TEDx Comes to Haverford

“Crossing Borders” was the theme on Saturday, September 29, when the College hosted its first TEDx conference. Organized by Isaac Anthony ’14, Sofia Athanassiadis ’14,  Tamar Hoffman ’15, Ellen Rienhart ’15, and Victoria Sobocinski ’13, TEDx Haverford College, held in Sharpless Auditorium, included presentations from twelve different speakers and was broadcast live via online video streaming.
TEDx is a program of local, independently organized forums that bring people together in an effort to create an environment of shared ideas and dialog. These small TEDx events are meant to emulate the much larger annual conferences organized by TED, a nonprofit devoted to exploring “ideas worth spreading.”
To kick off the afternoon, Dan Weiss, who will take over as president of Haverford College in July, and Rebecca Chopp, the president of Swarthmore College, presented a joint lecture, “The Liberal Arts in an Age of Uncertainty.” In the talk, which discussed the changing face of liberal arts institutions in the wake of shifting economic and cultural tides, Weiss cited public skepticism as one of the biggest issues he believes that Haverford and like institutions must grapple with today.

“We hold the very strong view that what we do here is a sacred trust between the students, the faculty, parents, everyone,” Weiss said. “And if that trust begins to get eroded, we find excessive levels of regulation and other kinds of skepticism that undermine our ability to advance our mission.”
Chopp and Weiss went on to explain the importance of the liberal arts method. Weiss elaborated that it is important for small liberal arts schools to win “the war of public relations” and showcase their relevance, so that people understand why these schools deserve their investment.
“We are no longer ivory towers; that’s such an old and outdated concept, but most people don’t realize how ‘in the world’ our colleges are,” he said, going on to highlight the unique aspects that make schools like Haverford so valuable. “Our scale, our commitment, our shared mission, and our ability to communicate allow us to use shared governance as a very effective mechanism for productive and innovative change,” Weiss said.
The diverse speakers who followed presented a complex and nuanced picture of what crossing borders could mean in various contexts. Presentations ranged from Olympian and civil rights activist John Carlos’s speech about his struggle with racism and the importance of activism, to Haverford psychology professor Benjamin Le’s talk about the science of attraction and the oft-overlooked factors that can draw people together.
Haverford alumna Hayley O’Malley ’08 discussed the use of Shakespearean classics in bridging gaps across generations, space, and time; and exploring the concepts of reinvention and re-contextualization. Philosophy Professor Ashok Gangadean outlined several philosophical schools of thought and discussed the ways we may learn from them about understanding different perspectives.
Several other speakers described how their work in charitable organizations could create connections between diverse populations. Ken Stern ’85, the CEO of Palisades Media, spoke about the challenges faced by charitable organizations in doing good work and showing meaningful results. Jane Golden, who holds honorary degrees from both Haverford and Swarthmore, discussed her experiences with the Mural Arts Program in engaging at-risk youth and underserved communities through art. Golden explained, in particular, the power of charitable work, art, and education to connect people.
“The program can bring together people who share something – maybe it’s trauma, maybe it’s pain, maybe it’s just a love of art,” she said. “It’s about more than just line and color; participants learn about citizenship and civic engagement.”
Interspersed among the live speeches were videos of relevant presentations from past TED talks, including lectures by gifted teacher and peace activist John Hunter and anti-slavery activist and photographer Lisa Kristine. Among the recorded presentations was one by TED talks creator Chris Anderson, who discussed the fascinating possibilities that web videos have opened up for the world. In particular, Anderson cited the unique inspiration we draw from seeing others speak rather than just reading their words. “We are a social species,” he said. “We spark off each other.”

Read a personal take on the event by Theresa Tensuan, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, on the OMA blog: blogs.haverford.edu/oma/
—Prarthana Jayaram ’10