People Profiles

In Memoriam: Dr. Hilal Ozcetin, Sociology

March 21, 2016

In 2007, Hilal Ozcetin came to SFU to pursue a PhD degree in Sociology after having received university degrees from the Central European University in Budapest (MA, 2006) and Baskent University in Ankara (BA, 2005).  

Determined to explore the significance of the veil in contemporary Turkish society, Hilal soon discovered during fieldwork that her research subjects were affected by a subtle gendered sexual morality, ahlak, that constrained all women in Turkey, not just those who wear the headscarf. She thus reoriented her empirical focus towards the dress code more generally and began uncovering the different ways both Islamic and secular discourses treat the female body as tempting and dangerous to the public order.  

In her dissertation, entitled Dressing up Ahlak : A reading of sexual morality in TurkeyHilal clearly reveals how both Islamic and secular discourses place significant limitations on women’s dressing practices. Religious or not, many women resist  ‘dressing up ahlak’ in public and thus face punitive consequences that send a clear disciplinary signal to all women. By complicating the meanings of power, resistance and liberation, Hilal’s thesis also contributes to a deepening of the sociological notion of human agency. 

On December 3, 2015, Hilal arrived at her PhD defence looking radiant and exuding confidence. She knew she had finally completed this academic journey and that none of the previous personal, financial and academic obstacles en route had stopped her. Hilal eloquently and passionately defended her thesis and made her committee members extremely proud.  

Six weeks later, after having just turned 34, Hilal was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She confronted this catastrophic situation with courage and dignity. Hilal died, surrounded by loved ones, on January 26, 2016.

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology is honoured to have had her as a student. She showed an amazing will to succeed, and we are grateful for her passion, hard work, and dedication both as a student and as a teacher. Hilal enlightened and inspired countless undergraduate students and was a model for a new generation of teaching assistants and future instructors.  

One of her students had this to say: "Hilal has been an amazing professor this semester.  I have learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed the entirety of this class. If anything, Hilal has inspired me to pursue a potential minor in sociology. I wish all the best to Hilal and her future endeavours. Thank you for making SA 150 the best class so far in my university career."

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology has honoured her by creating the Dr. Hilal Ozcetin Graduate Student Travel Grant and the Dr. Hilal Ozcetin Graduate Student Lab in Sociology and Anthropology. She will continue to be part of our department for years to come.

Hilal was my PhD student, one of the most determined and thoughtful I have ever supervised. She taught me that intellectual growth comes with trust and guidance, not rigidity. I cherish the trace she has left in my heart. 

Dr. Dany Lacombe, Professor of Sociology

Esin Gozukara adds that Hilal was an amazing friend:

It seems like many little corners of Vancouver contain memories of Hilal. It’s impossible for me to walk around and not remember the things we’ve done together. On November 10, for instance, we went to Gastown and had a delicious meal together and talked about our futures. Despite being stressed about her dissertation, as usual, she was lively and truly happy. I keep replaying those memories in my mind — it makes me smile. Smiling takes some work nowadays.

I guess one takes their close friends for granted; they’ll always be there, you pick up the phone and talk to them — easy! Whatever happens, even though you don’t get to see them often, thanks to busy and demanding grad student life, you know for certain that you’ll catch up over a cup of coffee or dinner when things slow down. No big deal, right? How naive of me!

I’ve never thought that I’d be without Hilal. I’ve never thought that a day would come that I can’t simply call her and leaver her a voicemail (this greatly annoyed her in a funny way) and talk to her at least for half an hour on the phone about mundane stuff. It didn’t occur to me that I won’t be able to take her to shopping because she didn’t have formal clothes to wear when teaching. I’ve never thought that I wouldn’t be able to get her advice when I’ll start designing my own courses. Who would have thought?

It’s still weird for me to talk about Hilal in the past tense. It’s still surreal that she’s not in our lives anymore. But here it goes: Hilal was a true inspiration and one of the strongest women I’ve met in my entire life. She showed true determination and achieved great success in her academic life.

She helped, in some way, every single person in her friend circle. As a friend, Hilal was there whenever I needed her. As a critical thinker, Hilal was there whenever I asked her help in an academic matter. Her heart was full of goodness. I’m missing her greatly. I’ll always remember her. May she rest in peace.

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