Against the Grain: Students, speakers share ideas at annual TEDx conference

    Northwestern students and members of the Chicago and Evanston community gathered at the Ryan Center on Saturday for the Musical Arts for TEDxNorthwesternU, an annual conference held to promote “ideas worth sharing.” The theme, “Against the Grain,” brought together eight presentations on a wide variety of topics.

    “There’s a lot of sharing going on, and that’s what makes this really special,” said Raj Sachdev, one of the speakers who is passionate about smart home technologies. “This is a great opportunity on both sides, for the speakers and the audience.”

    The event was organized into two sessions: the first focused on change at a global level, while the second focused on creating change within the Chicago and Northwestern communities. Northwestern’s provost Jonathan Holloway ended the conference with a speech on political correctness on college campuses.

    Provost Holloway referenced President Schapiro’s letter to the editor and the University of Chicago’s welcome letter to its class of 2020 (then incoming freshmen) as part of the debate surrounding safe spaces on campus. He argued that much of the criticism of safe spaces and political correctness is oversimplified and reflects anxiety about changing Western civilization.

    “[I’m a] real advocate of really honest, difficult conversations on what is now considered political correctness,” he said. “We should do better by that on college campuses, not take the simple way forward.”

    While the conference previously only featured three or four speakers over a couple hours, organizers this year decided to expand the conference to eight speakers over a four-hour period.

    “TED conferences are supposed to be an all-day affair, where you converse with the people around you, and with the speakers, and really engage with the people around you,” said Rebecca Fudge, associate director for the conference this year. Expanding the length of the conference would help to foster dialogue about the ideas being presented, according to Fudge.

    Although most people were positive about the conference, there were some who felt the talks weren’t radical enough.

    “There was definitely some amount of compliance to traditional ways of thinking and reliance on conventional wisdom,” said Jasper Gilley, a Weinberg freshman who attended the conference.

    However, most students were energized and inspired by the talks. Many stayed until the end of the conference, engaging with speakers during breaks and afterwards.

    “Everyone has great energy here, everyone is incredibly enthusiastic, and I have been asked a lot of questions about how people can get involved with global justice, with respect to my talk,” said Angela Walker, an international attorney who spoke on women’s empowerment in global justice. “The energy is just palpable,” she added.


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