Dr Derek Ong
Meet Dr Derek Ong, a Senior Lecturer in Hertfordshire Business School. Here, Derek shares his experience living in Malaysia before moving over to the UK, and his life now.
Life at Herts
As an enthusiastic educator armed with a wacky personality, the one thing I learned about being good in this role is to develop an empathy for diversity. To accept (not tolerate) that which is different from you and allow yourself to learn from this difference. One life event and a loss of a partner jolted me to rethink about my life course, of which I was at a crossroad with myself and my career. After battling with the numerous fears of uncertainty associated with jumping unto a new adventure, I finally decided to move to the UK from Malaysia and restart my life in June 2022. It wasn’t easy adjusting to a new experience, not to mention adapting to the weather, culture and food (something very important to all Malaysians!) Sometimes you will never know if it will turn out because life is about a series of choices and every choice pushes you closer to a certain direction. The one thing I was clear off is the direction I wanted to go. One of the things that gave me the confidence for this move was the strong Herts commitment to the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) agenda which will support me to that very direction.
Thinking back to the experience of growing up back home, one tends to ask questions on why you are different from everyone else, and because of what you see or hear, you will tend to take the safe route and hide your truth from people. Every day, you are constantly evaluating your choices of unloading your burden of truth with the right people, especially in a conservative country where being gay is still punishable by law. Having attended and volunteered in several Prides in Australia and New Zealand, I constantly took the chance to advocate for the inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ+ community back home in various forms, although not always with the same desired outcomes. Sometimes I even have to stealthily blend LGBTQ+ history and advocacy in my lectures swiftly forgetting the fear of being chastised for my actions. So, you can imagine my delight when I found and joined the LGBTQ+ staff network in UH.
I was fortunate enough to be paired with the awesome Dr Cheryl Holman as my mentor who helped eased my transition in Herts and the UK as a whole with our monthly meetups. With her encouragement, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and not be afraid to go for what I believe in thus gain confidence to venture into new unchartered territories of career advancement and self-development.
What I'm most proud of
I would say that I am now not afraid to represent my community openly for the first time within the Higher Education sector of which I have served for almost 20 years. I see myself representing the east and south east asian queer community coming from a Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic background. Familial piety is very much engrained in many of oriental cultures across the world. We are expected to get married and start a family the “normal” way. However, I am often questioned for my choices to be single (but available) and chose to focus on building my career. When faced with the question of having children in every conversation, I always jokingly reply, “I do not need to have children to complete me. I have thousands of them over the years, they are just not biologically mine, but I do the job of any parent educating, mentoring, nurturing and ensuring their safety and well-being as if they are my own”. That is the beauty of being in academia and enjoying what you do.
I am glad to know that students can see me as a role model to aspire to regardless of their background, and that they can achieve anything they set their mind to. I am also proud to be part of the Hertfordshire Business School EDI team, where I hope to share different cultural views about diversity in the workplace and advocate for equal opportunity for career growth. As an educator, we are given a great platform to educate cultural intelligence and acceptance in whatever field that we teach or research. I am proud to say that this is our cherished superpower we wield each time we are in front of students, and I am glad to be in this privileged position to do just that with many others like me. I cannot wait to see where my new life and new adventure with UK and Herts takes me next.
What can we do more?
Let’s be more visible on campus serving as ambassadors of hope and refuge for those who are struggling to come to grips with their sexuality just because they come from a different background. We need to advocate for the understanding and appreciation of intersectionality. You should never be made to choose to separate your faith, background and sexuality.
Believe in your intersectionality and all the things that makes you uniquely you! Allow yourself to be out and proud of who you are and everything that you represent. Remember that you are never alone on this journey we call life, and never ever be afraid to reach out to talk about your sexuality, health and identity. Create more safe spaces for support, sharing, mentoring and even advocacy for greater visibility and acceptance of intersectionality to put Herts at the top of equality, diversity and inclusion representation in UK Higher Education institutions.
As an avid superhero fan ever since I was a child, I always remind myself that we each possess a unique superpower and constantly need to be superheroes (in our own special way) to one another in love, kindness and compassion.