Portrait on Main Hall Green: Eilene Hoft-March (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Eilene Hoft-March joined the Lawrence University faculty with a student-focused teaching style and a deep love of French literature and autobiographies. Thirty-two years later, that all remains true.

The Milwaukee-Downer College and College Endowment Association Professor of Liberal Studies and professor of French has been the recipient through the years of some of Lawrence’s most esteemed teaching awards—the then-named Young Teacher Award in 1991, the Freshman Studies Teaching Award in 1997, and the Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2011.

She has taught courses in Gender Studies, has directed Lawrence’s Francophone Seminar in Dakar, Senegal, and has advised students coming to Lawrence via the Posse Program.

She holds a bachelor of arts degree in French and English from what was then Carroll College and master’s and doctoral degrees in French from the University of California-Berkeley.

We caught up with Hoft-March to talk about her interests in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I’d like students to know that, while I have a professional responsibility to guide them through the course material, each class is uniquely shaped by who shows up in the classroom. The mistakes we make—and I include myself—the questions we ask, and the challenges we encounter all give distinctive worth to the whole enterprise. The more we dig in, the more our work becomes part of our personal strategies for dealing with what’s beyond the classroom.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Being at the far end of my career at Lawrence, I am grateful for having been able to participate in the launch of Gender Studies and Global Studies, and in the integration of Francophone Studies into my own department, as well as being part of the Posse program. Looking forward, I want to return to the project of reconstructing and writing the story of my grandparents’ immigration to this country.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I first went to Dakar, Senegal in 1998 when the French and Francophone Studies department’s Francophone seminar was new. I had no practical experience and little knowledge of French-speaking West African cultures. My Dakar friends’ and family’s warm hospitality, their patience in making me culturally presentable, and their curiosity about my indelible American-ness was a lot to undertake. I fell in love with their vibrant culture. Every March, the season when we leave for Dakar, I still feel a tug of nostalgia for the sandy, Sahel heat and the musical sounds of Wolof.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

I suspect I’d still be teaching, but a back-up career would focus on feeding people. Making food is, in my humble opinion, a sacred and fulfilling task. You can do a lot with food to rekindle energy, friendship, and love.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

My office. I am blessed with two stunning views of the campus from my office windows. The north window gives a view of the Chapel, Lawrence’s iconic performance space open to Lawrentians and, just as importantly, to the community beyond the University. From the south window, you can see the library, also a public space symbolizing a lot of what Lawrence is about. It’s lovely to look on these buildings that support endless potential for engagement with knowledge and art.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

One favorite book? That’s like asking me who my favorite relative is, though I wouldn’t want to push that analogy too far. I have special relationships to books that have accompanied me through tough phases of life or books whose readings shared with others have enriched my relationships. For now, I’ll go with, in English, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and, in French, Marie Darrieussecq’s Bref séjour chez les vivants (Brief Sojourn Among the Living).

One recording? So many choices. Jaap Schröder on violin playing Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Joni Mitchell’s Mingus, and Tracing Astor by Gidon Kremer. The Piazzolla recordings are great for gliding around the kitchen while cooking.

Films? Branagh’s Dead Again and Nolan’s Memento. I’m a sucker for psychological thrillers.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu