TEDx: Conference to expand diversity

With a diverse array of speakers lined up, ranging from a National Geographic explorer to a history professor, TEDxCollegeofWilliamandMary will be hosting its fourth annual conference Sunday, April 3.

For the last four years, TEDx at the College of William and Mary has been working to expand its outreach and draw in a wider crowd of students, faculty, staff and Williamsburg community members. This year, the students responsible for planning the committee decided to move past a themed conference and invite speakers to discuss what they were most passionate about.

According to TEDx co-president Caroline Wiles ’17, this open-ended conference will enable the speakers to have livelier, more informed discussions about their areas of specialization, as opposed to a theme which would constrain them.

“We had trouble coming up with a theme,” Wiles said. “We decided to leave it open-ended. We asked our speakers to tell us what they were interested in talking about. They came up with a huge array of topics on certain issues and subject matters. Instead of restraining them, we are letting them talk about their fields in a way they are most excited about. I think this will be an extremely positive thing. It will allow the speakers to show how much of an expert they are and what they are passionate about and relay that to the audience.”

In her role as co-president, Wiles is responsible for overseeing a group of nine committee chairs who are in charge of logistics, finance and speaker relations. Students who volunteer to be part of certain committees work underneath these committee chairs.

The group decided that this year they wanted to focus on diversity and inclusion in choosing speakers for the conference. They reached out to alumni and other people interested in coming to speak. In terms of diversity, the group found speakers of different genders, ethnicities and areas of specialization.

The speakers for this year’s conference are independent journalist and author Lizzie Stark, CEO and co-founder of SoapBox David Simnick, Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project Director of Operations Ajit George, National Geographic explorer Erin Spencer ’14, Actors’ Gang Prison Project Founder Sabra Williams, assistant director and chief curator of the Muscarelle Museum of Art John Spike and history professor Chitralekha Zutshi.

Speaker Relations Co-chair Sudeep Kalkunte ’16 was one of the people involved in reaching out to speakers, arranging interviews with them and negotiating what they would discuss. Kalkunte, who has worked closely with the speakers, said he is excited to finally meet them in person.

“I am most excited to finally meet the speakers,” Kalkunte said. “We have had a lot of contact, but it will be my first time interacting with them and getting to thank them for coming. It will be my first time meeting them face to face.”

I am most excited to finally meet the speaker. We have had a lot of contact, but it will be my first time interacting with them and getting to thank them for coming. It will be my first time meeting them face to face,” Kalkunte said.

Funding for the event came through two distinct pathways. Sen. J.C. LaRiviere ’17 sponsored the TEDx 2016 Conference Funding Act, which allocated $17,000 to travel and lodging accommodations for the speakers and other necessary event materials. Other funding came through personal donations from administrators and community members.

Although there are tickets on sale for the conference, the group works to reduce the fees involved in purchasing tickets as they do not aim to make a profit from their event.

For some, like Co-chair of Speaker Relations Emily Schaefer ’17, this year’s conference represents a way of improving and building on previous years’ conferences. Some major changes that have been made involve strategies to increase ticket sales, to diversify the conference and to reach out to a wider audience.

“I think this year we have had a lot better communication,” Schaefer said. “Things have been going much more smoothly, and we have improved the event dramatically. TEDx is an excellent event, and we are excited to have a diverse group of speakers.”

Additionally, the group has worked to make the event more accessible to all members of the campus, including faculty and staff. Through increased outreach and advertising over the past year, they have also increased their attempt to bring in people from the Williamsburg community. In terms of size, the event now will be held in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall as opposed to last year when it was held in the Commonwealth Auditorium.

As the event approaches, Wiles said she is most excited to see how this outreach will bring in more people who will hopefully enjoy the speakers.

“I am most excited to see how people in the audience react to our speakers,” Wiles said. “We have a wide array of topics that the speakers will be talking about. It will be interesting to see how their personalities mesh with what they’re talking about and to see how the audience reacts to them.”

I am most excited to see how people in the audience react to our speakers,” Wiles said.

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Sarah Smith '19 served as The Flat Hat's Editor-in-chief From January 2018-February 2019. Previously she served as news editor and associate news editor, and has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for her work with in-depth reporting. Smith is a government and gender, sexuality, and women's studies double major from Ashburn, Virginia.


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