In Juliet Suess’s April 2 article on the TEDx conference, junior CTSJ major Andrew Wilcox expresses his disillusion with the event, writing, “The first portion of the event was comprised of a group of salesmen whose successes have been established through the very systems that TEDxOxy should have aimed to re-imagine. Guest speakers betrayed the name of the event, ‘Reimagining the American Dream’ and perpetuated dominant discourses that I falsely hoped TEDxOxy would disrupt.”
As anyone who went to the event and stayed for all three sections will tell you, Wilcox’s analysis is patently false. The “group of salesmen” of which he speaks consists of two men, Dennis Rice and Dave Berkus. Rice and Berkus’s successes are indeed testaments to the “traditional” American Dream. But what Wilcox leaves out of his critique is that these were merely two of the day’s 15 speakers. Was Ella Turenne’s speech about providing higher education to people who are incarcerated a tribute to the status quo? Did Adrian Adams’s passionate talk on the need to include transgender and gender non-conforming people in public spaces “perpetuate dominant discourses?” Did David Gensler’s radical re-envisioning of sustainable building practices not “disrupt” the American Dream of mass development? If Alberto Retana’s account of fighting racialized student push-out in LAUSD didn’t reimagine the Dream, what would?
The reason we are so proud to have organized and/or spoken at this event is that it was a gathering space for many voices. None of the 15 speakers shared a similar vision of the American Dream; all were deeply informed by their personal experiences and perspectives. TEDxOxy, like all TED and TEDx events, invited audiences to share their views on each of the talks—hence the multiple “break-out sessions,” which were designed to facilitate discourse and critical evaluation. How disappointing that Wilcox would rather leave early and pass sweeping judgment on the entire event (of which he saw a third) to the school paper. How terrific, though, that the vast majority of students got into the spirit of the conference and appreciated it for the incredible opportunity it was.
Brian Erickson (Sophomore, Politics – TEDx Speaker)
Sarah Tamashiro (Junior, Art History and Visual Arts– TEDx Speaker)
Cholpon Ramizova (Junior, Diplomacy & World Affairs – TEDx Co-Manager)
Somer Greene (Sophomore, Independent Pattern of Study in Community Based Marketing and Research – TEDx Speaker)
Cordelia Kenney (Senior, History – TEDx Speaker)*
Adrian Adams (First-year, CTSJ – TEDx Speaker)
*Cordelia Kenney is a staff writer for the Occidental Weekly and was also a TEDx speaker; however, she was not involved in the writing of this letter.
I am writing in response to to Ms. Landon’s article from last week’s issue entitled “‘Oxy Confessions’ fosters inclusive community dialogue, anonymously.” I have found a somewhat different outlook, and find the inclusive community dialogue happening few and far between. Landon is right that most of the posts “pertain to typical college social dynamics,” which I believe is what draws so many people to the site. But to classify Confessions as “a place where community members can share their voices with the knowledge that…their peers are listening” with the rosey prefix of “at its best” is to excuse the darker undercurrents of the page, and possibly even allow us as members of the Occidental community to believe this “dialogue” is enough.
I do commend the “host” of Confessions for posting hotline numbers in the more urgent emergencies that occasionally grace the timeline. And I do see great points being made on some posts. But in highlighting these, we passively legitimize the posts that, were they using a name, probably would see cries of cyber-bullying. But the lack of name is Confessions’ saving grace, even though at a school of 2,100 students, naming someone as “person working at ‘x’ with ‘y’ hair on this night” is hardly anonymous, and yet somehow is vague enough to allow someone to write nasty or fetishized things about them.
But beyond even forgiving these posts, we mustn’t forget that the so-called dialogue taking place on this page is often aimed at an anonymous post – akin to screaming at offensive graffiti even after the perpetrator is long gone. Online posts will get this campus nowhere, because even well-intentioned posts stoop to name-calling, erasing civility and any potential growth simultaneously. This is hardly only our fault – the culture of covert retribution on this campus is toxic, and it has forced our discussions of important issues to forums without identity and out of reach of the College’s arms. But to accept that Confessions functions as an at-best good thing for this campus is to ignore the pain and fear of every person “mentioned” with such disdain and violence that is all too common on the page.
I’ve recently come upon a piece of our recent history as a student body I’d like to share. The discovery is a result of the announcement of Talib Kweli’s return to Oxy for Springfest 2014.
When Talib Kweli first came to Oxy in November of 2006, he was part of a Black Student Alliance organized program called “Exploration of Blackness.” The program, as indicated by the title, was a two-week long series of events dedicated to educate and foster discussion among Oxy students around Blackness and its impact on the lives of all members of American society. These events included a, but are not limited to, lecture by Angela Davis, performances and talks by Talib Kweli, as well as public viewings of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. “Exploration of Blackness” received widespread support from the student body, cultural clubs, faculty, and administration, and was awarded the Equity Program of the Year Award for the ’06-’07 school year. It was this student-led effort that brought artists Lupe Fiasco and Dead Prez to Oxy in subsequent years. By the ‘09-’10 school year, the event had officially become what we now know as Springfest, and was taken over by Programming Board.
Today at Oxy, there is a narrative of discontent around the frequency of rap artists selected for Springfest. This is somewhat ironic considering firstly how relevant Hip-Hop is to contemporary Blackness and secondly that the origins of Springfest are rooted within discourse around Blackness. Springfest has since been divorced from its radical Blackness, social justice beginnings. As a result, it is no longer conceived as an event dedicated to helping foster campus-wide understanding of Black identity and its presence in all of our lives regardless of individuals’ identities. Instead, it has become simply a concert to turn up at.
We should not forget the history and original purpose of what once was explicitly Black radical programming at Oxy. As this campus continues to wrestle over issues concerning race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and justice in general, it is imperative that we look to the past to try and resurrect the once-progressive soul of the college. Going to a Macklemore or Talib Kweli concert is not enough to engage in critical discussion and action regarding prominent (and inescapable) social issues. In fact, we miss out on educational opportunities not offered in most classes by omitting that very element.
I would like to credit the alumni of Occidental for sharing this narrative with others and myself. This letter would not be possible without their institutional memory, without which history concerning Springfest would still be largely forgotten.