Covenant Scholar enjoying the ride

Through her health policy studies and skateboarding, Louise Hoff is finding community in Chapel Hill.

Louise Hoff and other students skateboarding on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.
Louise Hoff (right) said the community she's made at Carolina has "sort of made my college experience."

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, a new vocational interest and hobby emerged for Louise Hoff, then a high-schooler in Charlotte: public health — and skateboarding.

Everyone’s collective well-being was at the forefront, and Hoff’s mother was working through tough conditions as a nurse, adding a personal punch.

“Given the COVID pandemic, I was like, ‘Ah, health disparities, health behavior,’” said Hoff, now a college junior and Carolina Covenant Scholar. “I think my interest in public health comes from being interested in the system. I really like looking at systems and critiquing systems.”

The skateboarding? That came from Hoff being bold and trying out something she had long wanted to. Skateboarding became an outlet for decompression and a way to express herself.

Hoff said “stepping on the skateboard felt incredibly natural” and that “skating — before I was able to articulate my queerness — was an articulation of my queerness and my non-normativity.”

Years later, Hoff is embracing both interests at Carolina. Hoff was attracted to Carolina for two reasons: the Carolina Covenant, a financial aid package and network of support that provides UNC-Chapel Hill students the opportunity to graduate debt-free, and the chance to study at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Now that Hoff is a health policy and management major, her interest in understanding health systems has grown, especially in terms of often-overlooked inequities and large-scale processes that can hinder health outcomes.

“The markets aren’t very fair to the ordinary person,” she said, recalling a recent takeaway from a health policy and management course. “Prices are ridiculously high; profit margins are incredibly high. And learning about the system of insurance — I think I already had a little bit of knowledge about it — but learning about that, I guess it’s like fueling a fire.”

Outside of the classroom, Hoff has created a community of her own at Carolina by founding the BIPOC Skate Collective, a group with a mission of creating a safe space for Black, Indigenous and people of color “to explore skating as and for their authentic selves.”

The group began organically. Hoff would see other skaters around campus and befriend them. Impromptu skating meetups with peers led to more outings. Eventually she and friends decided to form a club.

The group, Hoff said, offers students a way to “let your guard down” and find comfort and understanding around peers.

“I know skating can be particularly vulnerable,” she said. “So having the space to fall, having the space to ask for a hand to hold, it’s nice to do that with another person of color.”

She’s also found community through Carolina Covenant, which has provided research funding and mentorship opportunities. While still bullish on health policy, Hoff has been struck by the overlap between that and law, especially regarding prisons.

The relationship she’s developed through Carolina Covenant with Kaneesha R. Johnson ‘16, a legal researcher and postdoctoral scholar in the Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity, has Hoff pondering legal work as a potential future.

“It feels like synchronicity,” Hoff said of her mentorship opportunity with Johnson. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of synchronicity around learning. She does legal research, and we have similar values.”

Whether it’s through skateboarding, her studies or involvement with Carolina Covenant, Hoff is struck by the relationships she’s formed at Carolina.

“The community that I’ve made, I think that’s sort of made my college experience,” she said. “Just finding the people who I’ve found home in has been amazing, and I don’t know that I was completely expecting that.”