Students urge peers to empower others at TEDxJHU

By KATY WILNER | November 30, 2017


This event was organized by the University’s TEDxJHU, a privately licensed branch of  the nonprofit TED.

Lauren Duan, the logistics specialist for TEDxJHU, explained the significance of this year’s theme.

“All three speakers talked about their experiences and how they could apply [them],” she said. “Using the theme ‘Note to Self’ by kind of writing a note to themselves, we as an audience can use those experiences to guide our actions.”

The speakers each honed in on a topic that has directly affected them, including mental health awareness, acknowledging privilege and finding the courage to speak out against sexual violence.

The night kicked off with senior Daniela Barrio discussing her personal experiences with mental health. She said that after her sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she developed an understanding of the barriers to helping those struggling with  their mental health.

“My goal is to give you a different perspective on mental health, normalize the barriers of giving help and, ultimately, leave you feeling more confident when it comes to giving help to people in need,” Barrio said.

She spoke about how she knew others struggling with mental health such as an ex-boyfriend and her best friend. Barrio spoke about how these experiences taught her how to care for others.

“Something that everyone here can do is educate themselves on their loved ones,” she said. “You can provide the best and most holistic advice the more informed you are on their condition.”

Junior Yash Jain followed Barrio. He detailed his unique experience of growing up in five different countries and said that this showed him his privilege and inspired him to give back to the community both at home and in Baltimore.

After living in the United States, England and Norway, he moved to Beijing and later Mumbai. There, he saw the drastic differences in the prosperity available to each country’s population.

Jain described his impression of India.

“Millions of people lived in slums, just kilometers away from [business magnate] Mukesh Ambani’s 27-story home,” Jain said.

He explained how just being born into a certain family in a certain place can predetermine one’s privilege. He decided to take action and began to teach English in a local school for underprivileged children in Mumbai.

Jain was impressed with one student in particular who took a keen interest in learning from him.

“This kid is doing everything in his power to learn as much as he could,” he said.

Jain also said that everyone in the audience was in a position of privilege and urged them to give back to their communities.

He emphasized the importance of getting out of the “Hopkins bubble” and going into the city, meeting new people and being more engaged in the community.

The final speaker, JoJo Castellanos, recounted his life through a hypothetical letter.

Through this letter, he openly talked to the audience about his personal experience as a sexual assault survivor, coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community and finding the inner strength to stop the continuation of sexual violence.

“I realized that I had to fight,” Castellanos said. “No one can speak for you. Only you can speak for you. And when you are in situations where your voice can’t be heard, you need to get out.”

Castellanos explained that his initial solution to avoid hate was to focus on his studies and move to a new location for college.

However, he found that this was not the answer when he realized that his roommate at Hopkins was committing sexual assault on campus.

“I knew what I had to do,” Castellanos said. “I had been here before. I wasn’t going to be silent this time. I was going to be the change that I needed as a child.”

Castellanos felt it was important for him to speak out to help people. Consequently, he became involved with a slew of groups on campus advocating for social change.

“I know now that I have a home,” Castellanos said. “There are people who care for me. The people I surround myself with — they love me.”

Overall, the event had positive feedback from students, who noted that these speakers were especially influential because they are Hopkins students.

Freshman Lauren Duan said that she enjoyed listening to all of the speakers.

“They talked about difficult topics,” Duan said. “The idea of TEDx tells us to spread ideas worth spreading, and I think all of those really applied and can start a conversation about things we don’t normally think about in our daily lives.”

Sophomore Sumera Yego explained that she particularly enjoyed Castellanos’ speech.

“[He] talked about something really traumatic — being a victim of sexual violence,” Yego said. “But not only that, he talked about the importance of never silencing yourself, no matter who is trying to silence you, and trying to embody this daily.”

Yego elaborated that it is important to speak up for yourself when facing challenges.

“It really clearly addressed the issue of sexual violence, and it also brought up the important thing that you should never silence yourself and face your problems head on,” she said.

Junior Rasha Bara agreed that Castellanos’ speech moved her as well.

“I had never known everything about [Castellanos], and seeing him give his truth, give advice and encourage people to speak up was very inspiring,” Bara said.

Freshman George Trujillo particularly liked how the “Note to Self” theme made the event more personal.

“It made it so you’re more able to relate to the stories. It was definitely an experience hearing those stories and hearing the speakers’ passion and motivation,” Trujillo said. “It was very enlightening and makes you think about what’s going on.”

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