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TEDxUTSC talks about durians, mindfulness, time and other ideas worth sharing

UTSC's Prof. Zindel Segal discusses the benefits of mindfulness in treating depression

One presenter cut up a large durian, the strong-smelling fruit of Southeast Asia, and fed some to the audience. Another asked the crowd to think deeply about their feet. A third, a middle-aged professional woman, delivered a rap poem about the mind-body connection.

It was all in the name of spreading ideas. The venue was the second annual TEDxUTSC conference, where 11 presenters addressed the theme of “Converging Realities” in a sold-out lecture hall in the Academic Resources Centre.

The durian cutter was UTSC history Professor and culinary expert Daniel Bender, who observed that the way visitors have described the durian and its smell, from the colonial period to the present, often betrays racial and cultural attitudes.

Getting people to think about their feet was Zindel Segal, UTSC Distinguished Professor of Psychology in Mood Disorders, who walked the audience through the benefits of mindfulness – techniques of focusing awareness – in treating depression.

And the rapper was Elaine Dembe, a well-known Toronto chiropractor and media personality who spoke about her principles of L.I.F.E. – Love, Inner Being, Fitness and Energy.

The student-run conference was held under licence from TED, the non-profit group whose famous 20-minute talks about new ideas (originally Technology, Entertainment & Design) began in 1984. The “x” in TEDx means the conference is independently organized, but all the UTSC talks will be submitted to TED and may find their way to its website.

To organizing committee co-chairs Kittie Chan and Samiha Imami, both UTSC management students, the event was a chance to showcase their university’s talent to the world. All but two of the presenters came from the UTSC/U of T community.

“This is where anyone from any field can come to hear the amazing ideas that U of T puts forward,” said Imami. Added Chan: “It’s really about taking local ideas and putting them on a global stage.”

The theme of Converging Realities was designed to bring together “things you wouldn’t normally think go together, and get our audience to think in a different way than they normally would,” Chan said.

Three other UTSC faculty shared their thoughts. Social anthropologist Girish Daswani talked about the meaning of “where are you from?” in a multicultural world, creative writing Lecturer Andrew Westoll questioned whether former lab-test chimpanzees might ever be able to forgive their human tormentors, and literature Professor Garry Leonard elaborated on his contention that “If you don’t make time to think about time, you don’t have time – it has you.”

Jadine Lennon, a UTSC student in International Development Studies, urged academia to join in helping to improve Wikipedia.

An audience of about 250 attended in person, many more watched and commented on a live stream online, and thousands of others will see the archived stream and posted videos. After the first TEDx at UTSC last year, the videos received some 145,000 views.

The livestream archive of the full day’s conference is now available, and individual videos will be posted later on the TEDxTalks YouTube channel.

Key sponsors for the conference were the offices of the Principal, the Vice-Principal Research and the Dean and Vice-Principal Academic, as well as the Department of Student Life.

© University of Toronto Scarborough