When Cat Huang ’21 transferred to Cornell in fall 2018, her main goal was finding her way around campus, not around student governance. Just two years later, Huang is starting her term as president of the Student Assembly.
After first joining the S.A. as a transfer representative, Huang has now reached its highest position, winning a twice-delayed election her senior year. Her Cornell journey has led her to advocate for fellow transfer students, launch a McGraw Tower Instagram account and land a fourth position in student government.
As S.A. president, Huang’s priorities include abolishing the student contribution fee, pushing the Cornell University Police Department to become more transparent and increasing communication between the S.A. and student advocacy groups.
Huang is also calling to restore trust between the assembly and the Cornell community by creating an atmosphere of inclusion and respect. After a close election this past week with the lowest voter turnout in recent history, Huang is taking over the S.A. at a time when the assembly is facing both internal and external calls for reform, after the assembly used funds from its student activity fee to donate $10,000 to a Cornell Students for Black Lives fundraiser.
“This means making sure the S.A. is no longer acting from a place of isolation, but [instead] all our representatives and all of our leaders have those relationships with the people and communities they’re supposed to be representing, which is something we’ve struggled to do in the past,” the newly elected president said.
But reforming the assembly wasn’t always on Huang’s mind. As a sophomore transfer student from the University of Virginia, Huang said she was first inspired to run for the transfer representative position her sophomore fall after she recognized the common concerns transfer students had — particularly finding housing and a community on campus.
“When I first came in, not all transfer students were guaranteed housing,” Huang said. “It was kind of weird, because we were first-year students like freshmen, but we were expected to go out and find our own leases in Collegetown, having never been to Ithaca.”
Though Huang had no prior experience in student governance, her role in the S.A. quickly took off. Her sophomore spring, she was elected vice president of diversity and inclusion, and her junior year she was elected executive vice president.
Huang took these new roles head-on, but she said the transition came with a steep learning curve and a fair share of hurdles.
“It was a pretty big adjustment for me,” she said. “I loved Cornell and I loved being a transfer student, but this was a whole new step, where I was having to get to know a bunch of other parts of Cornell that I hadn’t been exposed to yet.”
After two years in the S.A., Huang said kindness and empathy are the two cornerstones of her leadership style. She credits her family — specifically her mom — and her closest friends as her biggest role models in instilling these values and shaping her into a strong leader.
“I would not be here today without the strong women and women-identifying folks who have supported me and believed in me and really challenged me to stay on with leadership,” Huang said. “It really blows my mind and I’m so thankful for that.”
Though Huang had always been confident in her position as a female leader, she said she only later began grappling with her identity as Asian American. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, she said she never truly embraced this aspect of her life until she came to Cornell.
“I met a lot of different types of people [at Cornell] and I was really able to resonate more with my Asian American identity and I think that really informs how I operate now, especially being the daughter of immigrants it’s really about ‘if you put in the work it pays off,’” Huang said.
In addition to Student Assembly, Huang serves as an undergraduate resident fellow at Alice Cook House. Her own resident fellow encouraged her to apply, and she said she takes pride in creating a community for new transfer students adjusting to Cornell. She also spent much of last year involved with the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution as a mediator, working with cases involving Code of Conduct violations and currently serves on the executive board for the Cornell Asian Pacific Student Union.
But students know Huang outside of her spot at the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room table. She’s also known for creating the popular McGraw Tower Instagram account, @bingaleedingalee. After seeing a similar account for the historic clock tower on Twitter, Huang created the Instagram account her sophomore year as a lighthearted source of humor for her and her friends. To her surprise, the account’s 60 followers has jumped to nearly 2,800 followers in the last couple of years.
“I have some super fans of Bingalee that will DM me every time saying ‘We love you!’ or send me pickup lines about clocks and towers,” Huang said. “I’ve had people tell me it makes their day when I post something funny and that’s definitely what I’m here for.”
As the account gained a following, Huang tapped into this platform this summer to push for social change. Beyond clock tower memes, Huang also posts resources for Black Lives Matter, voting registration and other social justice issues. When she graduates, Huang said she hopes to hand off the @bingaleedingalee torch to any transfer student interested in advocacy.
Though she doesn’t know exactly what the next few years hold, Huang said she’s excited to take on her new S.A. role and renew trust in the assembly that works to represent Cornell’s 15,000 undergraduates.
“I think [it] comes down to building trust within all our representatives, members and leadership,” Huang said, “and making sure students feel that if they have a concern they can raise it to the Student Assembly and that the Student Assembly is there for them.”