Occidental’s second biennial TEDx event will return to campus April 2 and run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, featuring talks on global sustainability. Speakers will include five students, two faculty members and seven external speakers.
According to Gabrielle Seiwert (sophomore), a member of the speaker curation team alongside Emiko Schwab (senior) and Aabha Sachar (first year), the team tried to pick a diverse array of students from the 15 original applicants. After reviewing applications and conducting interviews, they ultimately chose Noorsher Ahmed (junior), Donovan Dennis* (senior), Jacques Lesure (first year), Emily Linebarger (senior) and Gaea Morales (sophomore). These speakers stood out due to their involvement with and commitment to their topics, either through research experiences or their own personal backgrounds.
Jemma Parsons (senior), who serves as a student organizer for the event with Ty Hranac (sophomore), said the decision to move the event to Choi Auditorium this year was based on feedback from the student coordinators for the 2014 event, who thought it might be beneficial to scale the size of the event down. In 2014, the talks — which focused on the reinvention of the American dream — were held in Thorne Hall and drew an audience of about 500, according to Parsons. Streaming video of the talks will play on the Global Crossroads Media Wall and in first-floor classrooms in Johnson Hall this year. The downsized venue allowed for a 40 percent budget cut, reducing the overall cost of the event, according to budget and sponsorship team member Abel Tiong (sophomore).
The organizers are also shortening the event. In 2014, presenters at the end of the day did not have a full audience because the event ran into the early evening, according to Parsons. This year, the organizers hope to avoid this by ending the speaker series by mid-afternoon.
The talks, according to Parsons, will be interspersed with interactive breakout sessions. During the lunch break, the organizers plan to bring in food trucks to campus and have live music as well as other performances and activities. Parsons said the sessions will be all-encompassing, exposing audience members to a greater variety of ideas rather than ones they are specifically interested in learning more about.
According to Tiong, tickets go on sale today. All-day tickets are $15 for students and $30 for non-students. The event will be broken into three sessions throughout the day.
In addition to funds raised from ticket and merchandise sales, on-campus sponsors including the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate, Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund and Young Fund are contributing, Tiong said.
Ahmed’s chosen topic is the lack of diversity in the sciences. Although this deficit is, according to him, an issue of both morality and equality, he will frame it in terms of financial and national security — topics of concern he feels resonate with a greater audience.
As a person of color in science — a biophysics major (a major of his own creation) whose parents hail from Pakistan — Ahmed sees the lack of diversity in the sciences as an issue of personal significance. During his childhood in Silicon Valley he witnessed the impact that science can have, but he realizes that many others may not see the draw of the sciences quite as easily.
According to Ahmed, this issue can be fixed relatively easily since it relates to the current structure of our educational institutions and does not necessarily require major funding. One solution he is proposing is to introduce research opportunities to undergraduate students of color as early as possible — ideally in their first year — so as to pique their interest in the sciences and to allow them to see that such work can have a social impact.
“Society unfortunately has a tendency to put [its] hopes with scientists,” Ahmed said. “If all the scientists are white and male and conservative, they’re not going to create a solution that will work for everyone.”
Dennis, who will speak about the relationship between sustainability and the environmental impact of global warming, studied glaciers in southeast Alaska last summer and most recently in the northern Patagonian ice field over winter break. He will draw from those experiences to discuss the future of climate change science.
A geology major from Montana, Dennis grew up with a keen awareness of and respect for the environment that he feels has influenced his current interest in glaciology and paleoclimates.
“Something I will always have with me is that very close relationship with the environment that I live in,” Dennis said.
His relationship to nature and passion for his work contribute to his dismay over the current disparity between what scientists know is happening to the climate and what the public thinks is happening. He acknowledged that the public looks to climate scientists for explanations regarding climate change and thus thinks that scientists need to improve the way that they communicate their results to bridge this gap.
Lesure intends to speak on the topic of equity in education — access to a quality education regardless of one’s race or class standing. He coined the term “apathy factories” to describe schools that fail to provide their students with the education he feels they deserve. For Lesure, educational institutions are a reflection of equity — or lack thereof — in society, something that was evident to him in his own experiences as a student at a low-income high school in Atlanta. He argues that students of color and those in low-income communities are often denied access to a quality education at successful schools, attributing this inequality to the general population’s lack of political will to change the existing system.
Lesure expresses many of these opinions in his blog, “What About the Black Kids?” Despite only starting it at the end of last year, he has already managed to reach more audiences than he initially intended. One of his readers is a professor from Tuskegee University — a historically black university in Alabama — who invited Lesure to give a lecture at the school’s Honors College. He spoke to students and faculty there in January via Skype about the importance of the Black mind in the Black youth movement as well as of the importance of contributions to the movement.
“I want us to have this consensus that something needs to change,” Lesure said.
Lesure, who especially values Occidental as a space where free thought is encouraged, feels that the community here will be receptive to his talk.
Linebarger’s talk, called “The Paradigm of Poverty,” will address how views of poverty domestically and abroad impact decisions surrounding poverty. She will look at how people can change the world through changing their perceptive on poverty. To Linebarger, poverty is at the root of other social issues like equality, education and sustainability.
“I’ve always been passionate about ending poverty,” she said via email. “I think the focus on an individual’s vantage point came from my time in college, especially as I learned more about American aid for global poverty and our wars abroad.”
Through her talk she hopes people will be inspired to make changes within themselves that can change the world.
Morales’s topic of choice, inspired by her upbringing in Manila, is the intersection of gender rights and sustainable development, which she described as the lovechild of her two passions.
Although she acknowledged that these two areas of study appear to be different, she suggests they are not only related, but mutually reinforcing of each other. Sustainable development, she believes, cannot exist independently of gender equality. A Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) major, she feels that discussion of intersectionality remains superficial and unnecessarily compartmentalized. She wants people to understand that favoring one social movement does not necessarily hinder another social movement from progressing.
“The way people view these issues as compartmentalized is really harmful for progress as a whole,” Morales said. “You can’t isolate these issues because they exist in context of one another.”
She talked of her childhood experiences seeing girls on the street on her way to school, wondering why she had the privilege of going to school while they were selling sampaguita flower garlands or candy for their livelihood. She said such inequality in society, in addition to the realization that the world is skewed in favor of men, is an issue that has only become more evident to her as she studies such topics more in-depth.
*Dennis is a Weekly staff member.