Benya Kraus ('18) speaks at TEDxTufts in Cohen Auditorium on March 11, 2018. Kenar Haratunian / The Tufts Daily

TEDxTufts shares stories, seeks to revise perspectives

TEDxTufts, the independently organized Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference, brought ten speakers to the stage in Cohen Auditorium on Sunday afternoon to share talks covering topics ranging from cybersecurity to one woman’s story of her gender transition.

The theme of this year’s series of talks, which happened in two sessions, was “Re:Vision,” according to Taylor Fasolo, TEDxTufts’ creative director. Fasolo, a senior, said the entire team came up with the name. In an introduction to the second session of the conference, Fasolo explained that in selecting the idea of revision as a driving force behind this year’s program, the TEDxTufts team sought to issue a challenge to attendees to revisit their assumptions and consider how placement and positioning can influence one’s opinions.

First session

The first talk of the day was presented by Katie Hyten (F ’14), director of program operations at Essential Partners, a community facilitation organization.

Hyten’s talk focused on her work on bridging gaps in understanding between communities with differing objectives and values by changing the ways that they communicate.

Hyten was followed by Megan Rounseville, a Ph.D. candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who works as an economist for the World Bank Group.

Rounseville’s talk focused on her work in the Ecuadorian province of Chimborazo. In her work with the World Bank Group, she helped develop a program to improve child health and nutrition in rural Chimborazo.

The program texted automated messages to mothers in Chimborazo. The messages’ content ranged from affirmative words to reminders for mothers to take their children to clinics for regular checkups.

“Households that received the messages were 10 percentage points less likely to experience a range of nine common illnesses among their children,” Rounseville said.

She discussed the conclusions she had drawn from the experiment.

“Structural barriers remain an important determinant for development outcomes,” she said, “[but] the power of hope and human relationships can make the difference.”

Following Rounseville’s talk, senior Winnona DeSombre took the stage to discuss what she sees as the fundamental difference between public and private approaches to cybersecurity.

“For the government, the problem is a lack of understanding and innovation,” DeSombre said. “The private sector, meanwhile, moves too quickly, without thought of regulation and security, something that the government can rein in.”

After DeSombre’s talk, the presentation screen displayed a recorded talk by slam poet Shane Koyczan from the TED2013 conference.

Following the recorded talk, senior Sam Usher spoke on his research on neuromarketing, a recently developed marketing technique which combines methods from traditional marketing with behavioral psychology to create advertisement strategies that are better optimized for consumer viewing.

Usher’s talk centered on his case study of the well-known Pepsi advertisement in which Kendall Jenner gives Pepsi to police officers in the midst of a protest. Critics of the ad felt that it trivialized both police violence and political protest, especially in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Usher used his research to show that the ad was poorly formatted.

“The first minute of the ad had a downward trend in engagement, which is a red flag that something isn’t working,” Usher said. “Viewers did not have a central area of focus during the ad and were fading out because of the [first] scene’s extended length.”

The final talk of the first session was given by Ea Domke (AG ’17), who spoke about her experiences since she starting hormone replacement therapy.

“It was like for the first time, my head and heart wanted the same things, knew exactly what they wanted to do and were finally given the right tools, so they just went for it,” she said during her talk. “I know that my body is doing exactly what is right for me.”

Following Domke’s talk, audience members were asked to leave the auditorium for a one-hour intermission during which they were invited to eat food provided by local vendors, talk to the presenters from the first session and take in the art installation in the upstairs gallery of the Remis Sculpture Court.

Maya Pace, TEDxTufts’ marketing director, described the nature of the art installation.

“We wanted to bring [the theme] closer to home … so we asked folks to respond to the prompt ‘Who has shaped you?’” she said. “Then the [marketing and publicity] team created a visual, hanging network of the people who have shaped our lives.”

Second session

Fasolo welcomed senior Mary Travers, a childhood friend of his, to the stage.

Travers dove into a series of anecdotes about how the small details that marked her childhood home could be glazed over or easily written off by a stranger, but upon deeper analysis, they had tales of their own to tell. She wondered aloud about what the family moving into her childhood home next would make of these archives of her childhood.

“What did they think about us? How might they have imagined us out of the marks we left? What does someone look like if you can only see them through the objects they’ve interacted with?” Travers asked the audience.

Travers then launched into a description of how these same guiding questions had taken her through the life and spiritual practice of the woman whose diary she has studied since her sophomore year. The medieval document dates back to early 15th century northern France and is the basis of Travers’ senior thesis. Rather than provide a traditional verbal analysis of the text, Travers said she looked to examine the personal devotional guide of this woman in the same way that she described reading the marks in her childhood home.

“I used my visual vocabulary to learn about the object’s structure, material makeup, patterns of usage and history,” Travers told the audience.

Following Travers, Alexandra Tarzikhan, a JD/MPH student at Northeastern School of Law and Tufts School of Medicine, took the stage. Tarzikhan contrasted her own experience as an immigrant from Syria to that of a friend of hers who lived several hundred miles away in Damascus. Conflict caused their lives to diverge, with her friend later fleeing Syria. They have since been reunited, with her friend sitting in the audience of the TEDxTufts event Sunday.

Tarzikhan went on to describe her experiences volunteering at refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, and mentioned the tendency to separate human lives from the humanitarian crisis. Finally, she invited her Syrian friend onstage for a hug, underscoring the human relationships behind the statistics and stories from Syria.

Senior Benya Kraus followed Tarzikhan with a description of how urban design can reinforce tensions within a community by preventing different groups from mingling. She pointed to specific examples of division through design, such as peace walls in Northern Ireland, as heightening fear and fostering misconceptions about between people who identify with different groups.

She then localized her discussion to the makeup of the greater Boston area, and more specifically, the Tufts community, explaining how some public spaces on the Medford/Somerville campus have become places of exclusion. Specifically, she highlighted fraternity and sorority houses that line Professors Row as a manifestation of social capital that could alienate other parts of the community. Then, she described how, as Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate president and a member of the Student Life Review Committee, she has helped devise new housing complexes on campus to mitigate some of the issues she sees with campus design dividing the community.

Following Kraus, Delia Perlov turned the conversation beyond earthly matters, diving into her description of the eternally inflating multiverse. A Ph.D.-level physicist and cosmologist, Perlov briefly summarized the theory of cosmic inflation, which tells of a universe that is expanding at an exponential rate. She said the multiverse refers to other universes that could exist as a result of cosmic inflation but fall beyond our observable universe. Perlov explained that once inflation begins, it can go on forever.

Finally, Jon Gillis, a current first-year master’s candidate at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, shared his thoughts on general perceptions of service members in the United States and described that these cloud the way society treats the military. He explained how his experience in the Marine Corps did not match the standard concept of what military service entails. He clarified that he had never been to war and spoke of a boredom that infantry members grappled with as they waited for orders, driving them to great lengths for entertainment, such as shaving each others’ facial hair. Gillis also showed how national events, specifically the Vietnam War and 9/11, shaped a conception of military service.

He encouraged the audience to refrain from categorizing soldiers as heroes, and instead engage with them on a personal level.

“It actually becomes problematic because we forget who is going to execute the task on the other end, so we can come up with crazy counterinsurgency, but we forget that an 18-year-old that misses his girlfriend is tasked with executing counterinsurgency,” Gillis said.

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