Students Describe Life Changing Experiences at TEDx UCSB

Photo by Hannah Maerowitz

Hannah Maerowitz
Staff Writer

Ten speakers, numerous organizers, and hundreds of audience members, many of whom were UCSB students, gathered for an independently organized TEDx event hosted at Theater and Dance West last Saturday.

Although only one TED conference is held each year — which generate all of the widely-watched TED Talks — local organizers can coordinate speakers and hold events in their own communities. TEDx, a program affiliated with TED, helps communities organize their own TED-like events.

UCSB students and affiliates have put on several TEDx events in the past. The theme of this year’s TEDx talk was Lost and Found, featuring talks by people whose experiences have led them to realize a passion or purpose.

The event provided an unprecedented chance for UCSB undergraduates to express their experiences and ideas, with five out of the ten talks featuring current UCSB undergraduates. Speakers gave nuanced perspectives on issues that have surfaced on local and national levels, such as sexual assault, environmentalism, and homelessness.

Justine Bethel, an English major at UCSB who delivered a talk, stressed the importance of kindness and shared some pivotal moments during her adolescence, when she was homeless. All of the moments had kindness in common.

“I was working at McDonald’s and one day a customer came in alone, but he bought two breakfasts. He offered one to me and I sat down and took it. He asked me to tell him what was going on for me and before I knew it, all of my problems were coming out. He listened to me, gave me some bills, and told me to use them to get out of my situation. He left and I never saw him again. But that moment of compassion changed my life,” Bethel said during her talk.

Two of the talks addressed the #MeToo movement. This movement has gained traction and recognition due to its mobilization of discussions that surround the rampant issue of sexual assault.

Arley Titzler, a fourth year environmental studies major at UCSB, delivered a talk entitled “Mother Earth: Me Too,” which drew comparisons between women’s rights movements and environmental movements. In her talk, she stressed the importance of visibility, recognition, and change surrounding issues of sexual assault and climate change.

Clara Spars, a first year undergraduate at Stanford University, gave a different perspective about sexual assault. Spars described a puppet show that one of her elementary school teachers used to host to start her talk. In the puppet show, one of the puppets had its body detached from its head by the other puppet.

Spars used that analogy to describe the impact of sexual assault she experienced on a study abroad trip in China. “To me, he was a hand going up my skirt. Arms and legs holding me down. To him, I was a body. Neither one of us viewed the other as a human being.”

She extended her analogy of fragmentation to highlight the importance of humanizing sexual assault statistics.

Jonathan Abboud’s talk, entitled “It Doesn’t Take a Tragedy to Find Community,” was another highlight of the event. Abboud’s talk addressed some of Isla Vista’s more difficult years, where tension between students, police, and gentrification negatively affected the community.

“We were pushing for self-governance during this period of time. Until the Isla Vista shooting, it didn’t seem like anyone was listening to our calls for self-governance. It shouldn’t take a tragedy like that to spur needed change,” Abboud said.

Abboud was Associated Students President over the 2013-2014 school year and is now a student in UCSB’s Masters of Technology Management program. He also spearheaded the creation of self-governance in Isla Vista and now serves as the General Manager of Isla Vista’s Community Services District.

“I’ve learned a lot from trying to launch self-governance in Isla Vista,” Abboud said. “I’ve learned that communities require investment to thrive. I’ve also realized all political change can’t always stem from tragedy and that we can do anything with enough passion.”

The event concluded with UCSB’s Middle East Ensemble performance, but the discussions that the event sparked will continue for weeks to come.