TEDxFSU explores the gray area

A safe space is not for comfort, but rather it is for people to sit down and have an open conversation about the uncomfortable topics.

This was among the ideas worth sharing presented at TEDx FSU on Friday. With a theme of "The Gray Area," the event showcased 13 performers and speakers that touched on a variety of subjects, including gender bias within STEM fields, classical music, entrepreneurship and embracing identity.

The event focused on spreading great ideas in an information overloaded age, demolishing the fear of sharing new ideas, and attributing value to topics that hold unclear answers. Chris Violette, host of this year’s TEDxFSU, encouraged the audience to not only enjoy the performances and speakers but, “To speak up and speak loudly.”

One speaker encapsulated the message of this year’s event with a talk on the harms of being hyper-aware of comfort zones. Cecily Matthews, a senior interdisciplinary social sciences major, started the talk with an explanation on comfort zones and how they do not equate to safe spaces. They discussed how safe spaces should be zones of free speech for uncomfortable topics to be openly examined.

“Safe spaces are not meant to be make people comfortable,” Matthews said.

Matthews told the audience that social justice and social issue facilitators have largely assisted in creating open conversations and workshops that have reinforced a need to shy away from uncomfortable topics. These surface conversations occur when facilitators and participants are afraid to push themselves and others to be uncomfortable.

Matthews recounted a moment in a safe space at the Center for Leadership & Social Change when the discussion shifted to a topic they were uncomfortable with. A student in the group began to discuss some of their personal experiences with immigration, and Matthews asked if they could change the subject.

In response the student questioned, “Can I change the state of my life? How can you be an ally of my community if you cannot listen for 30 seconds and be uncomfortable?”

This was a pivotal moment for Matthews that influenced their understanding of safe spaces and subsequent interactions with peers. Matthews called the audience to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable because those conversations are some of the most valuable.

Lafarin Meriwether, assistant director of learning and engagement for University Housing, also discussed comfort in her talk.

As a black woman from a single parent household, Lafarin had to become comfortable with her own identity in order to defy the statistics pitted against her success. During ther talk she discussed her journey towards comfort and confidence in her physical and internal identity. She told the audience that she chopped off all of her hair and decided to go natural. This is a big decision in the curly hair community, and one that she received a large amount of criticism for. Eventually she was able to find comfort and confidence in her decision, and now she uses it as an example for others.

Lafarin explained that a recurring student on campus had managed to attain and interview for a job she wanted. The student came into Lafarin’s office extremely excited and anxious, and stated that she had everything ready for the interview. All the student needed was advice on to what to do about her naturally curly hair. The student explained that her hair was unprofessional.

In response Lafarin said, “Well my hair is curly. Is my hair unprofessional for this setting?”

Through conversations such as these Lafarin has learned the power in self-confidence, and how it can positively affect others around her. She told the audience that embracing  your, “I am’s,” is the key to finding comfort and confidence in yourself and spreading that to others. 

Sponsors for the event included the FSU Office of the Provost, Center for Leadership and Social Change, FSU Campus Recreation, the College of Fine Arts, Sweet Pea Cafe, and Black Dog on the Square.

– Talise Burton