Student Highlights: Ding Kong

Photo of Ding Kong

Hate words? Definitely not, says Ding Kong; their use is "breaking the silence against the unspoken homophobia in our society." He is pictured at a recent rally for social justice on Ho Plaza.

Major: Natural Resources
College: Agriculture and Life Sciences
Hometown: Los Angeles (born and raised for eight years in China, two years in Germany)

Main Cornell extracurricular activity – why is this important to you?
Although most of my activities are social justice and environmentally oriented and really important to me, this year I joined Yamatai, Cornell's one and only taiko (Japanese drumming) group. Drumming with Yamatai gave me a chance to sweat, train, learn and perform with really talented teammates.

Your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
After working with other young people at an anti-oppression training program in New York City through the Urban Scholars program, I've sharpened my political outlook and shifted my priorities to working with young people, education and culture, and committing myself to learning people's history and politics. It is an experience that helped me come out as queer to my parents and friends, and helped me clarify my passion and purpose. Ever since, I've been more involved with the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community, Asian-American groups and other social justice organizations.

Did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
Maybe they changed too much. My interests shifted from environmentalism and ecology to environmental justice, social justice, gardening, urban gardens, anti-oppression work, U.S. third-world feminism, Asian-American activism, education and then drumming.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?
Taking Professor Ron Mize's U.S. Comparative Race and Ethnic Relations class and Professor Cindy Cruz's U.S. Third World Feminism class, as well as lots of independent studies (I'm pretty sure I've exceeded my limit); starting an environmental justice class with fellow students and TA'ing three classes that I have never taken. Browsing and reading through books at the Asian-American Resource Center was also really influential in shaping my personal, political and academic perspective.

What Cornell-related scholarships did you receive?
The Udall Scholarsip and the Harlan B. Brumsted Scholarship, both of which have been tremendously helpful in reducing my yearly student loans.

While at Cornell, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?
Being part of the committee to create the Asian/Asian-American Community Center, helping organize the 2008 East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) and tutoring and mentoring young people in the Ithaca schools. I'm also proud of how much the Sustainability Hub has grown this year on its own, having left my post as co-president after two years. They have so many great projects I can hardly keep track.

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?
Learning, sharing and dancing with 1,000 other Asian-Americans from all over the country at ECAASU. Add that to the culmination of months of Excel spreadsheets and e-mails from organizing the conference. I was buzzing for a week from that experience.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?
I will be teaching in the Los Angeles public schools for two years with Teach for America. I plan to continue teaching for five to six years before going back to graduate school to study critical pedagogy.