TEDxCUNY’s entirely women and non-binary team leads the first conference since 2019
TEDxCUNY is led by Katiera Dickinson and Emily Madray. Katiera is a graduating senior and Emily is a sophomore, both at Macaulay John Jay. Below is the Messenger’s interview with TEDxCUNY’s co-organizers, edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Q: (For Katiera) Tell us about your TEDxCUNY journey (i.e. when and why did you join, what roles did you have before Co-Organizer, etc.).
A: I joined the TEDxCUNY team in the Fall of 2019, my freshman year. I joined the TEDxCUNY team because I had always been interested in TED talks, but I knew that with my stage fright and fear of public speaking, I could never give one myself. By joining the team I liked that I had the ability to be one of the “behind-the-scenes” people, that helped so many people bring their ideas to the TED community. I joined the team as the Head of Community Partnerships, before a brief period as Director of Budgeting and Financing. By my sophomore year, the Fall of 2020, I had become the Licensee and Co-Organizer.
Q: (For Emily) Tell us about your TEDxCUNY journey (i.e. when and why did you join, what roles did you have before Co-Organizer, etc.).
A: I joined TEDxCUNY in my first semester of my freshman year in college (Fall 2021). I joined the team as a Speakers and Programming Curator, then became the Co-Director of Speakers and Programming in Spring 2021. In Fall 2022, I became a Co-Organizer alongside Katiera. I joined the team because I fell in love watching TED talks in high school. Specifically, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” inspired me to join as I understood that more voices like mine should be amplified on the TED stage. Also, spreading diverse ideas always fascinated me. My late grandfather was a principal for a high school in his home country, Guyana, so furthering education and unique perspectives is in my DNA.
Q: (For Katiera) Given that you are a senior, how does it feel to be ending your role as Co-Organizer at TEDxCUNY? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently during your time on the team?
A: I am sad. I have been on the team for four years, and am now the only remaining member from that year. It is crazy to think that the last four years have been leading up to this “come-back conference”, especially since it feels like I was a freshman last year. Looking back, I don’t think that I would do anything differently. Our team has been through a lot these past few years, and I am proud of how far we have come, and cannot wait to see where the team will end up in the future.
Q: (For Emily) After this year, you will be the sole Organizer of TEDxCUNY. What is your vision for the club during the remaining two years you have at Macaulay?
A: My first vision for TEDxCUNY during the remaining two years I have at Macaulay is to expand the team. After the four year hiatus, our team slightly shrunk, but I hope after our 2023 Conference, CUNY students from all campuses are encouraged to apply to become a curator! (If you are interested in applying, you can visit www.tedxcuny.com/join to learn more!) Another vision I have for TEDxCUNY is to host a Conference with over 800 attendees. The work that our team and speakers put into each Conference is inspiring, so I am encouraged that in the future, we will have larger audiences as well.
Q: This year’s conference is the first since 2019. How has it been organizing a conference after such a long hiatus? What are some issues that you have run into? What has been going well?
A: (Emily) Being that this is our first Conference in four years, we had to refamiliarize ourselves with the necessary steps that must be followed to ensure its success. After taking some time to adjust to the magnitude of work that was ahead of us, we have had smooth sailing with Conference prep. Additionally, we could not secure some of our sponsors due to a lack of funding on their end. Nevertheless, we are thankful for the support of Macaulay Honors College and John Jay College for their sponsorship and assistance in making this Conference as successful as possible.
Q: The theme of this year’s conference is “Who We Are.” How did this theme come about? (For Both) What does the theme mean to you?
A: (Emily) As mentioned previously, this is our first conference since 2019, and we wanted to reintroduce ourselves to the CUNY community and beyond by celebrating our individualities. When thinking about this, we wanted to focus our Conference on how easy it can be to lose sight of one’s individual identities and roles in the larger context of the shared world. Throughout our life’s journey, we are shaped by the people and experiences we encounter. Life is often understood through a series of labels, which have the power to both marginalize and uplift. Nevertheless, we ultimately have the agency to decide what defines us. Who we are is constantly evolving. Who we are is a culmination of our knowledge, choices and resiliency in the pursuit of unmasking our true selves. We hope that through this Conference, all attendees can broaden their horizons and explore who they are.
Katiera: This theme arose out of my desire to celebrate the resiliency of the CUNY community. COVID-19 impacted the CUNY community significantly, but it has not stopped us from pursuing our goals. I wanted to celebrate our determination and individualities through exploring the theme of “Who We Are”.
Emily: This theme means a lot to me. As someone who is a first-gen college student with immigrant parents and grandparents, I love this theme because it celebrates diversity and gives space for marginalized voices and uncommon ideas to be spread.
Q: The TEDxCUNY team is composed entirely of women and gender non-binary CUNY students, many of whom are students of color. Do you think that this shapes how you organize TEDx events? How has it been to lead this team?
A: (Emily) I definitely think having our team composed of women and gender non-binary CUNY students, many of whom are students of color, shapes the way we organize TEDx events. We understand that being a part of the minority means that our voices are more likely to be silenced. Therefore, in the events we have produced, we aim to amplify voices from marginalized communities as they deserve a platform to spread their ideas. Leading a team like this has been wonderful. We all share the common goal of spreading ideas at CUNY. With an institution as large and as diverse as CUNY, we understand how important this platform is, so leading this team has been a pleasure.
Q: This year’s conference is sponsored by major brands like Lush and Touchland, among others. What was it like to secure these sponsorships? Do you think this will have an impact on conference turnout?
A: (Katiera) Even after four years on the team, securing partnerships is one of the most exciting parts of being on the team. Being able to reach out to these brands directly and convince them that we are important and could benefit their brand is extremely gratifying. Even though we are a school club, we represent so much more being connected to the TED and TEDx community. I hope our partnerships will have an impact on conference turnout, not just because we are giving things away, but because the attendees feel invited to hear the speakers’ “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
Q: The conference will be held on March 10, 2023 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater. What should Macaulay students know about the conference (i.e. tickets, where to buy, and other logistical details).
A: (Emily) This Conference is by CUNY students for CUNY students! Tickets are currently available, and CUNY students and affiliates can attend the Conference for free. You can reserve your ticket today by visiting our website, www.tedxcuny.com. On our website, you can find more information about the Conference as well. If you have friends who are interested in attending but are not CUNY students, there are discounted tickets available for non-CUNY students and affiliates. Tickets are also available for your family who are interested in attending as well. The Conference is an all-day event, but you can stop by for a session or two if you cannot stay for the entire day. It will be an exciting event with 10 speakers, two of which are CUNY students, workshops curated to inspire meaningful conversation, swag bags with merchandise from our sponsors, and performances all centered on our theme “Who We Are.” We can’t wait to see you there!
Q: (For Both) What’s one thing you are looking forward to in terms of the conference?
Katiera: I am really excited to see the whole event come together. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this has been my goal for the last four years, and seeing it come together perfectly will be the best going away present. Watching the speakers give their talks, seeing students participating in the workshops, and being able to engage with the CUNY community through this TEDxCUNY conference, is what I look forward to most!
Emily: One thing I am looking forward to in terms of the conference is the TEDx talks themselves. Our speakers have been hard at work since October to ensure that their talks are in perfect shape for the Conference. I am excited to see all of their hard work come together on stage as they deliver their impactful ideas that will resonate with the CUNY community and beyond.
Q: (For Both) Share a fun fact about yourself.
Katiera: I have a goldfish named Jeremy The Fish!
Emily: One fun fact about me is that I do not like cake!
Q: Anything else you wish to share?
A: (Emily) Get your tickets! This will be an awesome day full of learning new ideas and thoughtful discussions. We cannot wait to see you there!