Priya Jaikumar, an associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, discussed how her personal experiences affected her ideas on film and education as part of the What Matters to Me and Why lecture series Wednesday at the Ground Zero Performance Café.
Jaikumar worked as a journalist in India when the opportunity arose for her to study abroad in the United States in 1991. She said her decision to come to the United States embodied a conflict particular to Indian women of her generation and social situation.
“My life was at a crossroads, and I didn’t know how significant my decision would be,” Jaikumar said. “It was a choice between a settled personal life [in India] and a complete unknown entity. My dilemma was very specific to the 20th century as it was something I faced as an educated woman. It was a particular privilege, a precarious privilege.”
She said this privilege ultimately affected her values and beliefs as she realized the opportunities afforded to her because of her education.
“What I particularly value is to make such instances of mobility and opportunity available to more people,” Jaikumar said. “A majority of humanity does not have this. We do not have the privilege or choice of following our hearts.”
Jaikumar also addressed how film allows her to make an impact on education because it expresses and communicates new worlds.
“Using my classes as a platform to bring [film] forward and open up a range of sensibilities for my audiences is very important to me,” Jaikumar said. “Part of education is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes and opening up your sympathies. Film allows you to see in other perspectives and alter your perception of the world.”
Jaikumar said she joined the critical studies department because it combines two of the most influential forces in her life: the creative impulse to make tangible contributions to the world and the critical impulse to think about the connections between the world we create and the world we inhabit.
“I believe the best creativity in the sciences and in the arts are born only when there is support of the critical impulse,” Jaikumar said. “This is why I’m in the department of critical studies.”
Jaikumar said her decision to study abroad still affects her values to this day.
“In my lifetime, I had a choice,” Jaikumar said. “I left my family behind, and I’m here, so my students and colleagues are important to me. My life I have made here is important with my husband and my child.”
Jaikumar, who serves as a residential faculty adviser to Parkside Arts & Humanities Residential College, is working on a book about places that become visual icons entitled Where Histories Reside: Filming India as Location. She plans to continue to write, engage with other people and retain her curiosity and sense of wonder.
“Those who remain open and curious can transcend the linearity and fatality of time,” Jaikumar said. “That is what I’m invested in and, independent of film, that is what I dedicate my life to.”