Speakers discuss representation at TEDxUTAustin conference

Libby Cohen

Speaking to a crowd of about 300 people Saturday, 14 leaders from the UT community delivered presentations for TEDxUTAustin, a localized version of the popular ideas conference. 

In the second-ever TEDxUTAustin conference, speakers presented their visions of what the future should entail, from taking internet memes seriously to promoting the minority voice. The student-run event showcased innovations from UT as well as a cast of speakers reflective of the UT community.  

Underrepresentation in student government and inaccessibility in campus buildings motivated two current students and one alumna to speak about pivotal moments from their time at UT.

Guneez Ibrahim, a sociology and design senior, said a lack of Muslim voices motivated her to run for student body president last year.

“If there was no representation, then I would be that representation,” Ibrahim said. “It sounded like my best plan, but it was so much more difficult than I could’ve anticipated.”

Ibrahim said while personal attacks and harassment during the campaign tested her motivation, the past year gave unexpected yet “beautiful” outcomes postelection. People from all over the world sent Ibrahim and her running mate, Hannah McMorris, letters detailing how the two inspired other marginalized voices, Ibrahim said. 

“I hope that students still feel the fire that they felt a year ago, they still feel motivated to make change and know that they don’t need to turn to student leaders to do that, they can do it themselves too,” Ibrahim said.

Alejandrina Guzman, UT alumna and former student body president, said it was difficult to canvas for her campaign on UT’s campus with her disability, as many accessible entrances were hard to find or inoperable. She said she is proud UT continued the conversation regarding accessibility for disabled people on campus after she graduated. 

 



In her Ted Talk, Guzman said it is important not just to make buildings accessible, but to ensure students of all abilities are able to lead in these spaces.

“It’s not about being a voice for us, but passing the mic to us,” Guzman said. “Empowering communities to move forward together is important. Our voices matter, our stories matter, our experiences matter.”

Aashima Garg, president of the Student Engineering Council, also spoke to the importance of the minority voice. In a field of study and workplace where the majority of her pemers are “bros,” Garg said “bro culture” leaves women out of conversations — ultimately impacting the perspectives and inputs that develop tomorrow’s technology.

“Together by being mindful of the words we use and the behaviors we have, we can dispel the notion that only certain people belong in an industry and give non-bro identities a space for them to voice themselves and be heard,” said Garg, an electrical engineering senior.

Guzman said her conversation continued after she left UT, and this is what Ibrahim and Garg said they hope for after they graduate.

“Be the green light for someone who keeps hitting red, plant a seed in their storm, pave the way, write the blueprint, be the first wave to crash and when it does, make sure you are nothing short of high tide,” Ibrahim said. “Do it for yourself, do it for your family and most importantly do it for the next person that is going to stand where you stood.”