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’Deis Talks showcase students’ ideas

Published: April 4, 2014
Section: Featured, News


On Thursday, April 3, the Presentation Room in the Shapiro Admissions Building was packed with students, faculty and other guests for the second annual ’Deis Talks event, presented by Brandeis’ Education for Students by Students (ESS) club. The event, also sponsored by the Brandeis Pluralism Alliance, LTS and Brandeis’ Experiential Learning program, consisted of seven short speeches by Brandeis students of all years, as well as a recent graduate. The speeches, designed to be similar to the popular TED Talks, were introduced by ESS members Brendan Reardon ’14 and Ben Wang ’15 as “the culmination of a program designed to help students who change the world.”

The first talk came from Tali Fleitman ’17. Fleitman, who was raised in Mexico City and whose family is half-Mexican and half-Israeli, spoke about her personal experiences learning English and how that has shaped her interactions with other people. Fleitman specifically spoke of a recent event where a fellow Brandeis student spoke to her with an imitation of her accent, thinking that it would somehow make it easier for her to understand. “I am still learning how to communicate in American situations and in English,” Fleitman told the audience. “But this made me think very hard about how language and accents affect our personal lives.”

Second came Abie Troen ’14, whose speech dealt with the storytelling power of photography. A film major, Troen has been actively taking photos since he was a child, including a series of photographs of his service in the Israel Defence Force and photos of his summer internship in Kenya. He created a photo database for Kenyan University of Street Vendors in Nairobi. According to Troen, photos are often “the greatest way to show a truth.”

In the third speech, Naomi Rodriguez ’16 described the gap year that she took last year. Rodriguez came to Brandeis with the aim of becoming a psychology major. She then considered taking a gap year after her academic performance suffered due to stress. “I was burned out,” Rodriguez said. It was only after deciding to take a gap year that Rodriguez was able to pursue several hobbies, eventually finding a class on aiding survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence hosted at a local women’s shelter. Rodriguez returned to Brandeis this year as a double major in business and women’s and gender studies, and encouraged the audience to consider a gap year in case they felt lost at school.

Up next was Afzal Raiaan Ullah ’14, who gave one of the most passionate and personal talks of the evening. Ullah’s talk dealt with his experience as a gay Muslim and person of color, how his community background made it hard to understand his sexuality, and how he has since become very involved in programs empowering people who deal with similar social stratification. Ullah spoke about his interactions with LGBT activists of color who had been denied by family and friends, even outed by others without their consent. It was these experiences, he said, that influenced his current work in creating and improving programs of empowerment.

William Hicks, the only graduate student speaker, described his love of computers and personal fascination with their constant evolution. Hicks has recently created a program that can recognize familiar faces in photos, even when said photos are distorted in some way. Sindhura Sonnathi ’14 gave a similar talk on her passion for photo editing, specifically with the Photoshop editing program. Sonnathi, who can be seen around campus taking photos, started experimenting with Photoshop recently and discovered that she could express herself creatively through it.

The final speaker was Shaina Gilbert, who graduated in 2010. Gilbert, who worked at various jobs on campus as a student, currently works as a public school teacher in Boston. She teaches English as a second language to the young children of Haitian immigrants. Gilbert is also the founder of Empowerment through Education (ETE), which gives poor Haitian children a head start in school. Speaking on activism, Gilbert advised the audience on “working with our peers as equals, even if you’re completely different people.” She also outlined ETE’s goals for creating a “sustainable program” for easily accessed education in one of the world’s poorest nations and to “build on the future of Haiti.” The talks ended with wild applause from the audience, service of coffee and various types of pie and the opportunity to talk to ESS members who are still working on their personal projects.

Correction: This article previously included a misquote of William Hicks, which has since been removed.