TEDxBrownU broke out of the box last Friday, which saw attendance numbers grow over four times from last year and each speaker centering their speech around the theme of “boxes.”
“(The theme) can be interpreted in so many different ways,” said TEDx President Julianna Liu ’20 told The Herald. “You can have literal physical boxes, you can have stereotypes, … you can have people breaking out of boxes, breaking out of stereotypes, thinking outside the box. We use the word boxes in so many everyday sayings that we don’t really think about.”
TEDxBrownU is hosted annually by University students as an independent offshoot of the internationally recognized TED conference. This year’s event, with more than 450 attendees, showcased eight student, professor and alum speakers in the Salomon Center. Their speeches touched on issues such as socialism, health agency and mental health stigma.
Each speaker interpreted the theme in their own way, focusing on literal, figurative or metaphorical boxes. For instance, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine Geoffrey Capraro’s speech was inspired by a literal box — the NaloxBox — that he co-created with Claudia Rébola, a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, to help combat the opioid crisis. A NaloxBox is similar to an emergency defibrillator in form, but contains Naloxone, an emergency drug used to treat overdose victims.
“I want to spread the message that anyone (in the audience) can be the hero, that’s one of the main messages,” Capraro told The Herald. “Recovery is possible but addiction is a really difficult disease. People need to be given second, third, fourth chances.”
Madeline Griswold ’21 spoke about the common view of computer scientists as one type of person — “some sort of nerd.” She wanted to inspire people to break outside the box of what they think a computer scientist should look like.
“I’ve seen lots of misconceptions of what it means to code and what it means to be a computer scientist, and oftentimes media portrayals of computer science are completely wrong,” Griswold said. “I’m trying to prove that computer science is more than that, and you don’t have to look like that to code.”
Kaitlan Bui ’22, on the other hand, focused on both literal and figurative boxes. She spoke about a project she has been working on since her sophomore year of high school. When Bui finds herself overwhelmed with emotion toward another person, she will write them a letter, seal it without rereading it and set a time to give it to them in the future. She stores these letters in a box in her room.
“I think (not rereading or rewriting) makes it truly vulnerable because … a lot of times when we text, email, even write a letter, we curate it, we go back and we look,” Bui said. “It becomes a lot more of ‘how am I presenting myself’ rather than ‘I’m just going to give you what I want you to know.’”
Bui utilized her project at the TEDx event to encourage vulnerability and reflect on how people infrequently open themselves up to others.
“We often keep our ideas and thoughts to ourselves, kind of like place it in a box …” Bui said. “What happens if we open up that box a little bit?”
In the past, the TED license obtained by the TEDxBrownU organizers restricted the event to 100 attendees. This year, they were able to obtain a license without a cap on attendees because Head of Operations Michael Chen ’22 attended official TED events in the past. Chen hopes to bring other TEDx student organizers to an official TED event in 2020 so that they can continue to work with the larger license.
RISD student Danielle Williams attended the conference to support her friend and speaker Yunni Cho ’21, whose speech was titled “I Am Not a Robot.” Williams found that she enjoyed many of the other speeches as well, particularly Jessica Burbank’s MPA ’19 speech about the benefits of the United States shifting toward a more socialist economy.
“I had never really heard much about (socialism) like she presented it,” Williams said.
Another attendee, Katie Dvonch ’23, attended the conference to support Griswold but was also intrigued by Burbank’s speech.
“I’m taking an econ class this semester, so a lot of it lined up with what we’re learning about in class now,” Dvonch said. “The stuff she was talking about was super relevant and also out of the box.”