By: Leah Heim 

Everyone should do one or two things they do not think they can do. Me, I met my match in Ball State’s Digital Literature Review

When I first heard about the journal, I had four more wisdom teeth, thirteen more inches of hair, and a curriculum vitae smaller than my peanut of self-confidence. When Dr. Huff invited me to apply for an editing position in the DLR during my sophomore Victorian Literature class, I thought that it sounded too big for me. There are students who join internationally known journals. I was not one of them. Only after much encouragement (and a wisdom tooth removal) did I finally cave to Dr. Huff’s insistence and join, if hesitantly, the scary Digital Literature Review

Of course, the experience has been anything but scary, even when I have studied themes like Monsters, Post-Apocalypse, and Utopias and Dystopias. In all seriousness, the next three years would usher in some of the best experiences of my academic life. As a wee sophomore, I learned how to edit like an English machine and how to stand up in front of my peers to passionately defend favorite paper submissions. As a junior, I faced down a lead editor position in the journal, which was an intimidating job that inspired me to cut thirteen inches off my hair in favor of a short, edgier style. Even without my hair, the job was intimidating, but it was so worth it. I learned leadership skills through assigning work to my fellow editors, leading discussions about submissions, and presenting work at public forums like Butler University’s Undergraduate Research Conference. 

Amid all this work, though, my classmates and I always found time for fun. I think of blowing off steam before class by watching a YouTube video of tap-dancing noses from a Shostakovich opera. I think of one of my classmates slipping me a tampon to wear behind my ear like a flower while I presented my Carrie  research project at the DLR gala.

In addition to this fun, however, is the sheer personal growth I have experienced with my time in the DLR.  I think now of the inspiring warrior spirit of my classmates as we raged against the injustices of our current world. I think of how the fire in our eyes combusted into action when we stood up in front of an audience at the DLR  gala and dared to speak out about things like climate change, governmental corruption, and nuclear holocaust—things some people only stare down in their nightmares. The subjects I became passionate about in the DLR, like Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, ecofeminism, and post-apocalyptic theory, have become the staples of my literary interests. For example, I am mapping out an ecofeminist, postmodernist retelling of Anna Karenina   for my Honors Thesis, and I have recently submitted a paper on abjection to a graduate conference in Illinois.

Because of the Digital Literature Review’s important role in developing my sense of self, I am thrilled to be participating in the journal as this year’s teacher’s assistant. I have contributed to class discussions while also leading some of them, and I have helped students develop topics for their research papers. When someone struggles with the logistical aspects of running the journal, I drop a few hints here and there to get things on the right track again. Each of my TA duties, however, plays an important role in my greater intentions of continuing work with the journal: I hope to make the experience mean as much for this year’s students as it has meant for me. I want to ensure the continued success of a journal that has come to shape not only my academic life but also—in a very real way—my identity as a person. 

In the introduction for last year’s journal, I compare the DLR to a table; around this table, my classmates and I have discussed subjects that have frightened me. However, in a yearlong, intimate class like the DLR, students develop the trust and support to plumb these difficult subjects and devote themselves to academic bravery—skills which, I imagine, will only become more and more important as our lives progress. I could talk a parent’s ear off about how the DLR  offers their college kid opportunities for professional growth—conferences, research papers, teamwork, etc.—but to students I think I would say that the DLR turns nervous sophomores into seniors ready for graduation, doctoral programs, and beyond.

All it will cost them is four wisdom teeth, thirteen inches of hair, and their fear.