WheaTalks 2014: A night of ideas

Ten presenters and ten ideas drew an at-capacity crowd to Hindle Auditorium on Thursday, April 3. WheaTalks was based off of the concept of TEDTalks, brief presentations by speakers from a variety of fields on “ideas worth spreading.”

Wheaton’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a policy think tank with participating colleges nationwide,  organized the event, choosing the ten speakers from a group of applicants and organized the event.

Sarah Hilton, co-President of the Roosevelt Institute, said, “[This] is my favorite event of the year.” With each ten-minute presentation it became easy to see why.

Brian Jecunas ’14 began the program with his presentation entitled “A Nation Divided: Why Our Politics Have Become So Polarized.” He underscored the current partisan nature of our society and government, saying: “If there is one thing that Americans can agree on, it’s that we’re divided, at least when it come to politics… if you name an issue, chances are there are two sides and the only thing that they can agree on is that the other side is wrong.”

In answer to the question of “What made the voter more partisan?,” Jencunas said he did not have the final answer, but he did share his theories about the focus on negative advertising, the number of social issues facing the country, and the polarizing effects of racial diversity.

Another presenter, Ethan LaFontaine ’16 presented a talk entitled “Wild Wallflowers: The Stories of Our Most Unloved Endangered Species.” He stressed the importance of every organism, including those that are not so popular, stating that “Each species in a cog in the machine that produces our ecology.”

Citing the Flightless Dung Beetle (a bug that aids farming in South Africa) and the Rosie Periwinkle (a flower that is used to cure childhood leukemia), LaFontaine exhorted the need to preserve all endangered species, regardless of size or popularity.

Coby Jones ’14 presented “Loch Ness Monster vs. Big Foot: What Scottish Independence Means for US/UK Relations,” a topic she learned about in detail during her study abroad experience where she interned at the Scottish Parliament. In September of 2014, a referendum in Scotland will take place in order to decide if Scotland will be an independent sovereign state. Jones went over the various scenarios that could arise from the vote, from the “good” – an amicable split between Scotland and the UK- to the “ugly” – Scotland does not leave the UK and political tensions continue. Jones concluded, “We as Americans… need to decide where we stand on this issue. Are we going to support an independent Scotland? Or are we staunch unionists and believe that UK should remain intact?”

Elie Chauvet ’14, a self-proclaimed feminist and gamer, examined both in his talk entitled “The Problematic Portrayal of Women in Video Games.” In this talk, he noted “More women would play video games if they had more playable female characters.” However, major reasons for this lack, as cited by Chauvet, are the violent nature of video games, which society traditionally deems as for males only, and the publishing companies of the games themselves, who, according to Chauvet, “don’t think that games with women sell.”

With a slight change in his presentation topic than what he originally planned, Eric Esten ’16 spoke about “James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Dignity of Everyday Life.” After reading this literary classic, Esten delved into its criticism and forming a discourse on how “communicative events and art influence the way we both perceive ourselves and the world around us.”

“By making Leopold Bloom, the typical bourgeois,” Esten asserted, “into the hero, into Odysseus, then he (Joyce) can change the sign or association of ideas,” Esten explained.

Based on her summer internship at Plymouth Plantation and her subsequent research on colonial and present societies, Erika Prince ’15 presented “Rethinking Our Founding Mothers.” By highlighting outstanding females from the 1600 and 1700’s, Prince reiterated the need to continue  the work of feminism in the modern moment, “I do think we could learn something about our current situation by rethinking the roles of our founding mothers.”

Though Rana LaPine ’16 grew up learning about her cultural heritage (her father is Mohawk), her presentation centered on “Systematic Genocide: The Forced Adoption and Relocation of Native American Children.” Lapine said, “I’m grateful to say that I’ve gotten to know a part of my culture… and the fact that these children are raised without any access to that is actually devastating.”

In her talk, LaPine exposed the current rights violations in South Dakota, where Native American children (less than 15 percent of the child population) make up more than half of the children in foster care, with over 90 percent of the se children in foster care being placed in non-native homes or group care.

On a completely different note, Lanie Honda ’14 began her talk by asking,“Who here likes food?” Everyone in the audience immediately raised his or her hand, suiting the topic of her talk “More Than Sustenance: Millennials and The Foodie Generation.” Noting the development of cable networks devoted to food along with the rise of social media outlets that encourage mass interest in cuisine, Honda asserted that, “If Master Chef Junior is any indication, the foodie generation isn’t just going to end with us.”

Alexandra Natale ’16’s presentation on “Moving Beyond Bars: Alternatives to Prison in Cases of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence” explored other options to disciplining sexual offenders, including the possibility of using civil cases to cover the victim’s costs for therapy or schooling.

“One of the factors that people cite in this rape culture is the idea of immunity, that… there is no punishment for sexual violence and if there is, it is not harsh enough,” she stated.

The final WheaTalk was “Why Happiness Policy is Serious Work” by Nurit Applbaum ’14. Applbaum went to Bhutan as a part of the study abroad program, where the National Happiness Index originated. This index is based on a range of factors, from health to economic to environmental wellness. Applbaum concluded that, “It’s absolutely vital that we rethink the values upon which we base our international development policies. And that starts with looking at what really matters most, and that’s our happiness.”

If you were unable to attend WheaTalks or would like more information about any of these talks, they are available in their entirety on YouTube. Better yet, speak with the presenters themselves, as each could certainly converse about these topics of interest for more than ten minutes.