Heather Lou may be new to Metro State, but she’s the one with words of welcome for all students: “There are so many different ways to be a leader in the community—whether on campus, inside or outside of the classroom, in the family, at work, in religious spaces and much more.”
Lou began her work as the Director of Student Life and Leadership Development on Jan. 3. She previously served as the Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
At Metro State, Lou will oversee the Student Center and the use of student activity fees. Her mission is to help Metro State provide co-curricular activities that enrich student lives and add additional value to the Metro State academic experience. She will also advise the Student Senate, the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC), staff members and student organizations.
“My favorite part of this position is the potential to help the very diverse population of students, staff, faculty, and other members of the community on all campuses develop a sense of belonging and grow in their leadership style,” said Lou.
The chance to give back and help others fuels her decision to work in higher education and student affairs administration. As a college student, Lou faced considerable challenges herself. “I almost failed out of my first year at San Jose State University. I was one of the first in my family to attend postsecondary education and had no idea on how to apply to or succeed in a college environment,” said Lou. “When I got there, there were very few people who looked like or identified like me, and I felt alone.”
In her last semester, Lou had a devastating skateboarding accident that shattered her right hand. It required multiple surgeries and she had to learn how to type with one hand. Although she was close to graduating, she considered dropping out of school.
But at her college’s multicultural center she found mentors and role models who helped her get back on track. Lou also discovered a passion and career path in social justice, equity, and advocacy. “I wanted to work with students and focus on identity in my professional career,” said Lou.
“Folks were there to help me navigate,” she said. “My mentor, Sadika, guided me in searching for, applying to, and interviewing at graduate schools. She role-modeled collaborative, authentic, loving, supportive, accountable, and transparent leadership, which I strive to utilize to this day,” said Lou.
At the University of Vermont, Lou began graduate studies in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration. She researched intersectional feminism, critical race theory, and multiracial and social identity. Lou contributed to several training programs and presentations at conferences, including those hosted by NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
She is the author of several academic publications including “Ain’t I a Womxn (of Color Leader)? Decolonizing Workspaces with Oppositional Consciousness.” Lou’s spelling is very much intentional, to “recognize the agency of womxn… and to challenge the notion that womxn are defined through their relationship to men,” she said.
Lou went on to serve various roles in student affairs including resident hall director, first-year experience coordinator, multicultural affairs advocacy coordinator and drop-in crisis responder.
From these experiences, Lou learned everyone can serve as a leader in some capacity. She thinks many people are quick to make false assumptions about leadership ability. Instead of noticing potential, they only see a person’s tattoos and piercings. They fail to look deeper. “I feel like many people experience the concept of ‘leadership’ as a very dominant and white experience,” Lou said.
Her message is one of empowerment to all students: “So you’re not the loudest person in the room? That’s fine. You are an introvert? Come on in. You don’t wear a suit on the regular? You can still be ‘professional.’ Trauma is in your past or current experiences? I am with you there, friend. You are a refugee? Queer and transgender? A person of color? Indigenous? Disabled? Come in. You have space here,” she said.
Lou remembers the lessons of her Chinese grandparents. They immigrated to California in the 1930s. She noticed how they made an effort to connect with people in stores. They shared dinner with their new friends and tried to build a community. “That is how I imagine my leadership,” said Lou.
She aspires to be available and interactive with students on all of Metro State’s campuses. “In a learning environment that is in many ways non-traditional, I love the idea of finding ways to connect with the community over the internet, through art, dialogue, coming to classrooms, and attending events in St. Paul, Minneapolis or Brooklyn Park. The possibilities for me to learn and be creative with students, staff and faculty are endless. How can I not feel excited about collaborating and reaching out in this role?” Lou said.