Going “against the grain” can be painful and cause splinters, but as speakers at Hamilton’s TEdX talks advised, there is often good reason to endure that pain. The four speakers at the Feb. 11 event spoke to different reasons to move “against the grain.”
Joe Panepinto ’85, senior vice president at Genuine, LLC, focused on how our online interactions and preferences shape our offline experiences. Panepinto pointed to simple tools that have proliferated the Internet and, surprisingly, reduce the number of choices that we are offered. Artificial intelligence algorithms code user preferences and keep track of online profiles.
All of this information is consolidated and shown to users through “you may also like” advertisements on webpages. Though these features feel personal, Panepinto argues, they instead reinforce the idea that we fit neatly into a “type” of people. In other words, that there are people like me and people not like me. And the people like me buy certain products, so I should too.
Instead, Panepinto suggested that we use those complicated algorithms and systems to offer “you should also consider” options that present information that is totally new to viewers and doesn’t box them into a certain type of product or service.
Abigail Hardgrove, a teacher at KIPP Central City Academy, spoke about her experience teaching American history and social studies to middle school students at a predominantly black school.
Specifically, she struggles with teaching slavery and with teaching the reasons why it persisted for so many years and how it still affects the world today. Hardgrove contends that the way Americans speak about slavery is very similar to how scholars speak about violence and conflict in foreign countries. Specifically, Hardgrove identifies a notion of “otherness.”
Instead, she said that we need to focus more on natural human tendencies, that we need to “soften the heart” in order to see real change in our interpersonal and international relationships.
Hamilton Classics Professor Shelley Haley spoke about her drive and purpose in the field of classics. She told the story of her childhood and adolescence that brought her into classics despite constant questioning and doubt from those around her.
Haley said that she was criticized from those within the field, as well as by her black friends and colleagues for studying a field that was “focused on” and “comprised of” white men.
However, as Haley insisted, she saw the study of classics and classical language as the perfect way to deconstruct the world as it is, since in order to do that one needs to understand the roots of knowledge: language.
The final speaker, Saxon Kincy, is a Los Angeles rapper and writer, known for On Point (2015), The Perils (2016) and Sunday Saxon (2017).
Kincy spoke about how the world of rap has evolved to focus more on glitz and glamour than “the struggle.” Not only does a proliferation of these songs create unrealistic goals for audiences, but it also reduces the capability of rappers to connect emotionally with audiences.
To confront this, Kincy quit his stable job to live in his car and write music about his experience. When his album finally released, he received overwhelming feedback about how powerful the work was because people could relate to it.
“No one wants to be in pain alone,” Kincy noted, and further explained that oftentimes the messages that people need to hear are not the ones they want to hear.