Redefining student conferences

TEDxLafayetteCollege takes on challenging topics

By Kathryn Kelly ‘19

Contributing Writer

“So who would like to be a boy?” said Leah Wasacz‘16, as she handed out men’s shorts to an audience member at the fall TEDxLafayetteCollege event last Thursday.

She handed another prop, a lacy bra, to another audience member. She had each member hold their props up.

“[Gender norms] aren’t universally true,” she said.“In Italy, it is socially acceptable for women to go to the beach topless. In Scotland, it is socially acceptable to wear a kilt as a man. So gender norms are kind of made up.”

Wasacz was one of eight students who spoke to a packed audience at Kirby Hall as part of this year’s fall conference of TEDxLafayetteCollege. The theme for the talks was appropriately “Redefining the Box.”

Three of the speakers from that night were international students.  One recently came out as a transgender woman. One is building a school in his home country of Kenya. One is challenging society’s stereotypes of mental illness, while dealing with mental illness herself.

There were veteran public speakers and inexperienced first-timers addressing the packed hall where the overflow was sitting on the steps in the aisles. Each speaker carried his or her own individual story and identity, reflecting a surprising and remarkable diversity, said audience member Michael Wellnitz ‘19.

“I went in there going to support a friend, so only knowing about one of the topics, I was surprised at the range of topics,” Wellnitz said. “I didn’t really know what this event was going in, so I was surprised to see…[an] anthropological study of Christmas, math as art, gender expectations. It was a very wide range of topics.”

Wasacz, the friend whom Wellnitz went to see, spoke about a particularly sensitive subject matter: gender identity. Wellnitz described her approach as “pushing the bounds,” while not being “too forceful.” Her presentation was entitled “Redefining Gender,” and discussed the way in which society is limited by having only two definitions, or “boxes,” for gender. Being a transgender woman herself, Wasacz has a close connection to this subject.

Shira Wein‘19 and Fatima Haidari ‘19 also gave talks pertaining to gender, with Wein discussing women in computer science and Haidari presenting on the movement of women riding bikes in Afghanistan.

Wasacz, who also gave a TEDxLafayetteCollege talk her sophomore year, said she once again chose TEDxLafayetteCollege as the forum to give her presentation because, “it is typically very well-attended platform for sharing big important ideas, and certainly the talk I gave was about giving important ideas.” Wasacz said that this year, she has seen a definite rise in quality of the conference.

President of the club Austin Bashline’16 agrees,writing that he hopes TEDxLafayetteCollege will be the forum for more important issues in the future.

“I like TEDxLaf being at the center of these issues and helping start conversations about important topics such as these [social justice issues],” Bashline wrote in an email.“We’re looking into doing more with it in the future.”

These different backgrounds have made TEDxLafayetteCollege a place where different types of people can come together and share their stories, according to Barker Carlock ‘17, who has been a member of TEDxLafayetteCollege since his freshman year. The club which, was founded in 2011, has turned from something small on campus into something more moving, Carlock said.

“When I was originally involved in the club we came up with the idea of a student conference, so it’s been really neat to see how a lot of students here have transformed it into making it something that I think really truly does impact this campus,” he said.

“I really like TED because it brings a lot of passionate people together for a night,” Carlockadded.

Carlock, a Texas native who gave a TEDxLafayetteCollege talk his freshman year, spoke this year about the Lafayette community being divided into different boxes. He challenged the audience to find their surfactant, a chemical term used in this case to mean “an awkward tension ice breaker.”

Ha Vu ‘17, a speaker and organizer for the event who is originally from Vietnam, joined the club her freshman year and since then, made it a goal to one day speak at one of the student-led conferences. She accomplished her goal when she gave her talk Thursday on the place of Christianity in Christmas.

Kelvin Serem ‘17, a Kenyan native, combined his story of building a school in Kenya with encouraging students to take initiative on their ambitions now, titling his talk “Why Not?”Serem’s story has been covered in New York Times, USA Today and The Lafayette.

Sydney Edelson ‘19, a freshman with experience in public speaking, started a campaign in high school which hopes to change the way people view mental illness called Stop the Stigma and she titled her presentation the same name. She hopes to continue with the campaign in college, and used TEDxLafayetteCollege as her first platform to share her story with Lafayette.

“It’s a great way to meet with people who would never hear your story or never listen to you if you didn’t do the TED talk,” Edelson said.“It’s a great way to market yourself and get out there and get comfortable with public speaking without a lot of limits and parameters attached to it.”

Looking to the future, Bashlinewrites that the club is looking to become more active on campus, with more events being held throughout the year. He is encouraged by the dedication of some new members, and hopes to see more new faces in the future.

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