College hosts third annual TEDx talk series

We live in a world defined by its continued state of flux. A world in which the single constant is the reality of disruption, of change and of deviation. Last Sunday, Feb. 22 in Bixler auditorium, some of the College’s finest minds were brought together to discuss the theme of disruption and deviation from global perspectives.

Intelligent, inspiring and unfailingly optimistic, the talks from this TEDx event served as a powerful reminder that we are defined not by external events, but rather by our reactions to them.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit organization devoted to the dissemination of ideas. Since 1990, TED has hosted an annual conference at which experts from across all disciplines come together to share their research in accessible and typically entertaining ways. Smaller conferences, called “TEDx,” refer to events that are licensed by TED but independently organized.

The College’s first TEDx conference, hosted in 2013, resulted in a viral sensation when Professor of Philosophy Daniel Cohen’s presentation, “For Argument’s Sake,” was uploaded to TED’s main site. The video has since received over a million views and has been translated into 27 languages. Will last Sunday’s TEDx conference produce a similar success story? Only time will tell, but event coordinator Bill Lin ’16 is hopeful.

“With this group, that’s definitely a possibility,” said Lin. He cited the broader applicability of many of the talks as a reason they might garner a strong online presence.
Brian Martinez ’17, for example, spoke about gentrification in his neighborhood in North Brooklyn. While this topic might seem to be limited in its scope, Lin sees an almost universal relevance in Martinez’s plea that gentrifiers understand and respect the people into whose neighborhoods they have moved.

“The issue of gentrification is not just isolated to Bushwick,” Lin explained. “You can apply it even to the paper mill towns in Maine, where their entire economies are based around these mills. When the paper mills close down, you have outside politicians and people come in and say, ‘I want to build this; I want to build this,’ to create jobs, and half the time they don’t even live there.”

Including Martinez, there were twelve speakers who made presentations. Of these, five were current students: Brian Westerman ’16, “Self Transcendence and Passion for our Optimal Future”; Martinez, “The Spatial Politics of Gentrification in North Brooklyn”; Nicholas LaRovere, ’15, “What Is Success?”; Leah Breen ’15, “Creative Resistance to Violence: Kashmiri Responses to India’s Militarization of the Mind” ; and Aquib Yacoob ’15, “Peeling the Onion: Another Fool Out to Save the World.”

Three of the presenters were alumni from the college: Pandit Mami ’14, “Living in the Here and Now”; Eric Barthold ’12, “Amplifying the Healthy Voices: Engaging Male Athletes in Sexual Assault Prevention”; and Henry Beck ’09, “Why Running Matters—Make a Difference Early in Elected Office.”

The other four were adults either directly or indirectly affiliated with Colby: Associate Professor of Government Walter Hatch, who discussed possible ways to secure peace in Asia; David Rabjohns, an impressive businessman who once rode a motorcycle around the world and who, at this conference, explained how to avoid disruptions in business and in life; Dean of Students Joseph Atkins, who discussed his inspiring path from unemployment to gaining a PhD; and Sebastián Molano, founder of Defying Gender Roles, who explained the negative effects of outdated gender roles.

What unites these disparate participants is their passion for their subject. It was passion that the program leaders searched for as they solicited participants, and it was passion that led participants to research and present a talk for no tangible reward.
The enthusiasm with which they imbued their talks impressed members of the audience, with many expressing delight with the high quality of presentations.

Despite the inarguable worthiness of all of the chosen participants, however, there were some who raised eyebrows at the lack of women making presentations. Of the 13 announced speakers, only two were female, and one of them had to cancel due to an illness.

Esther Mathieu ’17 was among those in the audience disappointed by the disparity: “It was a little bit alienating that there was only one female speaker. I know there were supposed to be two, but that’s still only two out of all the speakers. And I don’t really know why that happened. I don’t know if it is an issue of gender or of issues of confidence or of whom they reached out to, so I can’t really speak to that. But I do think if this event reoccurs, it’s something they should be very conscious of.”

Many raised the issue with Lin, who explained that, although he had asked 50 percent more women than he had men to participate, for whatever reason, the women felt they were too busy to give the talk while the men more readily agreed.
Although the reasons for the disparity remain unclear, it is an issue the organizers are very much aware of and hope to ameliorate for future TEDx conferences.

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