Speakers come together to educate in ’DeisTalks
Last Tuesday saw the arrival of ’DeisTalks, a TED Talks-style discussion on various topics with speakers from both within the University community and outside of it. The event, hosted by the Education for Students by Students Board, sought to shed light on different topics, such as anxiety and the myth of the “model minority” which are not often discussed in public discourse.
The talks began with Kat Semerau ’17, who discussed the flaws in the gender binary and its tendency to pigeonhole people into certain behaviors. She drew upon examples from her own life, such as the marketing of Luna bars toward women, which she said led her male friends to believe they could not enjoy them as well. “The gender binary arises out of fear,” she said at the beginning of her presentation. “We must overcome our fear of being on the ‘other’ side of the gender dichotomy.”
Next came Mom’s Choice Award-winning children’s author and cognitive therapist Leanne Matlow, who gave her talk about coping with anxiety and the importance of teaching children the difference between basic everyday “functional” anxiety and the harmful chronic “dysfunctional” anxiety. Emphasizing coping with anxiety as a “life skill,” she took the opportunity to talk about her personal experience with loss and how that brought about anxiety within herself, which inspired her to begin writing for children in the first place. “It is a choice to cope. It’s often difficult, but never impossible, to be resilient,” she urged the audience.
Then, Lilian Wang ’18 took the stage, centering her talk around the myth of the “model minority” and how Asian-Americans, having “ostensibly received high levels of success” relative to other minority groups, are negatively impacted by the model minority myth, arguing that it pits different racial and ethnic groups against each other and masks the struggles of some groups, such as Pacific Islanders, behind the overall success of other Asian groups, since all Asian American groups are often erroneously lumped together. In order to fix this, Wang proposed a system of “three A’s”: awareness, attitude and advocate, saying that, “Even though, as individuals, our impact may seem small, we can bring change.”
Next up was Michelle Oberman ’17, who is studying to be a veterinarian. Her talk was on the importance of expanding the term “social justice” to include animal rights. Citing the works of animal rights activist Richard D. Ryder among others, Oberman made the point that on a fundamental level, humans have no reason to treat animals as poorly as they do in factory farms and other such practices, especially when they have renounced similar practices committed against humans via the institution of slavery. “We need to recognize the limits of our social justice narrative,” Oberman said. “Unlike humans, no matter their intelligence or sentience, animals do not have the capacity to speak out for proper treatment.”
Jared Swezey-Gleason ’16 was next to address the audience, giving his talk on how breaking down the barrier between science and subjective experience can help inform the pursuit of knowledge. “If we can break down the walls between ourselves and our subjective experience,” Swezey-Gleason argued. “We can see the walls between our experiences.”
Alumna Anna Kaufman ’10 took the podium next, focusing on the word “busy” and how referring to oneself as “busy” sells short the impact of what an individual chooses to do with their time, given that “busy” is a generalized term used to brush aside opportunities under the guise of having vague things to do, as opposed to valuing everything they spend their time on as an individual experience. “My challenge to you,” Kaufman told the audience, “is to choose who you spend time with. Decide where you go and take control of the aspects of your life.”
Daniela Dimitrova ’16, an international student from Bulgaria, closed the event with a discussion on the values of an interdisciplinary liberal arts education. Citing her own frequent changes in major, Dimitrova stressed the opportunities afforded by taking classes outside of one’s comfort zone. “The first piece of advice I got in college was to not be afraid to skip the occasional class,” Dimitrova said at the beginning of her piece, quickly clarifying, “and when you skip class, don’t sleep in or just be lazy; go to a lecture or an event.” Toward the end of her talk, she stated, “I am just advocating for taking the leap and choosing what you do with your time.” Overall, ’DeisTalks had a heavy emphasis on personal liberty and choice, and through the voices of its speakers, it showed the power of personal choice on a wide variety of topics.
—Editor’s Note: Kat Semerau ’17 is a columnist for the Justice.