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October 17, 2009

Next Generation

Akira Mizuta Lippit Is New Critical Studies Chair

By By Jimmy Kelly

Thirty years ago, it was a different Lippit teaching at USC. Noriko Mizuta Lippit taught East Asian languages and culture and comparative literature, while her son, Akira Mizuta Lippit, a self-described "SC kid," got the lay of the land. He'd be back before long and now has the chance to further cement his family's USC legacy as he continues his first semester as chair of the critical studies division.

"When I had the opportunity to come to USC [to teach], there was no question," said the younger Lippit, who came to campus in 2005.

Prior to taking over as critical studies chair at SCA, Lippit had also chaired the department of film and media studies at the University of California at Irvine, following stints at San Francisco State University and the University of Nebraska. Lippit is an internationally published scholar, including two books, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) and Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife.

"Akira exemplifies the school's interest in moving in an ever more interdisciplinary direction with collaborations across boundaries and disciplines," said professor and associate dean, Michael Renov.

Lippit draws his education from a number of disciplines and hopes to champion diversity in thought for critical studies students as part of his contribution to SCA as division chair.

"One of the most exciting things that's under way is what we're calling interdivisionality, which is how do we integrate all of the different aspects of the school, not only critical studies, but within each of the divisions," said Lippit. "We are looking at ways to make sure that students who come out of critical studies have all the tools that they need to be a part of a media culture."

Faculty and students alike are thrilled with the new direction coming out of critical studies, and are particularly positive about the focus on interdivisionality.

"Aki is wonderfully generous both as a colleague and as a mentor to students," said associate professor, Tara McPherson. "In a relatively short time in the department, he has profoundly shaped the research of several of our graduate students, and he's been equally great as a colleague."

"It's a special program; you feel like you're designing a personalized curriculum, even with core requirements," said third year Ph.D. student, Kenneth Provencher. "There is so much variety in the courses and flexibility with the faculty that if you're self-motivated, you can branch out into other departments and disciplines."

Many SCA students in critical studies plan to enter academia themselves very soon and look at Lippit and his colleagues as invaluable mentors.

"The thing I've appreciated most while at USC is the opportunity to work closely with a range of world-class scholars," said fifth year Ph.D. student, James Cahill. "I came to USC from UC Irvine specifically to continue studying with Akira, but the quality and diversity of the faculty here is such that I regret not having the opportunity to work more closely with all of them."

"On many occasions I felt transformed when I exited [Dr. Lippit's] classroom, and looking at the awestruck faces of my fellow students, I could tell I was not the only one," said fourth year Ph.D. student, Genevieve Yue.

"One of the things that I've really admired about the school since I came here is a sense of constant agitation, growth, curiosity that comes from the faculty, administration, staff and students," said Lippit. "A school as renowned as the School of Cinematic Arts could easily slip into a kind of complacency and yet none of us do. We are wholly striving to think and rethink what we do, to think ahead and also to think back on where we've been."

Lippit is in the process of shaping a few other young pupils, as he celebrated the recent birth of his third son. He acknowledged the challenges inherent in juggling both a busy career and home life, but drew parallels between the two areas.

"I'm trying to get [my kids] at a very early age to appreciate world cinema, television, media, video games. It is a challenge to step in as chair and also maintain my responsibilities as the father of a newborn, but actually, I find the two, right now, to be a pretty comfortable balance. It's an exciting time."