Kenney prepares for future as a social activist writer

Sophomore English major Connor Kenney is preparing for a career as a writer—a writer who uses literature as a form of social activism.

He’s considering entering the field of journalism after graduation to see how his writing chops intersect with the stories of the world. In preparation for that, he’s been learning as much as he can across a diverse academic landscape, and finding many connecting points in between. 

“The concept of intersectionality has been one of the most enlightening things that I’ve learned,” Kenney says. “Understanding the way that different fields of thought, communities, and academia interact with each other helped me understand many world viewpoints.”

Sophomore Connor Kenney sits in Van Etten-Lacey House, home to Cornell's Center for the Literary Arts.
Sophomore Connor Kenney sits in Van Etten-Lacey House, home to Cornell’s Center for the Literary Arts.

Kenney credits Professor of English and Creative Writing Rebecca Entel’s course, Literature and Social Justice in Chicago, as having the biggest impact on him since he’s been at Cornell because it pulled together many areas of interest under one umbrella. They studied social movements, revolutions, and literature as activism. A significant portion of the course was spent in Chicago, where they visited historic sites such as Hull House, contemporary neighborhoods where activists work, and sites of literary importance.

Professor Entel wanted students like Kenney to understand the many artistic and professional opportunities related to social justice and how to navigate them. While the class was in Chicago, they met with alumni working in the realm of social justice, including Heather Byrd Roberts ՚09 and Randy Santiago ՚18

“Connor is the type of student who helps shape our intellectual community at Cornell,” Entel says. “He listens carefully, responds passionately, and is the kind of student who continues conversations with classmates when the class session comes to an end. He also exemplifies the liberal arts by drawing connections across courses—he thought deeply about how material from an African American Literature course could provide a model for his final project in Literature and Social Justice.”

Kenney plans to add politics as a second major because he feels it connects to his English and creative writing focus, noting that “many social justice movements have been borne out of literature—for instance, the Haymarket Riots” and he hopes to spark the same energy with his writing. 

In addition to his coursework, Kenney held the position of class president on the Student Senate during his first year on campus and this year he mentored first-year students during New Student Orientation.