Las Vegas Sun

March 21, 2019

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TEDx event at UNLV aims at opening eyes, minds

Ranita Ray


Ranita Ray

It’s repeated so often that it goes largely unchallenged: In economically disadvantaged communities, young people are at extreme risk of drug usage, gang activity, violent crime and unplanned pregnancies.

Ranita Ray had certainly heard it. So when she started working with teenagers in a low-income area of a large Northeastern city, she was surprised to discover that they weren’t much different than their more affluent peers in the suburbs in terms of those risk behaviors.


Tickets: $100

Price includes: Three sessions of speakers, entertainment and lunch.

Where they were strikingly different, however, was in the extent they were prepared for college, which led to a question: Why were so many resources being spent on drug, gang and teen pregnancy prevention programs for the low-income kids, at the detriment of education services?

“There were more pregnancy prevention workshops than there was computer access,” said Ray, an ethnographer and now an assistant professor of sociology at UNLV.

Ray wrote about the teens in her 2017 book, “The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City,” and she will discuss her findings as part of a daylong series of presentations June 22 at UNLV.

Ray said that through her talk, she hoped to spark dialogue about reforms in school spending.

“You hear parents, teachers, even academics and policymakers talk about the importance of preventing teen pregnancy, gangs, drugs, violence,” she said. “Well, that's important. But the majority of kids living in these marginalized communities are not into those things. They do as much drugs as rich white kids. So why are we spending billions of dollars in preventing this?”

Ray’s work with young people came while she was part of a nonprofit organization providing fresh food in an area underserved by grocery stores. She spent three years working with a core group of 16 students but interacted with hundreds more in the area. She received a grant to study the situation, which led to her book (and also included a requirement for her not to identify the community where she did her work).

She said she discovered that while students needed some help to avoid risk behaviors, they generally had far more pressing needs in other areas. Many endured hunger, homelessness and untreated illnesses, and a pervasive problem was lack of transportation. Students would spend hours on traveling between school, work and home, sapping time for studying.

Ray is among 13 speakers scheduled to give presentations at the TEDxUNLV event, held at the Judy Bayley Theatre.

Other presenters include Kimberly Galbe, a UNLV student graduating with a master’s degree in architecture, who will discuss how the quality of life in cities can be improved through policy changes, use of emerging technologies and new design elements. One point of emphasis will be how to transform cities from being car-centric to people-oriented.

Click to enlarge photo

Kimberly Galbe

“I think it really changes how you live and your experience,” she said. “For example, in Las Vegas, you can't just go out and say, ‘I'm going to walk through here today and find something. I'll see what I eat on the way or discover a little shop or something interesting.' That's not how it works. You get in a car and go from Point A to Point B and that's it. And I think that really changes the way you experience and even live your life.”

Technology offers opportunities to make cities more walkable and enjoyable, Galbe said. For instance, autonomous cars can remain in motion at all times regardless of whether they’re occupied, which reduces need for parking spaces. In turn, that means parking lots can be turned into parks or developed into residential or commercial property.

Meanwhile, simple design improvements to existing city infrastructure can be transformational, Galbe said.

“It's also about little things like providing shading and making sidewalks wider and safer,” she said.

• • •

Speaker lineup

• Roberto Coppola, vice-president, advanced products, Aristocrat Technologies Inc., will present his ideas about mythical Millennials.

• Kimberly Galbe, a UNLV student graduating with her master’s in architecture, will give a talk about designing cities for people.

• Karessa Royce, a UNLV student, will share her story as a Route 91 Harvest Festival survivor.

• Ranita Ray, a UNLV assistant professor of sociology, will present her thoughts on poverty.

• Savvas Trichas, primary education teacher, will talk about body language and being authentic.

• Jim Marggraff, CEO of Rival Theory, will provide inspiration for entrepreneurs.

• Corey Padveen, partner, t2 Marketing International, will talk about the importance of block chain theory in our daily lives.

• Todd Fisher, actor, director and son of Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds and brother of Carrie Fisher, will talk about movies and history.

• Raymond Fletcher, transportation consultant, will discuss why belonging and community are vital when living in the extreme.

• Benjamin Morse, a UNLV visiting lecturer and former editorial director of new media at Marvel Entertainment, will share his ideas about how comic books shape a culture.

• Shawn Sturges, a blind rock climber, will present his perspective on facing adversity.

• Cynthia Sanford, registrar, Clark County Museum, will talk about the significance of “crisis collections,” impromptu memorials at the sites of tragedies.

• Tim Toterhi, a human resources professional, will talk about owning our diversity.


• Megan Slankard, singer/songwriter, will share her music and part of her life story.

• Actor and circus performer, Matthew Morgan, will give a brief performance and talk about the role of circuses in today’s culture.

• Mentalist Michel Santiago, a graduating UNLV student, will talk about his experiences as the first Hispanic performer on the Strip whose act is presented entirely in Spanish.