TEDxTufts hosted its 2023 conference, titled “[De/Re] Construct,” on March 11–12, which featured 10 groundbreaking talks given by speakers from across the Tufts community, ranging from undergraduate students to faculty to alumni.
This year marks the ninth conference of TEDxTufts, an independent, entirely student-run organization. The group, which is made up of about 45 Tufts students, worked together to bring to life the organization’s mission of spreading novel ideas and building deep connections among Tufts community members.
The TEDxTufts 2023 talks ranged from “How to Starve Patriarchal Clinical/Sexual Health Care” to “How Pinball Flipped My Life.” The event also featured numerous community food vendors and student organizations as well as performances by Tufts BEATs and the Beelzebubs.
This year’s event differed from previous TEDxTufts conferences in that it took place over two days instead of one, and it was held in the Joyce Cummings Center instead of Cohen Auditorium.
According to senior Jordan Meek, the executive organizer of TEDxTufts, one of the reasons the event venue changed was because Cohen was not an effective space for speakers and audience members.
“Cohen is a very impersonal experience for the speakers. You're standing on this big stage, you got these bright lights shining at you and you can't see a single face,” Meek said. “When I think of TED talks, I think of videos that kind of span in a room … and you see the speakers making eye contact with the audience. And so that wasn’t what we were feeling ... [and] I think that it’s good to try new things.”
Not only did the Joyce Cummings Center allow for a more personal experience, but according to Arielle Galinsky, a junior and the curator of TEDxTufts, it was more accessible for the Medford and Somerville community.
“Now with the new Green Line, we really lucked out that we have a kind of direct line for individuals from the community to come … and so that's why [we picked] the JCC, you know, it's beautiful, but more importantly, it’s accessible,” Galinsky said.
This year’s conference also spanned two days rather than just one day. Galinksy added that by having the event span two days, resulting in fewer speakers per session, people would be more incentivized to stay for the entire event out of fairness for the speakers, who had prepared for and deserved a full audience.
The theme for the TEDxTufts 2023 conference was “[De/Re] Construct,” which was chosen after applicants submitted their talks.
“Something very unique about TEDxTufts is that we don’t actually look for that theme ahead of time. … We are a bit unconventional in that we don’t want to limit anyone’s ideas,” Galinsky said. “What we ended up coming [up] with is that they all decided to tear down something old and build up something new in an unconventional way.”
The first talk was “How to Starve Patriarchal Clinical/Sexual Health Care,” by Ariel Watriss, a health provider at Tufts University Health Services. The message of their talk was to empower individuals in the clinical setting who have experienced trauma in medical settings.
“The talk stemmed from far too many experiences of meeting predominantly young college-age people… who had extensive histories of being traumatized medically,” Watriss said in an interview with the Daily. “A lot of how I practice clinically stems from countering a lot of systemic and honestly, cultural — you know, patriarchal, misogynistic, not empowering for the patient — experiences.”
Watriss hopes that the audience understood their message of empowerment.
“I hope that they understand that they've always had the power and if anyone ever made them feel like they didn't, that wasn't their fault,” Watriss said. “They are allowed to have power, they are allowed to say no, and make the decisions that they need to make.”
Watriss added that sharing personal experiences during their talk made them feel vulnerable, but they believed it was important to share these moments with the audience.
“It's a little vulnerable, but also one of the things that I kept checking in with my coaches throughout the entire process was to make sure that there was a validity in sharing the stories,” Watriss said. “I needed to make sure that everything matched the goal of the talk, … [that] this might help somebody.”
Another Saturday speaker was Malia Kiang, a senior studying Film and Media studies, whose talk, “Dreading the Apocalypse? Go Watch a Movie!” was about the connection between her interest in apocalyptic films and her traumatic experience involving a false nuclear missile alert in her home state of Hawaii.
“Insofar as the missile story, that was something that I felt like I really wanted to share, because recently going on social media, it’s either not mentioned at all or it's mentioned just like a joke,” Kiang said. “I don’t think people who weren’t there really realized how traumatic of an experience it was and what a huge impact it did have on people's lives.”
Kiang said that her talk connected to the theme of “[De/Re] Construct” because she was deconstructing and reconstructing her views of apocalyptic films in connection with her experiences.
“I was kind of deconstructing and reconstructing my own opinion of the value of apocalyptic films and then also I think it helped me view my own trauma of the nuclear missile crisis, to really deconstruct what effect that experience had on me … and reconstruct my own kind of view of myself and the way that I see the world,” Kiang said.
Kiang added that the biggest takeaway from her TEDxTufts talk was the connections she made within the Tufts Film and Media Studies Program.
“The biggest positive effect the whole process has had on me is that it really pushed me to connect more with my department,” she said. “I think [the professors are] just some really extremely intelligent people with a very unique and varied view on the world … and so that was just really fun to talk about and further deepen those relationships.”
After Kiang’s talk, Michael Sandler took to the stage. Sandler, a double Jumbo and current high school psychology teacher at Arlington High School, gave a talk titled “How Pinball Flipped My Life.”
“[Pinball] really scratched a lot of different niches for me,” Sandler said. “I’ve kind of learned the pinball lexicon. ... I got a basement filled with machines. I’ve got a bunch of projects [and] I made some really great friends as a result of this hobby.”
Sandler also described how his TED talk enabled different people in his life to come together.
“A cool thing about the TED talk was having people from various parts of my life there in attendance,” Sandler said. “It was a great confluence of all these folks within my orbit who would never likely otherwise see one and meet one another.”
Sandler went on to explain the long process of creating his TED talk. For multiple months, he worked closely with his TEDxTufts speaker coaches in order to shift and refine his story.
“[My coaches] helped me a lot with their ability to … communicate to me what made sense and what didn’t, because essentially, I’m talking about a hobby where you can really geek out … but it has to make sense to someone who has never heard of it before,” Sandler explained.
After performing his TED talk, Sandler remarked that he felt a sense of pride.
“Not many people are able to say, ‘Hey, I did a TED talk,’” Sandler said. “So to do some public speaking with less of a net, … to show myself that I was able to do that, was really special, and to spread a talk that was about fun and community.”
He hopes that the audience left his talk with a desire to follow their curiosities and try something new.
“I hope that they left with a desire to try something new and different, [and] that doesn’t have to be something that you put on a resume, but it’s just something that is fun,” Sandler said. “And you know, the way I ended is like, ‘Don’t ignore your curiosity; put a quarter in the machine and then give it a shot.’”
On Sunday, five new speakers took to the TEDxTufts stage to deliver thought-provoking talks. One of the speakers was Tamara Vesel, the chief of the division of palliative care at Tufts Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Tufts University School of Medicine. Her talk, “Facing Mortality,” was about confronting our own mortality and reflecting on how it affects our personal growth and values.
“What I really felt that I should convey was not to be afraid of thinking or facing mortality in any age, because that’s part of how we grow and how we refine our own values, and how we live better if we actually know that we are not here for an indefinite time,” Vesel told the Daily.
Vesel recalled the experience of giving her TED talk to the audience.
“The experience was wonderful. … I have this training of not being nervous … which allowed me to be present for other speakers, and be able to actually hear their talks, which was the first time I’ve heard them,” she said.
Vesel added that after she gave her talk she was able to engage with audience members of all ages. In addition to talking with many grandparents of students, Vesel said that many students shared with her how important the topic was to them.
“I think that talks about the extreme, above and beyond the maturity of students, that they are in this age group, they are able to stop and think about the topic as profound and unnatural for a 20 year old to hear, right? So I think that it was a positive surprise that it was worthwhile to spend the energy to prepare this talk,” Vesel said.
From her talk, Vesel hopes that the audience takes away how precious life is, that it should not be wasted and that every day matters.
The TEDxTufts 2023 conference featured talks that deconstructed and reconstructed ways of viewing the world, and celebrated connections between Tufts and local and global communities.
According to Meek, it was the most successful event that he has been a part of, and he hopes the Tufts community sees the impact that TEDxTufts has created.
“I hope that they can just see the impact that a group of 45 students can have on this campus. I think that our talks have a wide variety in content [and] I hope … that our audience each has a talk that they can resonate with and listen to,” Meek said.