By Kyle Carnes
TEX, or Tufts Idea Exchange, is a combined effort of twoTufts groups: the Synaptic Scholars and OneWorld. The event was started at Tufts in the spring of 2011 to bring together students, faculty, and alumni to present unique ideas in the format of the widely popular TED conference. TED talks are international conferences based on “ideas worth spreading,” where speakers from many different fields present on topics that are intended to disseminate knowledge and inform the audience. The talks are posted online, and as of June 2011, over 500 million people have viewed the videos. In the spirit of TED, TEX aims to foster intellectual exchange between the Tufts student body, alumni, and faculty. After a successful first event TEX is hosting another series of speakers on November 15th.
Hosting TEX is a large undertaking that involves a lot of hard work from many students and coordinators involved. Ben Perlstein, a TEX spokesperson, sat down with the Observer to discuss what goes into making TEX happen. Ben says the group tries to “model the collaboration and the exchange of ideas that we imagined the event [would inspire].” Gearing their speaker applications towards undergraduates and specifically-targeted professors, TEX attempts, according to Perlstein, to draw out the “how and the why, a unique approach, or a new philosophy,” of the participants’ ideas. Then once they’ve decided on who will speak, they go into the “intellectual entertainment business” inherent in TED style talks. This involves intense workshopping with contributors to “bring the idea to a place where the talk does justice to what the speaker really wants to communicate.” In an eight to ten-minute window, it is key to have the speaker be completely comfortable with their topic. The ability to be succinct is crucial when communicating a new—
and potentially unclear— idea to an audience of undergraduates.
Ben says that the most challenging part of the conference is that, though he considers the speakers to be both “brilliant and inspiring,” it can be difficult to get the speakers comfortable, both with their ideas themselves, as well as with speaking in front of hundreds of people. Many Tufts groups put on major events in front of large audiences, and a common issue is the lack of experience with public speaking. But with such an emphasis on presenting difficult ideas in a clear way that connects to the audience, TEX has an acute dilemma. Yet, this is what sets TEX apart as an event, the group actively gets involved in improving the public speaking skills of their presenters, and take an interest in developing the idea itself. When pressed on speakers’ abilities to overcome their discomfort with public speaking, Ben responded that, “people have an amazing way of rising to the occasion, and you see people realize their potential in an awesome way.”
TEX sees itself as a way to help the intellectual community at Tufts blossom outside of the classroom by using entertainment and production value. By using intellectual pageantry to enhance the performances, TEX hopes to stimulate interest in ideas that are outside of the student body’s usual interest areas, and to appeal to the intellectual diversity of Tufts students. Ben states that TEX attempts to reach out to different academic disciplines, and to draw in a very diverse speaker range. Despite this, he admits, “We could do a lot more than we do, but we were just a startup and now it’s all about capacity.” TEX is an example of a Tufts group moving from a young startup to an established organization. They state that the “success of [TEX] depends fully on the interest in the subject.” It seems that the intellectual community on campus can only be better for hosting such events as the Tufts Idea Exchange.