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Presenters talk societal norms at TEDxUofM

By Kaitlin Zurdosky, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 16, 2014

Over 1,000 attendees and 15 University-affiliated speakers came together on Saturday to share ideas and get inspired about leadership, innovation and discovery the fifth annual TEDxUofM.

“Leaders and do-ers” from throughout the University were selected to give 18-minute talks on this year’s theme, “Against the Grain,” as chosen by the student event coordinators. This year's event was held at the Power Center on Central Campus.

“It’s easy to get caught in your own corner, and here you can have conversations to find something that you have in common with others in this new venue that isn’t ordinarily offered,” said Art & Design junior Annie Zisk, who helped organize the event.

The TEDx talks were divided into five sessions. Speakers ranged from medical doctors striving to improve doctor-patient relationships to students who have founded organizations dedicated to enhancing education in Detroit through performance art.

For the first time, the University TEDx event presented the TEDxUofM prize. LSA seniors Zoe Stahl and Theo Schear won the $1000 prize to put towards their urban issues mission. The students began a project incorporating art to make the public aware of the illegal practice of redlining in Detroit.

“We want to make the public aware of this issue,” Stahl said. “A lot of people think art can only be seen in museums, but we want to show that it can be relevant to social justice issues and make a statement.”

The TEDx team spent months selecting speakers from a 200-person list. LSA senior Jane Van Velden, event co-chair, said selecting the speakers was a collective process, choosing those that challenged traditional norms and paradigms.

“We have a big team, and it’s been great for us to see attendees enjoying themselves, learning and embracing the experience,” said LSA senior Lauren Kase, who helped organize the event.

In addition to selected speakers and performers, attendee participation was at the core of the event. A month prior to the conference, each attendee completed an application form consisting of five short answer questions about society norms and “going against the grain,” as the theme called for.

“We like to call it the first step of getting in the TED mindset. It’s the introduction to the conference to get people thinking,” Kase added.

During the event, the TEDx leaders organized the largest paper airplane release at a TEDx conference. Participants wrote a joke, inspirational quote or drawing that expressed their personality on a red TED conference-colored piece of paper. Together, attendees folded the paper into paper airplanes and released them simultaneously. Each person was encouraged to pick up a paper airplane and read someone else’s message.

Between the sessions, participants were challenged to discuss expected community norms and issues within modern society. The experience continued with interactive labs in the lobby and round-tables during a catered lunch.

“Because of the scale of the event, we have both grown a lot as campus leaders. After my introduction with Jane on the stage I realized the hurdle had been jumped and the pressure went away,” LSA senior Mike Perles, event co-chair, said.