Class of 2023 encouraged to ‘build a better world’
Crystal Hernandez ’23, a sociology; gender, sexuality and intersectionality studies; and Hispanic studies triple major from Houston, Texas, has been awarded the 2023 Anna Lord Strauss Medal.
The award is given annually at Commencement to a graduating senior who has done outstanding work in public or community service, including service to the College. It is presented in honor of Anna Lord Strauss, a remarkable woman who was national president of the League of Women Voters, held five presidential appointments to national and international committees and missions, and served Connecticut College as a trustee for the extraordinary term of 32 years.
A consummate leader, scholar and changemaker, Hernandez has an extensive history of volunteer and advocacy work addressing issues ranging from women’s equity and empowerment to immigration reform at the campus, local and national levels.
In her home city of Houston, Hernandez advocated for bipartisan immigration reform while conducting research and outreach on the legal and electoral frameworks needed to achieve changes to immigration policy. In an effort to include more Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities in U.S. political systems, she interned with the U.S. Census Bureau’s Research and Methodology Directorate and used her skills in Spanish and qualitative research to improve census questionnaires for Spanish speakers. As an intern for Houston’s SUSTAIN Wellbeing COMPASS Coordinating Center, Hernandez conducted research and developed educational materials around HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness in the state. She served as an EMERGE fellow at Houston Community College, where she helped first-generation college students transition from secondary to higher education and provided mentorship and guidance to new students. She also supported Spanish language justice and inclusion within Houston Independent Schools.
Hernandez brought that same commitment to equity and social justice to the New London and Connecticut College communities. As a part of the Akomawt Education Initiative, a grassroots indigenous rights organization, Hernandez fought to ban Native American mascots in Connecticut high schools. Additionally, she participated in the local BOLD Network, designing intersectional feminist curricula for young women’s empowerment and media literacy and collaborating with the organization on its strategic plan and long-term sustainability.
At Conn, Hernandez has continued to pioneer campus advocacy work around issues of identity, social justice and college transitions. She helped to found the Genesis Mentoring Program for New London High School students interested in college preparation, post-high school success, and personal exploration and development. She also served as a program coordinator and signature programming fellow for the Genesis Race and Ethnicity Programs, developing programming for first-generation and BIPOC students.
Hernandez has played many key roles within the College’s Division for Institutional Equity and Inclusion. She facilitated discussions for the Gund Dialogue Project, which promotes intergroup dialogue based on critical theory and experiential learning to increase intercultural awareness and appreciation throughout the college. She also interned for two years at the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), where she developed strategies to increase the presence of CCSRE on campus and developed and facilitated CCSRE programming in partnership with student organizations and academic departments. She has also volunteered for the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy as a SafetyNet peer educator and is a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, an organization promoting Chicano unity through political action, culture and history; of Las Voces Unidas; and the Women of Color Collective.
In her coursework, Hernandez has achieved Dean’s Highest Honors and researched historic discrimination against flight attendants in the United States, fertility care for women of color and LGBTQIA+ issues on college campuses. She has presented her work to the New York Health Department, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the Trevor Project. In 2022, Hernandez received the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in support of her studies abroad in Ciudad Real, Spain. During Commencement weekend, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, Delta of Connecticut Chapter.