TEDxWUSTL hosts five talks full of ideas worth spreading

| Junior Scene Editor

TEDxWUSTL held its annual TEDx event on Thursday, April 4. This year, the five speakers gave talks covering topics ranging from the applications of artificial intelligence to linguistics in the judicial system and even a student’s personal experiences with schizophrenia.

Following the new TED tagline “ideas change everything,” all TED events focus on finding and spreading the ideas and experiences of their speakers. TEDx is a grassroots program started by TED with the intention of finding ideas in smaller, niche communities.

“We look for ideas that bring something new to the table. We also want TED talks that are applicable, where they can hear the idea and learn something. Lastly, we look at how connected the speakers are to their topic, whether or not they have personal experience or if it’s something that’s important to them,” WashU sophomore and TEDxWUSTL co-president Howard Yu explained.

Dr. Mary Mason of the Cordell Institute opened the event with “Pandora’s Box: AI Surveillance and Student Privacy,” a talk about how artificial intelligence can aid schools in supporting student mental health. However, she also noted the dangers of artificial intelligence by describing hypothetical situations in which artificial intelligence wouldn’t understand human emotion and nuanced situations, likening AI to Pandora’s box. Concluding her talk, Mason advocated for a combination of experts from different disciplines to guide these AIs and utilize them effectively.

“When we have all these new technologies, it’s easy to get excited. But it’s always good to step back and think through it in a very methodical way. Educate yourself while you’re here, getting your degree in your course of study so when you’re a leader of tomorrow, you really have the ability to think through this from a variety of different standpoints,” Mason said. 

Manasa Savanur, a senior AVP at Wells Fargo and certified yoga teacher, gave the second talk, “Mind over Money — How to Fight Mental Bias and Make Financial Decisions,” focusing on ways in which she sees cognitive biases and fallacies manifesting in the world around her. She noted that a lot of problems are “simple but not easy.” Advocating for mindful practices and cognitive reflections, she argued the “how” will be easy once the “why” is determined.

“‘You ask questions like ‘how do I become a TEDx speaker?’ Or ‘how do I get into this college? How do I get a job in tech?’ There’s so many articles that start with ‘how’ but nobody can tell you why you should do it. There is something behind it in your mind, which you don’t know yet. You need to have your ‘why’ in place so that when you get that job offer, you don’t fool around, and you take that opportunity.” Manasur said

Kiana Angela Macharia, a WashU senior, spoke next, giving a talk titled “Decentering the Default: Intersectionality in Practice,” describing her explorations of contrasting aspects of her identity. Beginning with a spoken-word piece, Macharia detailed a personal experience in a classroom where she felt “othered.” She went on to discuss intersectionality — the ways in which the parts of one’s identity overlap. Ending her talk, she gave three pieces of advice for navigating struggles regarding identity: “Foster community, listen to yourself, and decenter the default.” 

“At the beginning of my senior year, I was having a lot of the same conversations with friends around this backdrop of intersectionality. I talked about it in my talk, which is like being othered is what I’ve been calling it…where they feel that they can’t participate in this conversation and how they’re being brought into those conversations,” Macharia said.

Dr. John Baugh, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and a former president of the Linguistic Society of America, gave a talk called “Linguistics for Lawyers and Everyone who Needs to Hire a Lawyer.” Baugh described the involvement of linguists in the outcomes of three cases, starting with a historical case of Cullen Davis’ murder trial, the first time a linguist testified as an expert witness. Baugh then continued by describing two cases in which he was involved as an expert: one in which linguistics could prove a defendant hadn’t received a fair trial, the second an instance where linguistics exonerated someone who could not pay for a proper defense. Baugh finished his talk by pointing to the emergence of forensic linguistics; however, he cautioned the audience to find qualified linguistic experts. 

“The law is not science. That’s one of the reasons why there’s nine judges on the Supreme Court…it’s rare that there’s a unanimous decision. That’s something that should be frightening to everybody. As a scientist who works in the legal arena, I try very much to bring the tools of linguistic precision,” Baugh said.

Sophomore Ethan Hong finished the event with his talk, “Lessons from an Invisible Illness,” in which he spoke about his experience with schizophrenia. Beginning the talk, Hong spoke about the onset of his condition in 2023, detailing the different auditory and visual sensations that he experiences. Hong shared that schizophrenia has permanently changed his life, acknowledging the statistics about the disorder, such as a shortened life expectancy and the high likelihood for his children to inherit the condition. Hong ended on a positive note, stating that “we are all going through a human experience,” and closed his speech with a simple plea for kindness for others.

“I feel like a lot of students at WashU in general have problems [with] mental health. They want to express themselves but don’t really know a way how…So I gave the talk to kind of give voice to that feeling. A condition like schizophrenia has a lot of stigma behind it, more than any other mental illness. They’re like, ‘X serial killer was schizophrenic.’ But so was John Nash…I’m also still grieving my diagnosis because it was so recent. So this was sort of my way of finally coming to terms with that and just being in front of hundreds of people and saying that I don’t care anymore,” Hong said.

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