Schedule of Events | TEDxCUNY 2015 | Borders and Belonging

Master of ceremonies

With roots in classical dance, Carissa Jocett Toro's acting debut was as lead in the Off-Broadway play Platanos Y Collard Greens.  A true leading lady, she has been featured as the starring role in both Repertorio Español's La Gringa and NYC indie feature film Empire Gypsy. She was also a principal performer in The American Mime Theatre for nearly a decade.  Her other credits include various commercials, voiceovers, web series, and notably Law & Order: SVU.  A few short-term goals: international photo-journalism, plant whispering, and polyglot singing.  Her favorite TED talk is by Janet Echelman, entitled "Taking Imagination Seriously."



Sean DesVignes is a 2015 Beinecke Scholar and the author of “Take My Eyes To The Dry Cleaners” (evolNYC, 2014). A Cave Canem & Callaloo fellow, his honors include the Beatrice Dubin Rose Award and the Burton A. Goldberg Poetry Prize. He is a member of the Divine Fabrics Collective and a poetry editor at Kinfolks and shufPoetry. 





Erin Thompson is an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York (CUNY) and is America’s only full-time professor of art crime. She studies the damage done to humanity’s shared heritage through looting, theft, and the deliberate destruction of art. Currently, she is researching the ways in which terrorist groups sell and destroy antiquities in order to support their genocidal campaigns. She has discussed art crime topics in The New York Times and on CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera America, and the Freakonomics podcast. Her book, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors, will be published by Yale University Press in January 2016.  

Galen Baughman is an Open Society Foundations Soros Justice Fellow working to end the practice of civilly committing youth as sexually violent predators. As a teenager, he was incarcerated for nine years, including four-and-a-half years in solitary confinement. Following his release in 2012, Galen spent two years as the Director of Communications at International CURE, a grassroots advocacy organization, where he focused on policy analysis, direct advocacy, and messaging strategies. Today, Galen speaks on issues related to sex offender policy and public safety and trains advocates around the country to build movements against mass incarceration. He is a 2015 JustLeadershipUSA Leading with Conviction cohort member, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Sexual Justice.




Marta Effinger-Crichlow is an interdisciplinary scholar and artist drawn to stories about black women and girls as well as migration and place. She is the author of “Staging Migrations Toward an American West: From Ida B. Wells to Rhodessa Jones.” She is Chair and Associate Professor of African American Studies at New York City College of Technology at the City University of New York (CUNY). Effinger-Crichlow received herPhD from Northwestern University. She is the recent recipient of a PSC-CUNY Grant for her documentary project "Little Sallie Walker.

Jess X Chen is a first generation Chinese-American poet, artist/activist, filmmaker. Her work exposes narratives of colonial trauma, Asian-American diaspora, and collective protest by connecting the violences between the female, queer, and colored body and the body of the Earth. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, her art and films has been featured in the Asian American International Film Festival, The United Nations Human Rights Council, The Huffington Post, The NY Times Headquarters, The Wing Luke Museum, Feministing, and more. She is currently developing a feature film on the Navajo Nation, where she is teaching art and poetry workshops to the Navajo youth community. She thinks you’re sparkling. 

Aashna Shah is a senior at the Macaulay Honors College at City College, CUNY. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors in computer science and minoring in psychology. She is passionate about the intersection of the two fields and wants to use the power of and advancements in technology to make mental health care more effective and universal- in particular, she wants to raise awareness about mental illness and bring psychology therapy to low socioeconomic communities and developing countries. She is currently a neural engineering research intern at Cornell Tech, and a research assistant at the Social Neuroscience and Psychopathology Lab at City College. She is a Horace W. Goldsmith scholar, a recipient of the Bronx Science-CCNY scholarship, and a member of Tau Beta Pi, and the Golden Key International Honors Society.


Sofia Ahsanuddin is a senior majoring in political science at the Coordinated BA/MD Program and the Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College. Sofia is a Horace W. Goldsmith Scholar and a Rosen Fellow. She has previously interned at the United Nations, NYU School of Medicine, and currently works at Weill Cornell Medicine. She has served as a delegate to the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2014. As an aspiring physician, medical anthropologist, and public health specialist, Sofia intends to specialize in global health and infectious diseases.


J.A. Strub is a student of economics at Hunter College and a lover of direct democracy, roast pork, and his piano. He is currently working on bringing Participatory Budgeting, a program by which members of a community can choose how to spend a portion of a budget, to campuses at the City University of New York.


Kathryn Rodriguez has worked on border, immigration, and human rights issues for more than 15 years. She has also worked on farmworker struggles in Immokalee, Florida with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Woodburn, Oregon with PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste). She is the Missing Migrant Project Specialist at the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, handling case management for migrants reported missing by their families. She also works as an Administrative Assistant with the Alianza Indigena Sin Fronteras/Indigenous Alliance Without Borders. 

Andrew Rosenberg is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Queens College, and a member of the Doctoral Faculty of the Computer Science and Linguistics programs at the CUNY Graduate Center. He leads the Speech Lab @ Queens College, and is a NSF CAREER Award winner. His research concerns Natural Language Processing, Spoken Language Processing, Prosody/Intonation and Machine Learning. He completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 2009. 

Rachel Stephenson is the University Director of the CUNY Service Corps and TheDream.US program and has worked in CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs since 2009. Her professional history includes classroom teaching as well as the program design and implementation of high-quality, innovative youth development, continuing education, workforce development, and community service programs in New York City. Rachel holds a BA in English from Trinity University and a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University. Rachel is a mother of three daughters, and her extracurricular activities include oral storytelling.

Jayne Raper is a principle investigator in the Department of Biological Sciences at Hunter College, where she has been since 2011. She is currently managing a program project (NSF/Gates) to generate transgenic cows that will be resistant to all forms of a lethal parasite, African trypanosome. Prior to joining CUNY she was an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology at New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Raper conducted her postdoctoral research at the ICP, Brussels, Belgium and at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine on African trypanosomes. She earned her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, England.

Jill Bargonetti and her Hunter College students will perform selections from ‘Choreographing Genomics’ a course that is part of the Biological Sciences Department at Hunter College. It is described as using ‘postmodern dance to model biological processes.’ Students explore the biological science of molecular genome information by viewing it through various artistic lenses, including dance and poetry. 

Robina Asti is a 94 year old World War II veteran with a passion for flying. She has lived in New York City all of her life. In 2012 Robina was denied survivor benefits through the Social Security Administration because as a transgender woman, they did not see her marriage to her husband Norwood as legal. With the help of Lambda Legal Robina not only was able to collect her survivor benefits but she helped to change the SSA’s policy re- garding transgender people in the United States. 

Michel Karsouny is an artist with a background in Graphic design, Illustration, Fine Arts, Acting, and Music. He is proud to be born in Beirut, Lebanon, where he studied Graphic Design and Fine Arts, founded two design and illustration companies, and is a prominent voice over actor for the MENA region working with companies like Nike, L’Oreal and McDonalds. In 2010, Michel had work auctioned at Sotheby’s in Qatar and in 2013 was voted one of Communicate Levant Magazine’s “30 Creatives Under 30”. Deciding to become a digital nomad in 2011, Michel has refined his craft in Painting and Drawing by studying remotely at The Art Department in Austin, while living in Paris, San Diego, and Montreal. Concerned with Middle Eastern issues such as sectarianism, anti-feminism and the binary understanding of the sexual experience, Michel held his controversial solo show entitled “Emporia” at ArtLab Gallery in Beirut in 2014. Now visiting New York City intermittently, he has been a part of several group shows and is currently preparing for a solo show, which opens in December.