the Arizona Supreme Court, one of only two students in the state selected to do so, Luna Diaz returned to the university and continued her research with Suzanne Dovi, an associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy.
“I think of Francy as intellectually curious and really warm and loving,” Dovi said. “She loves talking to everyone.”
Dovi first met Luna Diaz when she came to her office to ask if she could work with her on a research project. According to Dovi, Luna Diaz had already read four of Dovi’s own research articles. Dovi said she was more than impressed.
The two went on to study descriptive representation in the judiciary. The theory of descriptive representation argues that, when women and people of color represent their constituents but also their communities in politics, there is a ripple effect increasing political engagement.
Diversity in the judiciary and the contradictory demands placed on women in the justice system are pressing concerns, Dovi said, adding she believes Luna Diaz’ research will help scholars bring these concerns to the forefront.
“Francy is poised. She comes prepared and confident. It was really fun writing the paper with her,” Dovi said.
Along with publishing papers based on her research, Luna Diaz also traveled to the University of Michigan to present her findings.
Next year, Luna Diaz will move to Michigan with her family to attend the University of Michigan and pursue a graduate degree in political science.
“No one is self-made,” Luna Diaz said. “We all depend on a larger community to succeed, and our success should not disregard others. We need to pay it forward and advance with our community, because no success is complete without contributing to our larger community.”
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