TEDx brings MasterChef and boba to Occidental

Claire Krelitz (junior) debunks the myth of inevitable wealth inequality and explains how anyone can fight for economic justice in her talk Building Political Agency through Self Critique in Choi Auditorium at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Hannah Schoenberger/The Occidental
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Occidental hosted TEDx April 21 to bring a wide range of speakers to Choi Auditorium under the umbrella of the event’s theme, Shifting Ecosystems of Power. The event was split up into three sessions. Each session lasted one hour and 15 minutes with a mix of students, professors and outside guests in attendance. Student and outside presenters spoke on topics that ranged from why “third-world” feminism matters to talks that encouraged people to use criticism to cultivate economic equality.

Of the 15 presenters, seven were Occidental students: Dean Lin (junior), “The Way we Define Ourselves”; Barani Maung Maung (senior), “Navigating Between Two Worlds: Why ‘Third-World’ Feminism Matters”; Ashley Leon (junior), “Revolution in the Courts: Balancing the Scales of Justice”; Yinbo Gao* (senior), “How to Build a Startup that Deems to Fail and Why”; Claire Krelitz (junior), “Moving Beyond Passive Criticism to Cultivate Economic Equity”; Waruguru Waithira (junior), “Thahu”; Thomas Egan (senior), “The Reality of how Mental Illness can Affect how we See People.”

Christine Ha, the first blind contestant on MasterChef and the winner of its third season, spoke in the first session about harnessing the power of taking one’s differences — which she defined as ‘otherness’ — and using these differences to find positivity. Ha talked about her journey in adjusting to blindness and gave advice about how to find ways to explore otherness, according to Egan.

“Ha’s talk was incredibly inspiring and memorable,” Egan said. “I liked the balance she had about how to get to know others like you, but also find other people who are unlike you.”

According to Ellen McDermott (sophomore), the public relations director for TEDx, the goal of this event was to present Occidental students with a new way of learning by bringing them a mix of speakers that are appealing [to audience members] while also showing them new perspectives.

“This event is for students, by students,” McDermott said. “TED talks are far more personable than the classroom, and the speakers coming are a diverse group in terms of their jobs, gender and race.”

McDermott said that the speaker curation team and the event staff, which was composed of eight students, were all involved in choosing the lineup of speakers for the event. She said that they were looking for a range of choices because they wanted to appeal to all parts of campus.

“We were looking for diversity because we wanted to make sure we hit lots of different departments and different interests,” McDermott said. “We wanted to make sure everyone had someone to identify with to attract more people.”

Grace Haggerty (sophomore), one of the co-coordinators of the event, said that all of the speakers approached the theme from their own personal perspectives. She said that this approach led to unique angles on the topic.

“These speakers are all taking their own spin on the general theme of shifting ecosystems of power,” Haggerty said. “That’s what is so awesome about this event: the range of topics that can be covered under one theme by completely different people.”

Rumman Chowdhury, Ph.D explores the ethical dilemmas of the emerging A.I. economy in her talk Moral Outsourcing: Where is Humanity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence in Choi Auditorium at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Hannah Schoenberger/The Occidental

McDermott said that because the event included speakers in a wide range of fields, such as public health and commerce, the audience was exposed to new perspectives and insights. She pointed to Rumman Chowdhury’s talk on the morals of artificial intelligence (AI) as a poignant example and said that it displayed how power dynamics can be shifted.

A key point of the event was to present students with solutions to the issues raised, according to McDermott. In between talks, TEDxOccidental staffers told the audience that they hoped that these conversations would continue outside Choi Auditorium.

Several speakers included solutions in their talks. Chowdhury raised the point that AI is programmed by humans and therefore humans have the ability to change problematic algorithms. Ashley Leon (junior), whose talk discussed the imbalance of America’s justice system, told the audience that if this topic upset them, they should help the people most severely affected. She went on to give practical solutions that people can do to help, like volunteering at a self-help center.

In marketing the event, McDermott worked with the Occidental public relations team to advertise to Occidental alumni as well as to residents in Eagle Rock. McDermott hoped that this would bridge the gap between local residents and Occidental community.

“We made it as open to the public as possible so that Oxy can remain connected with the Eagle Rock community as well as the alumni,” McDermott said.

Snigdha Suvarna (sophomore), the sponsorship director, said that because Occidental is a relatively small school, the TEDx leadership team wanted to emphasize its connection with the community.

“Oxy is not like UCLA or USC where you have a huge alumni network, so we phrase it as building a community,” Suvarna said.

Suvarna said that choosing the most meaningful stories was crucial.

“A lot of people have a story to say but it’s not necessarily something informative,” Suvarna said. “We made sure that they were talks people can get something out of.”

Yinbo Gao is a web designer for The Occidental