The University of Oregon is bringing the TEDx conference back to campus. The talks are a branch of the TED speaker series and are organized by approved independent organizations like universities to share the thoughts of local inventive thinkers. UO has hosted a conference of this kind in the past, but the annual event ceased after 2013 because no one volunteered to take them over when the previous organizer, Rita Radostitz, left to pursue her law career.
This year, TEDxUOregon has been revitalized by the law school’s Dean of Students Jennifer Espinola. The event will take place on Saturday, March 9 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m in Straub Hall.
“Once I got introduced to TED many years ago, I just got continuously inspired, and I watch TED talks all the time,” Espinola said. “The idea of bringing this experience to our own school is, I think, a really important one because we are working on big ideas on the campus and the entire purpose of TED is to share big ideas.”
The event’s nine talks were selected from a competitive pool of submissions by current students, alumni, professors and faculty in accordance with the theme “Just Us,” which is meant to be open for interpretation. Some talks question if it’s “just us,” in reference to cultural differences and discuss how to communicate across perspective barriers.
UO Law graduate Marissa Zarate, who is now the executive director of the organic farming and business start-up non-profitHuerto de la Familia,, is speaking on this topic. Her talk is titled “How community gardens preserve and grow culture.” Zarate applied for the TEDx conference to spread some good news.
“There’s so much negativity happening in the world and I could see my friends and my family getting overwhelmed by it,” Zarate said. “I’m really lucky in that every day I get to help make positive things happen in the community, and I thought, ‘What we need right now is more of those positive stories getting out.’”
Her organization helps immigrant Latino families in Lane County have healthy and economically self-sustaining lives through organic agriculture and business start-up education.
Other talks finish the phrase “Just Us” with an exclamation point. Doyle Canning, a fellow of the Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resource Law Center, focuses on the US’s need to quickly move away from unsustainable practices to avoid climate chaos; her talk is called “Bold ideas and achievable solutions in the #GreenNewDeal.”
“It is much more expensive not to do [anything about climate change],” Canning said. “This isn’t really optional. If we don’t do this at this scale, we risk losing everything. There’s not really another planet for us to raise our families.”
Along a similar theme, Interim Coordinator of Faculties Rodney Bloom discusses an underrated way to combat climate change in his talk, “The case for compost.”
The talks are very diverse. While some talks present a sense of urgency like Canning’s, other talks invite people to take a closer look at things they take for granted. Professor of Japanese Literature Alisa Freedman’s talk dives deep into the culture of emojis, of which there is currently 3,053.
“Most people don’t realize that emoji are from Japan,” Freedman said. “Since 2011 the world has had the same set of emoji pre-programed into our phones, but if you actually take a look at your phone, you find there is a lot of Japan in there that you didn’t really know about.”
She’ll talk about what the same emoji mean for different cultures and how the introduction of emoji has impacted US culture.
Other talks that will inspire introspection include “Teen Behaviors — What’s the gut got to do with it” by Jessica Flannery, a Clinical Psychology PhD candidate.
Linguistics is also a key topic at this year’s event. Renée Irvin, UO associate professor and director of the Masters of the Non-profits Program, will discuss the use of micro-narratives. Melissa Baese-Berk, Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Director of the Speech Perception and Productivity Laboratory, will articulate the role biases play in whether one can understand someone with a strong accent.
“There’s people that are thinking differently and they’re challenging and they’re exploring and they’re disrupting and TED is a platform for that,” Espinola said. “It’s a way to get those ideas out to the rest of the world.”
Like their talks, the speakers are also very diverse, coming from different ethnic groups and walks of life. Architecture student Renee Dobre is the only undergraduate speaker and she will talk about the possible versatility of 3D printers.
“I was really intimidated at first because I’m the only undergrad, but it was quickly clear that [the TEDxUOregon community] were there to support me, and they were really excited about my talk,” Dobre said.
Former event organizer Radostitz is coming back to present a talk as well. Radostitz is a UO alumni with a bachelors degree in both journalism and political science. She is working for the Military Commissions Defense Organization in Washington D.C as a criminal defense attorney involved in the case against those accused of the 9/11 attacks.. Her talk is called, “What I can tell you about Guantanamo.” She ironically missed the TEDx rehearsal because she was at Guantanamo Bay where those accused of the 9/11 attacks are imprisoned.
“I hope that students get to understand the whole story of 9/11 because many of the students really don’t have their own memories of that day because they would have been too young,” Radostitz said. “I think they have learned one narrative about that day, and I hope that they will learn more about it.”
The hundred seats available for the talks have already been filled, but people interested in viewing TEDxUOregon can see the livestream on the event’s Facebook,Instagram andTwitter. There will also be four event watch parties:STAnDD in Lawrence Hall,Holden Center near the EMU,Residence Life andOregon Law. All but STAnDD require RSVPs via Facebook.
Espinola hopes that this will become a yearly event, but hosting it is a lot of work, so she plans to just help next year.
“I think there are going to be some interesting talks after this with other important people on campus who can make it happen, so I like to be part of that,” Espinola said. “I’m definitely interested in us anchoring it as part of our experience at the U of O.”