In Their Own Words: Women’s History Month Spotlight (Heather C. Lou)

A person, Heather C. Lou, has dark hair with multicolored streaks, wears glasses and a turquoise blue scarf, and faces the camera.

March is Women’s History Month. The Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) asked students, faculty and staff around campus to talk about the importance of this month, in their own words, through the lenses of their identities and experiences.

by Kianna Notermann

Meet Heather C. Lou. Heather C. Lou is an angry Gemini earth dragon, multiracial, Asian, queer, cisgender womxn of color multimedia artist and postsecondary education administrator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her art and writing is a form of healing, transformation, and liberation, rooted in womxnism and gender equity through a racialized borderlands lens. Heather works at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as the Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, where she focuses on campus climate, inclusion, and intersectionality in her daily practice.

I am currently the Assistant Director at the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE). I’ve been here for about 8 months. There is no way for intersectionality to not have an impact on any of the work that we all do in the Office for Equity & Diversity. We have to think about who are the students that we serve, who are the people we work with on a daily basis, how do we help students get the resources that they need. For me, I grew up in LA as a one-and-a-half-generation U.S. citizen. My dad’s side of the family is from Taishan, China, and my mom’s side are Ashkenazi Jews from the Middle East so I very much identify as Asian and multiracial. I also identify as a queer womxn of color, and as someone who lives with a disability. At the same time, I have cisgender privilege. I have a Master’s degree and positionality at a university. Whenever I walk into a room, all of the parts of my marginalized and privileged identities show up. In my work at MCAE, I am keenly aware of that. Anytime I do anything whether it’s assessment or budget or supervision, working 1-on-1 or just interacting with students, the center of all of it is intersectional feminism and critical mixed race studies. I use all of these critical theories, and the people who are at the very center of it all are those who are the most marginalized. I very much believe that any services or advocacy or support that we provide is with those people in mind. If I’m serving those who are the most marginalized, that means everyone else will get their needs met as well.

I went to school in Northern California, I was one of the first people in my family to attend college. I almost failed out of my first semester. College is way different than high school; I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have the capital to navigate it, and when I first started I felt really lost and unseen. There weren’t a lot of people who looked like me or identified like I did, I always knew I was queer and I am visibly a womxn of color. I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I know that a lot of college students feel that at first, too. A staff person at my university met me and asked, “Have you thought about getting involved? There are so many student leaders who are thinking like you, who are artists and activists, people who are thinking critically about other identities, so what would it mean for you to get involved?” After that, I had a whole bunch of student leadership positions, but the most influential one was working at our cross-cultural center on campus as an undergrad. One of my greatest mentors was my supervisor. She was also a multi-ethnic womxn of color who really helped guide me and make meaning of my identities, especially in spaces where other people didn’t identify the same as me. Really, she helped get me into equity and diversity work.

When working in this field, we have to think about how much we’ve grown in equity and diversity, and also what we still need to do better. It’s that ellipsis that brings me back the next day. I think, “Okay, we didn’t resolve that, it may never be resolved, but how do I work in community with people I care about and have conversations that will move the dial forward?”

Outside of work, I’m an artist and a writer. I use art as a method of healing and commentary around gender, sexuality, race, and all of their intersections and narratives to demonstrate that we need equitable access to resources. People with marginalized identities should have a seat at the table. Those are the things that I’m often thinking about in everyday life. Whether it’s the mixed media I create or the poetry I write, I try to center it on and highlight the identities of queer womxn of color. I can never remove myself from the artwork, or my work in general. My personal, professional, and political lives cannot be separated. I cannot separate myself wholly from anything I create or do. My art is expressionist, so it’s about the feelings that I put into it and also the feelings that it invokes in other people. I’m sharing narratives and voices of marginalized identities that aren’t always centered on in art.

In a lot of ways, I’ve never strongly identified as a feminist, which is mostly because I have experienced it as a white, straight, upper-middle class, cisgender womxn’s movement. First and second wave feminism have definitely been that. It’s like, “Yay, womxn!” equality work without acknowledging the ways that racism, transphobia, homophobia, and so on affect our community of womxn. In grad school, I focused on womxn of color leadership, and womxn with an x, womxn of all identities and presentations and had to decolonize my understanding of what a womxn was. A few years after writing that thesis, I started working in a womxn’s center where my career was focused on gender equity. When I talked to students there about what feminism was to them, I realized for the first time that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t necessarily identify as a feminist. I would say that I’m a third wave feminist, or better yet, a womxnist. I am because of my ancestors, and their collective knowledge. It’s also important to remind myself that I wouldn’t be here without some of the really rad, aspiring allies who were first and second wave feminists. I’m on the shoulders of those who did the equity work and I want to honor that.”

[Header Image Credit: Heather C. Lou]

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