Members of Canisius community honored at Lorch Awards
By Jon Dusza
The Joan Lorch awards are given to people in the Canisius community who make a contribution to create a more equitable world for all, regardless of sex, gender or sexuality. After, guests enjoyed appetizers as the award recipients were called to the stage to give a speech.
Hawa Saleh, a junior English, creative writing and history major won the Student Lorch Award. Saleh, who is a part of the honors program and chair of USA’s J.U.S.T.I.C.E Committee, has organized events and drives to benefit refugees. Among other things, she spoke about her experience in education and her hope for the future of it.
Saleh discussed the lack of opportunity for education for women in much of the world, and she touched on the culture shock she received when she visited Yemen, the country her father immigrated from, and how education for women was virtually nonexistent there. “I find that true equality and liberation comes in all shapes and sizes,” she said. “What’s placed on the head is certainly not important on the inside. And this is where I get my motivation to study: the hope that one day people who look like me do not have to jump through those hurdles.”
Saleh continued to say that “gender justice is important because representation is important. I never saw a girl that looks like me in college, … so I never thought it was in my reticle at all. I could not assume that I could go, because [I thought] ‘Why me? Why not all the women that came before me?’” Looking to the future, Saleh spoke about her nieces, recalling her asking her niece whether or not she wanted to go to college. “The mere fact that she could have said no,” Saleh said, “and have that rooted as a personal decision rather than one that’s made for her is a privilege.”
Dr. Secil Erdogan Ertorer of the sociology department won the award given to Canisius staff. Ertorer, apart from being a sociology professor, has aided refugees in the Buffalo area and written papers on the topic.
Buffalo being a border city makes this all the more important. Ertorer recalled her interview process, when, to her surprise, everyone who interviewed her was a woman. “This is how I had a good impression of Canisius,” Ertorer said. “I thought it was a good place to be and to work.” In accepting the award, she highlighted the women throughout history, those who are famous and those who are forgotten, who dedicated themselves to equality and justice.
For the future, she teaches her students “to fight to eradicate socially constructed stereotypes and injustices and societal variables.” She highlighted a powerful piece of feedback from one of her students: “You have taught me many amazing things, but, most importantly, you have taught me to believe in myself and that as a woman I can do anything and be anyone who I want to be.” Ertorer concluded with the potent reminder that gender issues are not just a woman or LGBTQ issue, but a human rights issue.
The award that goes to a member of the community went to Geo Hernandez, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Canisius in 2017 and her graduate degree from Canisius in 2019. While at Canisius, she helped to revitalize the Latin American Students and Friends club, and today, she is an organizer for the New York Working Families Party, a political party dedicated to economic justice.
Additionally, she has worked for New York State trying to deliver environmental justice. She spoke about her coming to Canisius as an outsider, and her desire to build a community at Canisius for all. “I had to build a community,” she said, “and that meant being with students that looked like me and had the same experiences as me.” In order to do that, she tried to bring people together through food, which she called a “love language.”
“We started having gatherings for Latino students,” she expressed. “That then spiraled and snowballed into something much greater and created a sense of coalition building across the campus that I would have never imagined was possible.”