REVIEW: TEDx UofM 2017

Before I begin, here’s a link to the full conference in case you want to see it in its entirety.

TEDx UofM 2017 was as busy as ever, adding to the disruption part of this year’s theme: Dreamer’s and Disruptors. The army of volunteers running the independent conference have by now created a finely-tuned machine with the perfect mix of emotional roller-coaster, thought-provoking ideas, and blissful entertainment.

The student group Groove = bliss

A student jazz band played in the minutes before the conference started. Their grooving, polished performance was a reminder that so many students at this university are talented and sound like professionals even before they’ve graduated.

Then the first speaker took the stage. Koen Vanmechelen came all the way from Belgium to talk about chickens. Specifically, about how breeding various species of chickens can be used to teach us important lessons about human nature.

Next was Sophia Brueckner, a brilliant woman who was a preeminent software engineer at Google until she suffered an injury that prevented her from using computers for two years. She argued that we as a society have developed a dichotomy of looking at technology as either a complete disaster, or as completely awesome. Instead, she asserted, we need to approach technology with critical optimism.

Ironically, Sophia Brueckner pointed out that making an app to solve all our problems is a fallacious idea, but the 2017 TEDx prize went to a student that developed an app called FoodFind. Meant for low income families to find free food, you have to wonder how many families can actually afford and use the smartphones that the app runs on.

Caitlin Holman proposed three things we need to learn: autonomy, competency, and belonging. Videogames, she suggested, provide all of this. With that in mind, she founded GradeCraft with the purpose of making learning more “gameful.”

Erika Newman–a pediatric surgeon–talked about both clinical and personal experiences with cancer. She was introduced to the lack of information on neuroblastoma when one of her patients asked her about the disease and she realized how she didn’t have any answers. The only surprise here was that she was having trouble getting funding from the NIH to treat the cancer using DNA repair mechanisms.

Rollie Tussing and the Midwest Territory Band played during the break. Although they were a stereotypical band you’d hear in Ann Arbor (at least one instance of well-manicured beard, a cello, and music reminiscent of vintage records), they were entertaining. Their sound was both stripped down and full, and antique without feeling archaic.

Next was Abdul El-Sayed, the current Executive Director of the Detroit Health

Department. In case that didn’t already tell you what a monumental task that entails, he cited several facts about the city of 600,000+ people such as a life expectancy of 70, an asthma rate of three times that of the rest of the country, and vision and other problems that far surpass the rest of Michigan. His argument was to think about pathophysiology in the social realm so that we can help people prevent health problems from developing. Abdul was also one of the best speakers of the night and I highly recommend watching his talk at least.

Next was Jeffrey Veidlinger, a historian who went to Eastern Europe to interview survivors of the Holocaust as a way of preserving their culture via understanding Yiddish. He challenged the audience to “Ask your loved ones about their life. Ask them about their dreams. Ask them about what they cherish.”

The most heart-wrenching talk of the night came from Scott Matzka, who was a talented athlete and is now a husband and father battling ALS. This is another talk to watch, and to check out his organization MyTurn.

Documentary filmmaker Sophia Kruz was the last speaker of the evening. Showing clips from her latest documentary Little Stones, she showed how sharing individual stories is important, as well as using culture to address problems in society. 



PREVIEW: Toledo Museum of Art – Kehinde Wiley’s A New Republic Exhibition


Art Outta Town is headed to the Toledo Museum of Art, an institution will a globally reputable collection, for Kehinde Wiley’s exhibit A New Republic. Wiley’s work draws attention to the lack of African American subjects in historical artwork and narratives. His exhibited pieces feature contemporary men and women modeled after the work of the “old Masters”, whose work heavily featured white European aristocracy. This is but one exhibit currently on display at the Toledo Museum of Art, only an hour from Ann Arbor. The museum houses pieces from almost every continent, ranging from medieval to contemporary works.

Saturday, February 11 / 11am-4pm / $5, Registration required here.

PREVIEW: A Dangerous Experiment

This play takes us back to 1871, to U-M’s first class of female students to enter into the exclusively-male student body. Written and directed by current U-M students, the play is based on both historical and fictional accounts of five female students as they work their way through the world attempting to assert themselves to their male counterparts, faculty, and the city of Ann Arbor itself.

The issue of women in male-dominated spheres remains an issue almost 150 years later. While U-M looks very different today, it’s revealing to look back at its origins to see how far we’ve come, as well as the bounds the University has left to make.

February 10 and 11 at 8 pm, and February 12 at 2 pm

Keene Theater, East Quad


REVIEW: Hijabi Monologues

Image may contain: text

A woman sings “Hallelujah” while her friend plays guitar.
A freshman tells the stories of her grandfather’s past love, her mother’s past love, as well as her own experiences with love.
A woman from Malaysia recounts her experiences working in a male-dominated corporation.
A U-M alum shares her story of depression.

These women, and many more, shared various aspects of their life this past Friday night in the Rackham Ampitheatre. Although their backgrounds were diverse, these women shared the identity of being Muslim women who practiced the hijab: a modest lifestyle that includes wearing the veil.

Halfway Hijabi: Hijabi Monologues was a safe space created by sophomores Fatima Haidar and Alyiah Al-Bonijim. These students felt the tension towards Muslims after last year’s election and felt that Muslims, particularly hijabis, needed a space to showcase who they are. This would allow Muslim women to be seen in another light, rather than have the media paint a picture of Muslims for Americans. What Fatima and Alyiah thought to be a small get-together, however, was anything but.

I arrived twenty minutes before seven and found a seat in the third row of the theatre. People trickled in as I made small talk with those around me, but by 7:15PM the room was packed: doors were blocked by a wall of students while others sat on the floor of the stage. Attendees included Muslims and non-Muslims and people of various ethnic backgrounds. After several complaints from security, everyone finally settled in and the monologues began.

Each hijabi—a Muslim woman who practices the hijab—who presented in the safe space had something unique about them that they shared with the audience. Students were moved to tears when U-M alum Dana sang “Hallelujah.” The room was filled with laughter as Malaysian student Anati shared comical moments of her life, of why she decided to practice the hijab. For each story, the audience gave a roaring applause for the courage that the hijabis presented when they were on the stage.

Shortly after the monologues was dessert, where presenters and audience members got to sit together and converse while eating sweets. New friends were made that night, and I was no exception to that.
I was glad to have been able to go to this event last Friday, to listen to the stories of such wonderful people, and would definitely stay on the lookout for more safe space events to come!



REVIEW: Jackie

Jackie places us in the world of the former first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman), after the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. The movie is told through a conversation between Jackie and a journalist and mixed with flashbacks from her point of view. This works stylistically; however, even with this and Natalie Portman’s excellent portrayal, the movie’s pace and lack of risks prevent this movie from being special.

If the target audience is people who know close to nothing about this event then I would consider the movie a success. However, for the audience that is fairly educated about JFK’s assassination, not much is brought to the table. The film, although it goes behind what has been seen publicly before, it fails to break her from what we already have seen. The iconic, stoic role she portrayed in face of this great tragedy at the time, is never deviated from, even when she is behind closed doors. This unwavering conscientiousness makes her character very much unaccessible and unrealistic. I think that the choice to not take any risks with the title character contributed to the mundane nature this film took on.

The other flaw of this film was the pace. The conversation with the journalist moves slowly and the flashbacks don’t get interesting until late in the film. I think that the film could be much stronger with a major restructuring of the story. There is not much to draw the viewer in and the public knowledge of the tragedy prevents the film from being suspenseful.

Overall the film falls short as a movie. The story is an important one, but the film itself brings little new value to the audience. Although it puts you in her shoes and gives a unique perspective of the assassination, it does not give you new insight into Jackie Kennedy’s life.

PREVIEW: TEDx U of M 2017

In less than a week, the organizers of TEDxUofM will open the doors to: TEDxUofM 2017: Dreamers and Disruptors.

Although tickets are sold out, you will be able to watch a livestream here

Also, you can still arrive early for live music, interactive activities, coffee from RoosRoast, and pastries from Avalon Bakery all in the lobby area of the Power Center

This year has another incredible list of speakers, as well as performances by Groove and Midwest Territory Band

Where: The Power Center

Time: 6:00 PM