University of Redlands English Professor Priya Jha was invited to contribute to a number of panels—on topics from gender politics to cinema—at the recent Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado. Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog sat down with Jha to talk about the highlights of the conference and how they will influence her teaching.
Bulldog Blog: Tell me about the conference—what was the goal?
Priya Jha: I was invited to speak and ended up getting placed on seven panels. University of Colorado, Boulder, is my alma mater, and I used to attend this conference, which is now in its 71st year, when I first moved to Boulder and then eventually, as a graduate student, so I have a long history with it. One of the reasons I think this conference is so important is because its integral to bonding the city of Boulder with the University, where it now resides. The audience was comprised of high school students, college and graduate students, faculty, staff, administrators, local politicians, among others. We had great conversations because the community believes in this conference in a deep way—it democratizes knowledge.
BB: What were the subjects of the panels you were on? What was the process?
PJ: My panels were Is Masculinity Toxic?; Analogies and Anecdotes: Making Creative Connections; Are Movie Theaters Doomed?; Mental Health Check-Up; Sex and The Cinema: A Representation of Women and Sexuality in the Arts; What I Learned from Remarkable People; and Women in Film. The panels last for an hour and a half, and panelists are asked to not prepare beforehand. Panelists each take five minutes to talk about the topic, why and how it matters to them, and how it intersects with their professional life. Other panelists then have a chance to respond and invite the audience to join the conversation. That is how people make connections. After one panel, high school students in the audience came to talk to me because they were interested in what I was saying. That kind of engagement is why I love the conference so much.
BB: How did your experiences as a professor influence your panel responses?
PJ: On a number of the panels, I was the only academic. While I am an English professor, I also teach courses in women’s studies, Asian studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, and media and visual culture studies. So being on these panels wasn’t a departure from teaching—it’s where I live. It gave me a space to formalize some of the connections I make between courses and allowed me to encourage the audiences to examine these topics from a different perspective—that of a professor.
BB: How is the student experience enriched by these kinds of international events?
PJ: Students want to see themselves in the world. Students of color need to see themselves reflected back in their faculty members. And attending these events allows me to bring parts of the world back to Redlands. This conference also spurs a lot of new ideas. Faculty members from around the world should have the opportunity to interface with each other, and students should know that faculty members are doing that international work. Students are hungry for that kind of experience.
BB: What are some of the new ideas that you brought back to campus—anything that will influence your teaching?
PJ: I have to teach students from every discipline. I draw a lot from my students, and we decide together what kind of assignments they want to do and what the syllabus will look like. Going to the conference led me to talk to my students about what we can bring into the classroom. It will also influence the writing I’m currently doing. Something concrete I’ve been thinking about is how to bring some of the people I met at the conference to campus to speak, because they have a lot of interdisciplinary knowledge that students could benefit from. The big takeaway was how experiences like this can change our lives. I came home and the synapses in my brain couldn't stop.