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GSWNY Power List: Women Making HERstory – Dr. Katherine Conway-Turner

Interview with Dr. Katherine Conway-Turner, President SUNY Buffalo State

What is your passion? 

My passion is to educate and support students to their full potential so college graduates can lead successfully and make significant and positive contributions to our communities. This includes all students from all races, religions, backgrounds, economic standings, and all types of diversity. The world needs all people to be developed fully so they can maximize their contributions to their families, their communities, their neighborhoods, and our world. This passion also means I’m deeply dedicated to what I call JEDI excellence (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion).

Why is it important for young girls to develop leadership skills?

Girls make up at least 50% of our youth. Girls bring their unique attributes, perspectives, and experiences to bear on the issues and concerns that our world faces. But in order to lead fiercely and successfully, girls must see themselves as leaders and hone the traits and dispositions to lead courageously. Girls must see women models, must be given the opportunity to lead first in small ways and then larger ways, and must be applauded for their leadership. Girls bring passion, care, knowledge, community-mindedness, and dedication to our world! Every good and great movement has been fueled by women, so let’s prepare our girls for their future paths as change-makers.

What 3 women do you admire most personally and professionally?   

  1. I first think of Fannie Lou Hamer from the 1960s; Fannie Lou was an African American daughter of a sharecropper in Mississippi. She fought for African Americans to have the right to vote. She was beaten and jailed, but she refused to stop fighting for the democratic rights for each person to have the right to vote. I admire her for her courage, and drawing on her life experiences makes me aspire to be a courageous fighter for truth, justice, equity, and democracy.
  2. Johnetta Cole is the first African American female President of Spelman College. She served as President between 1980 and 1990. She was the first African American female President I knew, and her eloquence, knowledge, and passion for education were contagious. She called on other Black women to become sister presidents, and thus she represented a force and a model that allowed me to see myself one day leading a college community.
  3. Octavia Butler is the most praised African American Science Fiction writer. She is the recipient of the most prestigious awards in her field, such as the Hugo and Nebula awards for outstanding science fiction writing. She places African American women at the center of her stories, and she grapples with dystopian themes and glimpses of what the world might be if humans stay on the same destructive path. She has informed my thinking about ecology, environmental issues, social and cultural discrimination by allowing me to walk away from the here and now and think about what could be and would be under different situations. Although she died many years ago (in 2006), I reread her books and again fall into worlds that extrapolate our reality into a science fiction future.

Why do you believe this year’s Women’s History Month theme: “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” is important?  

The theme of providing, healing, promoting hope is a fitting theme for Women’s History Month. Without hope and healing, we cannot move forward in positive ways. It is not always easy to see the sun beyond the clouds, but if we wish to move ahead in a positive direction, it requires a belief that better days are ahead. But hope must be grounded in how you can move obstacles aside and get to the better day you seek. This theme gives girls the agency to accept painful and difficult situations or discriminatory policies and procedures. The question is how you can help heal the pain that you or others feel, how can you be instrumental in forging another path, and how can you keep hope radiating within yourself and others so that they don’t become demoralized. This hope allows us to keep working for the broader good and elevating who we are and what we see as a better future, not for just a few but for all. Women have always inspired hope, and I know girls today will grow up to inspire those around them to seek a better, more just, and fair world for all.


Throughout March, GSWNY will be highlighting more local women making HERstory in the community. Celebrate Women’s History Month with us by sharing the stories of these incredible women who help make the world a better place!

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