Profile with Drew Lamonica Arms

Dr Drew Lamonica Arms (Louisiana & Lincoln 1995) is Professional-in-Residence and Director of Fellowship Advising at the Louisiana State University Honors College, where in addition to teaching she assists students applying for fellowships through her HNRS 3010: Leadership and Scholarship course. Her book, "We Are Three Sisters": Self and Family in the Writing of the Brontës was published by the University of Missouri Press in 2001, and she was a contributing author to The Brontës in Context, published by Cambridge University Press (2012). Drew holds a DPhil in English Literature and an M.St in Research Methods in English Literature from the University of Oxford, and BAs in English and History from Louisiana State University.

Rhodes Project: What is your favourite thing to do in Baton Rouge?

Drew Lamonica Arms: Avoid hurricanes!  We just built a house here and we are on a pond so we spend a lot of time outside, we love to fish, we love to watch water birds, we love to relax at the end of a busy school and work day.  I have a lovely screened porch which keeps mosquitoes and other critters out!

Rhodes Project: Who is your favourite author?

Drew Lamonica Arms: I went to Oxford to study Jane Austen, but when I arrived there was no one there to direct a thesis on her. When I was discussing the alternatives with my tutor, I mentioned the Brontës, and that pretty much started my career as a Brontë scholar having only read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre as every high school student does.  I grew very close to the Brontë family during my career at Oxford and subsequently, so I have to stay loyal to them and say the Brontës are my favourite authors.

Rhodes Project: Did you find your Oxford experience intellectually fulfilling?  Was it what you were expecting?

Drew Lamonica Arms: It was certainly challenging.  My situation was somewhat unique in that I came straight to Oxford from LSU, having lived in Baton Rouge all my life, and so I was naive in terms of the level of academic challenge and what was expected of me, not only intellectually but in terms of responding to criticism and responding to challenges to my own work.  That was certainly an adjustment but I had some incredibly supportive tutors and wonderful mentors along the way who said “Yes you’re not used to doing this level of research, but will do it and learn from it.”  I worked really hard to follow in the footsteps of some great fellows who helped me along the way.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite past project?

Drew Lamonica Arms: I love to write children’s literature, and that’s something I do in my free time – I have great inspiration in my own children.  They supply much of the fodder for some pretty funny incidents.  Probably my most rewarding project is designing the course for our Honours year students called Leadership and Scholarship.  It is based on some of my experiences of serving on Rhodes Scholarship selection committees where candidates were able to so brilliantly articulate their own leadership experiences, and their own contributions to the world, but when they were pushed to put that into the context of great Western thinkers, like “Was this a Machiavellian tactic you used?,” they really struggled. 

I designed a course which had a pragmatic aim to it, in that they read the great thinkers, people like Machiavelli, Socrates and Henry V on leadership, and then look at ethics and what it means to be a good citizen.  They also work on writing personal statements where they have to contextualise their own experiences within the stream of great Western thought, and then practise interviewing.  I’ve really enjoyed watching students blossom into great thinkers, who are able to articulate that both in written form and in an interview situation.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become passionate about working in Victorian literature?

Drew Lamonica Arms: I was always a closeted Anglophile, which is sort of unusual coming from a town in the South, and I went on a choir tour during my undergrad degree with the LSU a capella choir to England which solidified my idea that it was where I wanted to be.  I have always enjoyed Victorian novels, the stories they tell and the way they tell them.  From my early reading of Jane Eyre – which I loved immediately in the portrayal of this somewhat plain but incredibly strong woman – to having firsthand experience of the world in which she lived pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Rhodes Project: What does an average work day look like for you?

Drew Lamonica Arms: An average work day starts quite early in preparing two children to get off to school and taking care of animals.  I feel like I’m at a stage in my life where “caretaker” is my predominant role.  I’m enjoying this phase very much, but it makes for early mornings and late nights.  Once everyone is settled I have, without fail, my cup of real British tea in the morning, and then I head to my job at LSU which involves both teaching at the Honours College and administrative work throughout the university, primarily dealing with advising for the nationally and internationally prestigious scholarships.  That day ends at carpool time – it has always been very important for me that I’m the first person my children see when they get out of school, and I’ve been very blessed to have the flexibility in my career so that I can do that, and so that we have time to relax as a family. 

Rhodes Project: As a professor, can you describe a memorable teaching moment?

Drew Lamonica Arms: I remember making my first faux pas as a lecturer when I misspoke about Circe in the Odyssey turning men into pigs, and I made some kind of cheeky remark about there not being much difference, and I got a lot of boos from the audience.  That was my very first lecture, and it put me in my place quite quickly – it’s certainly a memorable moment, perhaps not a happy memory but an instructive memory.  I think my favourite thing to lecture on and my favourite memories come from lecturing on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  My favourite moment is to teach Canto 5 in the Inferno when Francesca and Paolo are telling Dante about their affair, which just seems like this romantic story and he gets really taken in, and then I follow it up with a lecture on all the devious ways Francesca is drawing him in.  I show them all the art of Francesca and Paolo which is all very romantic, and how everyone, including the students, have been suckered by Francesca, and I do enjoy watching their faces as they come to realise that.

Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your job?

Drew Lamonica Arms: Finding the balance between challenging the students and being a good support system for them.  We have pretty small class sizes, so I get to know my students very well.  It can be easy to fall into friend/counsellor role, which I enjoy and I do think is a very important part about teaching, but I’m also very committed to the idea that if there’s work to be done, then it’s got to be done well – what may have passed as satisfactory work in one class may not count as satisfactory in my class. 

They’re all such high achieving students, but the freshmen who are just out of high school at the top of their class are suddenly in this world where you can’t write your paper the night before and have it be ok.  There’s always that learning curve for them, and positioning myself as a mentor but also someone who is going to test them intellectually and helping them to build their character, that’s the most challenging part.

Rhodes Project: If you weren’t working at LSU, what do you think you might be doing instead?

Drew Lamonica Arms: I would probably be a librarian!  I just love to be around books – I’m unable to read on a Kindle or a screen, I am committed to the actual book.  I would love to have the freedom to write, and to have the time to develop the confidence to write what I want, damn the publishing world, it doesn’t matter what’s “in”, if I want to write poetry, or children’s literature, or academic essays that’s what I’d write.

Rhodes Project: What do you do in your free time?

Drew Lamonica Arms: My husband and I are big movie buffs, so we watch a lot of movies.  We travel; we spend a lot of time with our children going to museums, and outdoor activities.  We try to break free from the Walt Disney World curse and take them to more interesting places around the country – hopefully they’re getting to the age where they’ll be able to go abroad soon, because I would love to take them to England.  We really do enjoy being together – we’re just kind of “in the backyard, tossing the football, walking the dog” type of people.

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