A camera on tripod and two chairs on the set for TEDxPortlandStateUniversity. Natalie Conway/PSU Vanguard

Real change in a virtual space

TEDxPortlandStateUniversity brings conversation to campus this Fall

The author is a member of the TEDxPortlandStateUniversity team. 


As we enter a mostly remote fall term, many of us are apart from the organizations, friends, clubs and classrooms that normally define our experience as Portland State students. A never-before-seen school year calls for new ways to build community, and TEDxPortlandStateUniversity wants to bring conversation to a campus experiencing separation and disconnect.


On October 22 and 29, TEDxPortlandStateUniversity will stream its TEDx event, “Our Time is Now,” to viewers watching from home. On each day’s session, speakers will give short talks, sharing ideas that matter to them with over 500 students, alumni and members of the Portland community.


TEDxPortlandStateUniversity is a volunteer-run organization led by PSU students and alumni. The TEDx program allows for passionate volunteers to put on self-organized events within their own communities.


The organization has dedicated itself to following TED’s ultimate goal—to spread ideas. I spoke with Cheyenne delaCruz, the Lead Organizer of TEDxPortlandStateUniversity, about her hopes for this year’s event. She believes 2020’s talks will not only spread great ideas, but provide “a platform for local voices to be heard and uplifted.” 


Last year’s event, “Moving Forward,” hosted at PSU’s Native American Student and Community Center, was TEDxPortlandStateUniversity’s successful debut on campus. Co-Lead Organizer of TEDxPortlandStateUniversity, Sasheen Turner, described her experience helping to launch the 2019 event: “It was a lot,” Turner said. “We had a small team and great responsibility.” With 100 sold-out seats, “Moving Forward” was a success, and set the stage for 2020’s event to come to fruition.  


Bringing an event that centers around in-person connection to an online platform poses challenges. “When 2020 rolled around, we were prepared to keep moving forward, but the pandemic had other plans,” Turner said. The prospect of putting on a show virtually soon became reality, and TEDxPortlandStateUniversity had to grapple with the challenges of organizing from home. DelaCruz noted “not being able to meet with your team in person” was the biggest challenge in organizing the event, but she loved “seeing just how talented, creative and hardworking” her team has been throughout the process. 


The decision to make the event free and online allows for a wider range of students to enjoy the talks, especially keeping in mind the financial difficulties that have arisen due to the pandemic. DelaCruz shared her hope that “our platform will serve as an accessible and inclusive opportunity for students, faculty, staff and alumni alike.” The event will also feature live Q&A sessions hosted on Zoom, so audience members can ask questions and interact with speakers after their talks. 


The theme for 2020’s show is meaningful and straight to the point: “Our Time is Now.” TEDxPortlandStateUniversity wants to emphasise the timeliness of this event, and the importance of taking action towards positive change, even when the world seems to be falling apart. “I look forward to our viewers’ responses to fresh perspectives, heartfelt stories and our timeliness,” Turner said of this year’s theme. Looking back at a year filled with social justice movements on the rise, “Our Time is Now” seems especially relevant. 


In response to this year’s theme, each speaker will discuss a topic that needs to be addressed right now. I believe what makes this year’s theme is our speakers,” Turner said. “They have really taken the four-word prompt and put it on stilts.” 


The first session is set to occur on October 22. Each speaker’s category embodies their vision for changing their community for the better, whether that means breaking barriers or building connections. 


TEDxPortlandStateUniversity’s goal to “uplift voices” extends beyond the talks themselves. This year, the organization will partner with “neighbors”—local BIPOC-owned businesses and organizations. 


“Pushing for equity is something that TEDxPortlandStateUniversity will always do,” delaCruz said. “We recognize the continual inequities that occur and are ignored throughout many communities around the world.” 


Neighbors will have their businesses and stories featured throughout the event, free of charge, in an effort to promote equity in Portland. 


“Our Time is Now” offers an opportunity for students to engage with ideas that inspire them, connect with influential members of their community and learn something new—all on a virtual platform. At its heart, delaCruz said TEDxPortlandStateUniversity is “an avenue for personal and professional growth, for connection and learning, for societal and systemic reflection, inspiration and change.”