Meloddy Gao, an IU Bloomington senior at O’Neill majoring in environmental management and minoring in sustainable fashion and law and public policy, is a people person who enjoys walking up to strangers and starting conversations with them. “Sure, it’s a little intimidating,” Gao states. “But there is so much you can learn from them.”
Gao’s passion lies in two main areas―Asian American identity and environmental concerns. Her interest in the environment goes back to childhood, where she had a favorite tree she hugged during recess. Initially entering college with aspirations to become a human rights lawyer, Gao quickly found that she wanted to focus on a specific issue area and switched to environmental management. She hopes to create documentary films about the environment and encourage sustainability.
“The environment intersects with every sector,” she said. “And I hope that I can do my part to help preserve it.”
Her interest in Asian American issues came later in college. As a Chinese American, Gao celebrated holidays such as Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival but had a complex relationship with her identity as an Asian American.
“I never really understood what the American part of being Asian American meant to me. I felt like I was only in situations where I was the only Asian American or person of color and participated in things that were atypical from other Asian Americans,” she said. “I thought that because I didn’t have certain hobbies, I wasn’t Asian American enough.”
After her freshman year, Gao spent the summer as an advocacy intern in Washington, DC with OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. She met other Asian American students from around the world who took her under their wing and helped her realize there is no correct way to be Asian American.
“I used to define how Asian I was by stereotypes that I saw in media because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be,” Gao said. “But only you can define yourself. Only you can decide how to define your identity.”
Gao is the current president of the Asian American Association, a student group with over 200 members. “Being Asian American is beyond your lived experience,” Gao notes. “It encompasses many different ethnicities and cultures and being Asian can be very different from being Asian American. It is important to find an organization or community where you feel safe and comfortable. Connecting with others with your identity is especially important as we enter Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This heritage month recognizes and celebrates Asian Americans and their accomplishments.”
After graduation Gao plans to have a career dedicated to communicating the issues, she is passionate about and telling stories that ensure AAPIs are positively represented and recognized.
“Identity is something that is constantly evolving,” Gao adds. “Everyone experiences their identity differently and takes different steps in their journey, so don’t worry about what other people think or what you think you have to be because you’re you. Take your time, be kind to others, and know that your community will always be there for you whenever you're ready to embrace it. ”