Ruxandra Looft believes the new director of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center should serve as a director, educator, advocate and adviser. Her colleagues believe she’s right for the job.
Looft, known to students, faculty and staff as Sandra, has spent time doing all but as a director at Iowa State, although that is set to change as Looft will officially be the new director of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center on June 18.
Looft has been with Iowa State since 2010, as a lecturer of German and international studies and an academic advising coordinator in the world languages and cultures department starting in 2013, though she began with the department as an adviser in 2010.
While Looft’s doctorate is in German and comparative literature, she said gender has always been a central theme of her published work.
“My own research and writing in publications are all focused on gender studies,” Looft said. “Naturally, my scholarship factored heavily into what I teach, it also factors highly into my involvement on campus.”
While Looft’s professional body of work has had a focus on gender studies, she developed her attachment to the academic segments of feminism later in her academic career, when she was in college.
“I was originally from Romania and I grew up under communist dictatorship during my childhood there and my family essentially left when the former-East Bloc collapsed,” Looft said. “So mine is, in many ways, a classic immigration story; my parents wanted a better life for us and for me, so we left at the first opportunity and ended up in Germany.”
Looft learned to speak German while living in Germany and credits her time there with her decision to pursue German cultural studies.
“For a variety of reasons, Germany, at the time, wasn’t very immigrant friendly and we couldn’t stay so my parents applied [for refugee status in Canada and New Zealand]," Looft said. "It’s very much like you apply for college acceptance, you can apply as a refugee family for countries to accept you for immigration."
Looft, whose parents are scientists, moved to Canada with her family before finally moving to the United States when she was 16. Looft learned English while living in Canada at 10-years-old.
“I learned English the way I learned German, just by going to a regular class and not speaking [English] at all at first, and learning it by just being in the school system, doing ESL classes,” Looft said.
It wasn’t until Looft was attending college at Bowling Green State University in Ohio that her interest in gender studies was sparked.
“Once I started reading feminist critical theory and learning about gender theory, queer theory, all of these things that talk about identity formation and development, they also really helped me make sense of my own identity as an immigrant,” Looft said. “Once you learn about one “ism,” you start to make sense of many “isms” or you start to see them — they become visible to you, right?”
Looft said learning about gender equity, she began to see how national identity played such a prominent role in identity formation.
Looft lectures in the women and gender studies department and leads a study abroad program in Germany for the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Alissa Stoehr, a sociology and women’s and gender studies professor and interim director of the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, said she’s looking forward to working with Looft.
“I am very excited that Dr. Looft has joined the staff at the MSWC,” Stoehr said. “She has a wide range of knowledge and experience that will lend well to the mission and values of the MWSC.”
Stoehr moved into the role as interim director in February, 2018 after the departure of Lorraine Acker.
Looft believes her experience as an adviser in the world languages and cultures department will benefit her in her new role in which she believes listening to the needs of students is paramount.
Looft said she has goals and ideas but is deeply interested in hearing input from students, faculty and staff. She said she wants to continue the trend of the Women’s Center being open to all on campus.
The openness, intelligence and care Looft demonstrates was a common thread discussed by those who work with her.
Mark Looney, senior lecturer in German and international studies, leads the study abroad program with Looft. Looney said they are constantly shifting between helping students one-on-one with intellectual and emotional needs while also filling in educational gaps.
“I think Sandra has just excelled at that sort of multivalent, the kind of mixed-bag of skills that it takes to do well in an academic setting that is really focused on students,” Looney said. “It’s not something she’s having to think about, it’s so natural for her to move from intellectual argument to compassionate understanding…”
Looney added that Looft thrives in similar situations and said her skill set will be invaluable to her new position. Looney, like many who interact with her closely, have noted her work ethic and desire to improve.
“Her goal is to do better and she’s really open to saying ‘okay, I’ve reached a place of proficiency but really what I want is mastery,’” Looney said.
Joi Latson, a community adviser and student ambassador in world languages and cultures, said she has known Looft for approximately two years.
“I ended up changing advisers within the department but I still felt I could come talk to her about anything,” Latson said. “I work in the world languages and cultures department and every time I go into work, I always pass by her office and just passing by, I’m always able to go and just kind of talk to her about things outside of academics.”
Latson said she frequently goes to Looft for book recommendations because of how avid of a reader Looft is.
“She does so much more than … advising, she’s kind of just there as like a mentor and just someone that you’re able to talk to,” Latson said.
Looft is always available for advice when applying for scholarships and internships, Latson said, remarking at Looft’s ability to remember when a student had applied for something and the initiative she takes to check on the process with the student.