Project X: Student Showcase

UMass Amherst students and viewers filled the red, cushy seats of a brand new auditorium in the Integrated Learning Center last night to see “Project X: Student Showcase,” an event put on by the TEDxUMassAmherst team. The evening included four UMass student speakers who discussed a wide variety of current issues, ranging from a scientific perspective on randomness to what it means to live in a rape culture. The event was DJ-ed by WMUA 91.1 and sponsored by local student businesses Sweets N’ More, People’s Market and Freedom Café, who provided free goodies before the show. There were performances by UMass favorites like the all men a cappella group The Doo Wop Shop, improvisation group Mission:IMPROVable, and the UMass Dance Company.

The speakers practiced the classic TED Talk style, using research, examples, and personal experiences to present viewers with a new perspective. Junior communications major Paige Sellers said she thought “Project X” was an informative and inspiring event. “It was a good blend of arts and current issues on campus,” Sellers added. If you weren’t in the audience, allow us to recap this one for you, Collegiettes:

“Everything happens for a reason.” – Bob Ambrose

Bob Ambrose: Is Anything Really Random?

That’s so random. A phrase we hear all of the time. Bob Ambrose, a sophomore honors student majoring in computer science and math, said he heard the phrase recently over a dinner conversation about sushi.

Nothing is random, however, according to Ambrose. He explained the “golden ratio” of the Fibonacci Sequence to show there are patterns in everything. Ambrose said that as super computers progress, we will be able to simulate entire universes. He proposed that there is a high chance that we are actually living in a simulated universe right now. Are we the Sims? Mind. Blown. 

“The secret to being happy is you.” – Arjun Chawla

Arjun Chawla: Happiness, an Experience, Not a Destination.

As a person who has lived on opposite sides of the world, junior communications major Arjun Chawla has, as we Collegiettes might say, experienced a lot of “feels.” Between Virginia, Michigan, India, Singapore and Massachusetts, Chawla realized that happiness must be treated as a journey, not a destination. When he asked the crowd if money makes people happy, nearly half of the viewers raised their hands. This, Chawla argued, is contextual: money cannot actually make anyone happy once their basic needs are met.

Though Chawla admitted that good hair days made him feel like John Travolta in Grease, he said that image happiness is only a temporary satisfaction: “Money and status and image will make you happy in the short term…what will make you happy is relationships.” You, according to Chawla, are responsible for your very own happiness.

“I envision a consent culture.” – Priya Ghosh

Priya Ghosh: Living in a Rape Culture.

Junior and public health major Priya Ghosh stepped into the spotlight with bare feet and spoke courageously about what it means to live in a rape culture. Ghosh spoke personally, sharing that she was sexually assaulted three times and knew both of her assailants. Ghosh said she encountered questions such as “were you drinking?” or “what were you wearing?” which serve as evidence of our rape culture. She added that though the statistics are higher for women, men and trans gender people are not excluded from sexual assault.

She criticized UMass administration’s handling of sexual assault cases, such as when survivors and assailants are forced to sit in the same room during a trial or existing inadequate sexual assault programs on campus. “Universities are more interested in their image than holding assailants accountable,” Ghosh said.

But there is hope: Priya Ghosh envisions a different kind of culture: where answering "yes" is an act that is clear, sober, and can be revoked at any time. This, she said, is a consent culture.

“This is our opportunity. To coach, create and change the system.” - Kevin Hollerbach

Kevin Hollerbach: Sustainability.

Senior environmental science major Kevin Hollerbach said he will not forget Sep. 27, 2014: theUMass Amherst tailgate. He played videos and sound clips of adminstrators and news outlets who cheered the event as a success because no one got arrested. Hollerbach disagreed – the amount of money paid for overtime clean up that day could have paid for a student’s tuition, and then some.

Hollerbach told the audience that one person alone cannot have enough of an effect. He encouraged viewers to tell their friends and family that sustainability is not reserved for scientists; that “indifference is not an option.” Hollerbach explained that when we “throw something away,” there is no “away.” Away, he said, means somewhere else, and showed pictures of violated ocean habitats and landfills situated near low income areas. To combat this, Hollerbach said, we must fight long-standing systems that are in place.

Be sure to check out the "PIONEER" TED Talk event led by the TEDxUMassAmherst team that will be held April 25, 2015. Check out their Facebook page to learn more.