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TEDx at Binghamton

Harpur takes center stage at TEDx

By Eric Coker and Terasa Yu

Harpur College alumni and students stood in the Osterhout Concert Theater spotlight during TEDxBinghamtonUniversity on March 15.

Sunny Hostin '90, an attorney, journalist and CNN legal analyst and Christopher Fix '86, CEO of the Dubai Mercantile Exchange, were among the speakers. A third Binghamton University speaker, sophomore Jack Fischer became the first undergraduate presenter at TEDxBinghamtonUniversity when he discussed "Porn: The New Tobacco."

The rest of the lineup for "Walk the Talk," the fifth annual TEDx event on campus, included Adam Eskin, founder and CEO of Dig Inn Seasonal Market ("The Fast Food Revolution"); hula hoop artist Lisa Lottie ("My Weapon of Choice"); Maria Santelli, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War ("Witnessing the Power of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in a Voluntary Military"); and professor/author Zephyr Teachout ("What is Corrupt?").

The speakers were introduced by the TEDxBinghamtonUniversity organizers: Harpur College students Stephen Prosperi, a senior and has developed an individualized major with a focus in finance and marketing of new media; Gina Kim, a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience; and Stephanie Izquieta, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law (PPL).

The alumni speakers

Mark Twain once said that the two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Hostin believes that the literary icon was missing a day.

"I love Twain, but I think he got it wrong," she told the audience at TEDxBinghamton University in a talk called "A Possibility Model." "There are three life-defining days: 'Day one,' of course, is the day you were born. 'Day three' is when you find your purpose.... But I think there is a 'day two' that is probably more important: The day you find out who you will not be — who you will not become."

Hostin, who received her bachelor's degree in English, urged the audience of students, faculty/staff and community members not to let their "day one" define them.

"Too many people are tethered to that first day, that origin," she said. "They can't see beyond that circumstance.

"If I had let my 'day one' define me, I would've been a statistic. I certainly wouldn't have gone to high school at 12 and I wouldn't have (attended Binghamton University) at 16. And I certainly wouldn't be here speaking to all of you today."

Hostin was born in 1968 to teen-aged parents and grew up in the South Bronx — a place she said most people's dreams die.

It was on a cold, black-and-white tile floor there when Hostin experienced her "day two." The 6-year-old watched as her uncle bled from a stabbing.

"I remember thinking: I'm not going to live like this. I'm not going to take drugs. I'm not going to live a life of violence. This is not who I will be."

That day defined Hostin for so long that she thought for many years it was her "day three." She became a prosecutor, specializing in child-sex crimes, and then a journalist after marrying and having a child. Hostin landed a position at CNN and even modeled herself after fellow CNN journalist Soledad O'Brien.

"I got to talk about all of these (important) issues on TV," Hostin said. "I thought:

This is my day three."

Hostin did not find her "true day three" until she traveled to Sanford, Fla., to meet the family of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen shot and killed on the street in 2012. Hostin said she was "floored" by the not-guilty verdict against George Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch volunteer charged in Martin's death.

"While I was in Sanford, people started to come up to me: 'This isn't fair, Sunny. You have to go on the air and tell our story,'" she said. "It all made sense to me. When you find your 'day three,' it will be just like that."

Hostin said she soon "came into my own," receiving more exposure on CNN, appearing on "The View" and "Dr. Phil" and even meeting Oprah Winfrey.

"All of these things happened when I started being my authentic and true self," she said.

Hostin is observing more people having their "day two" and "day three" in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.

"I'm seeing young people thoughtfully protesting," she said. "They are finding their paths, finding their voice and speaking up for other people."

"Speaking up for other people" is something Hostin strives for every day. The first mantra she follows is from Proverbs 31:8: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. The second mantra comes from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone else.

She also still abides by advice delivered by her father: If you follow your passion and use it to do your life's work, you will never feel like you are working.

"Even with your 'day three,' I hope that you let your desire to be of service help you discover your purpose," she said.

Like Hostin, Fix also provided some advice to audience members. He focused on how people — particularly students — can become "influencers" in the "Dubai to Shanghai corridor" in a talk called "Oil in the Middle Eastern Markets and What It Means to the Rest of the World."

Dubai, located in the United Arab Emirates, is experiencing "explosive growth," Fix said. Dubai not only sits on top of the world's largest oil reserve, but it is also the busiest transportation hub in the world. This growth has set the stage for the Dubai Mercantile Exchange to become the crude-oil benchmark for expanding populations east of Dubai, such as China, India, Japan and Southeast Asia.

"I'm dedicated to the financialization of this market," said Fix, who majored in political science at Harpur College. "This is an important place because Asia continues to grow as a consumer."

In fact, by 2035, Asia is expected to consume 40 percent of the crude-oil market, Fix said.

"All of the Fortune 500 companies — IBM, Sysco, the airlines — are trying to get a piece of this market," he said. "That's a good place for you to start if you are thinking about a career and what you want to do. You could be the one who helps these companies sell their goods and services."

Fix emphasized two skills that are needed to succeed in the region. The first: language.

"Language isn't just translation," he said. "It's communication. I speak Chinese and it helps me go into China and not only understand their cultural interests, but what they are trying to say and get at."

Fix continues to educate himself, studying Chinese three to four hours a week.

"It allows me to elevate my conversation every time I go back to see them," he said.

The second skill stressed by Fix was international experience and the ability to live abroad.

"Get yourself an internship or exchange program," he said. "When I look at résumés, I want to see that people have lived overseas and won't run home if they don't like the food.

"It's important to invest in the knowledge you need, especially on the business side and cultural side. When you do that, you become the influencer. It helps you punch above your weight and move your career faster."

Fix closed his presentation by showing his business card on the large screen above the Osterhout Concert Theater stage. Displaying his name in English, Chinese and Arabic, the card showed the potential of language and international skills in a growing, diversified world.

"There's a lot of culture that comes back to me and helps me see the world in a different way," Fix said, looking up at the display. "I hope that some of you might take the same path and look outside the U.S."

The student speaker

For Fischer, Internet pornography is not only detrimental to individuals, but also to society as a whole.

Fischer, a math and computer science major who spoke about the negative effects of pornography on daily lives, was selected from 70 student applications. A video shown to the audience before his presentation provided background about his topic and journey to the Osterhout Concert Theater stage.

In his talk, Fischer credited the widespread consumption of pornography to the Coolidge Effect: "Male arousal gradually decreases with the same mate," he said, "but returns full force with a potentially new mate."

Fischer emphasized that our evolutionary brains were never equipped to handle the pornography that we have today, which explains why more and more extreme porn must be viewed to achieve the same high every time. He also discussed how virtual porn can hurt real-life relationships.

"Building and maintaining a long-term relationship or marriage can already be challenging," he said, "but porn can make it nearly impossible."

Fischer connected the infinite amount of porn made "available with the click of a button on the Internet," to vices such as infidelity, acceptance of violence against women and rape on college campuses.

To the public, the porn industry works to maintain a squeaky, clean image so that porn consumption is deemed as normal, Fischer said. However, behind the scenes, the industry is responsible for many social injustices.

"The porn industry is deeply tied to human trafficking and commercial prostitution," he said.

Fischer paralleled pornography to tobacco: Although it does not give us lung cancer, we can become dangerously dependent on it, and it may result in psychological problems.

Fortunately, there has been resistance to pornography for as long as it has existed, said Fischer, who introduced a forum called NoFap that was created on the social site, Reddit. ("Fap" is the slang term for masturbation.)

"[NoFap] is an open forum for people, men and women, sharing their experiences quitting porn," Fischer said.

The forum provides peer support for people trying to reboot their sexuality by abstaining from both masturbation and watching pornography. Some have successfully gone without them for months.

"Contrary to popular belief," Fischer said, "[abstaining from masturbation and watching porn] gets easier over time, not harder."

As a Christian, Fischer said he has spent his entire life avoiding pornography. Because he understands how difficult it is for others to do so, he made an emergency button that, when clicked, gives users inspirational content to help them resist masturbation and pornography.

"When NoFap put the button up, 3,000 people used it on the first day," Fischer said. "Today, that button is used millions of times a year by people around the world."

Fischer also offered porn-related statistics to the TEDx crowd: People who are attempting to quit porn are overwhelmingly young; a majority of them are actually under 25. Porn is not just a problem for males; it is also one for females. The state that clicked the emergency button the most is California, which may be attributed to it being the most populous state.

The movement in quitting pornography and masturbation is steadily growing, Fischer said, and there are health benefits to quitting.

"Abstaining from ejaculation for about seven days is shown to increase testosterone in men by about 45 percent," Fischer said.

Such abstinence also yields favorable results in other aspects of life, he said. They include saved relationships and marriages, better careers, greater ambition, higher creativity and more motivation.

"In the corner of the Internet, where misogyny is sometimes the norm," Fischer said, "an incredible community is built around repairing and retaining real-life relationships."

Fischer left the stage to applause after giving some valuable advice: Turn down our technology − the platform for porn consumption — and engage in conversations that are culturally fundamental to society.

The student organizers

Organizing a TEDx conference can be a valuable experience. Izquieta, Kim and Prosperi all said that they have acquired networking, organizational and communication skills that will transfer to their post-graduation jobs.

"This is all student-run," Izquieta said. "We have a (faculty-staff) committee helping us, but it's really all on us. We are trying to get the speakers, engaging them and setting up deadlines. It's months of work — and it's cool that students are doing it."

Prosperi noted that some students are still surprised to learn that Binghamton University hosts a TEDx conference.

"I can't stress it enough: TEDx talks aren't coming to Binghamton; they've been at Binghamton," he said. "We have one of the largest and most successful TEDx (conferences). The University is doing great things and our TEDx program is doing good things, too. They work together and show where we are and where we can be."

For Izquieta, Kim and Prosperi, TEDx did not end on March 15. The trio will spend the rest of the semester working on "sustainability efforts." TEDxBinghamton, a Student Association-chartered club, now has for-credit internships as part of the New Student Programs in Student Affairs. Fifteen to 20 student volunteers were added this year and Izquieta, Kim and Prosperi believe that some of them will join sophomore Sofia Degtyar in leadership positions next year.

"I'm excited to graduate, be an alum and see what the program looks like in five years," Kim said. "I want to come back for Homecoming and see what TEDx is up to."

For the student organizers, TEDxBinghamtonUniversity has had a great impact on their college lives.

"I transferred here and on my first day of classes, I went to a TEDx meeting in the Harpur dean's office," Prosperi recalled. "On my fourth day, I went to a meeting with the president of the University! It's just awesome. I still see President (Harvey) Stenger and he says 'Hi, Steve' to me. It's great that he knows who we are."

"I wasn't enjoying my freshman year," Izquieta said. "Then I met (former director) Lenny (Simmons) '13. He told me what TED was and asked me to (participate). This is what I'm going to remember from college, not the grades or tests. I will remember the experiences I had with TED and the opportunity I had. I hope others get to enjoy it as the program grows."

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Last Updated: 3/1/17