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Posted on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 : 7:05 p.m.

TEDxEMU event sparks community discussions and ideas

By Katrease Stafford

When Eastern Michigan University professor Paul Leighton took a family trip to Japan last year, he ended up spending a day in prison — but not because he committed any sort of crime.

Leighton, a criminology professor, visited the prison to learn more about the Japanese prison system and compare it to the American system.

Leighton shared his findings during the second annual TEDxEMU event held at the university's Sponberg Theatre Friday.

The TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level, according to organizers.

At TEDxEMU, several live presenters and performers delivered short five to 15-minute presentations or demonstrations on a wide range of subjects ranging from the possibility of volcanic systems in Michigan to Leighton's discussion on the state of the U.S. prison system.

Leighton said Japan has a "new generation" prison that focuses on rehabilitation, which he believes is the direction the United States should go.

"We have overcrowding," Leighton said. "What we developed was a warehouse prison."

Leighton said the American prison system creates predictable results, with little to no rehabilitation for prisoners. Leighton said often they become repeat offenders.

Leighton noted that the Japanese system is not without flaws, and he believes the U.S. should consider establishing more rehabilitative programs for its prisoners.

"All of this is kind of unusual," he said. "We need to respect innovation, go around the world and study and research and come up with something different and outside the box... We need to be more innovative and start thinking about prisons for the next 20 or 50 years and start to imagine what it would look like."

Christine Tracy, a former reporter and current EMU journalism professor, delivered a talk about the state of journalism and the importance of news.

"News is the fabric of our lives," Tracy said. "It is what we think about and what inspires us and what connects us to people around the world."

Leighton's and Tracy's talks were one of several given before a nearly 200-person crowd, in an effort to spark ideas and develop deep conversations through a series of presentations by faculty members, students and community leaders. The event was also livestreamed over the Web.

The event also featured a performance by the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences choir.

Gregg Costanzo, EMU's arts and entertainment program coordinator, planned the first and second annual event, which lasted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

TED, the nonprofit organization that started the TEDx presentations, began in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from the three worlds of technology, entertainment, and design.

Since its inception, the scope has become ever broader. TEDx was created as a subsidiary of the larger TED conferences and thousands are held across the country every year.

The TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level, according to organizers.

Keith Jason, an EMU coordinator for the School of Technology and an Ypsilanti Township Park Commissioner, discussed the "science of stereotypes," which he believes plague the community at large.

"Here in America, we have a real problem on our hands," Jason said.

Jason identified examples of stereotypes that affect everyone, regardless of race, gender or orientation and said we need to break through them in order for the community to move forward.

"Make a list of every stereotype you’ve ever heard and go ahead and be honest with yourself," Jason said. "Have a moment of introspection and put checkmarks by the ones you believe in. Then begin fact finding after you look at these stereotypes and start to get to know people that don't look much like you. Give people the opportunity to see the patterns and let them break the rules."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.


Sarah Mark

Sat, Mar 16, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

It was a great event!! Two of my favorite -- I loved Dave Strenski's go solar challenge and his info, and Samir Tout's talk on the growth of malware and training our kids to be prepared / interested in the career of programming... and LOVED the choir!!


Sat, Mar 16, 2013 : 1:02 a.m.

I watch the TED talks all the time. It's a good way to see ideas from some very good researchers. Go EMU!

Katrease Stafford

Sat, Mar 16, 2013 : 12:16 a.m.

I should also add that Mary Larkin, the coordinator of the EMU LGBT Resource Center, was an excellent emcee for this event.