Northern Arizona University is asking students to think before they don their costumes this Halloween.
The University’s Office of Housing and Residence Life has put out a poster campaign reminding students that costumes that make a caricature or stereotype out of another culture may be offensive and cultural appropriation.
The posters which were put up around campus and in dorms, features the phrase “We are a culture not a costume.” It also has a picture of four people of different nationalities holding photos of examples of costumes that present a stereotype of their culture, such as a Pocahontas outfit, a "Chinaman" outfit with a pointed hat, a Mexican senorita with a sombrero and what’s supposed to be an “African” outfit with a black curly wig.
A similar poster gives students pointers on how to determine if their costume might be offensive or cultural appropriation, such as does it perpetuate a racist stereotype? Does it misrepresent a culture? Does it show love for a culture, but also prejudice against that culture’s people? Is it hurtful or offensive to others?
“Answering ‘No’ to these questions doesn’t mean appropriation isn’t happening,” the poster states.
Kim Ott, the assistant to the president for Executive Communications and Media Relations, said the posters are not new.
“NAU is not policing Halloween costumes. No one is going to do anything to any student that chooses to ignore the poster campaign. This is simply an educational campaign with voluntary participation,” Ott wrote in an email. “We have been doing a campaign like this for several years in an effort to help students think about their costumes before they create them.”
NAU’s Office of Housing and Residence Life website uses a quote from “Introduction to Cultural Appropriation” by Bruce Ziff and Pratima Rao to define cultural appropriation as “The taking – from a culture that is not one’s own – of intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifacts, history and ways of knowledge.”
NAU is not alone in putting out a reminder to be sensitive to other cultures during Halloween. The University of St. Thomas has put out a similar poster. Diversity groups at several universities, such as the University of California at Santa Barbara and Princeton University are holding voluntary workshops to discuss cultural appropriation and stereotypes.
Neil Chapman walked through a stretch of ponderosa pine forest near the Fort Valley Trailhead north of Flagstaff Friday morning. Between 150 and 400 trees are crowded into each acre here, which is about three times what fire and forest managers would like to see for a healthy forest.
“This is a pretty dense stand right here. If lightning hit that tree,” Chapman said, pointing to one above his head, “fire would keep going from tree to tree to tree.”
As the northern Arizona program restoration manager for The Nature Conservancy, Chapman is well-versed in the overgrown state of the region’s forests.
The Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI, aims to mechanically thin densely packed ponderosa forests like these, with a goal of completing 1 million acres over 20 years in northern Arizona.
But so far, the Forest Service has struggled to get close to the initiative's ambitious 50,000-acres-per-year goal. Over the past year, logging companies have thinned about 13,000 acres.
Now, The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service hope a new partnership, called the Future Forest program, will help accelerate that pace.
Under the agreement, the nonprofit will thin 20,000 acres over four years. In the process, it will collaborate with the Forest Service on testing new technologies and tweaking processes with the goal of reducing the time and money it takes to prepare the forest for thinning, cut the designated trees and then move wood along to processors. Doing that, the thinking goes, will ramp up forest restoration and attract more wood products businesses to the region that will make use of the felled trees.
“It gives us flexibility, a laboratory to experiment,” Henry Provencio, innovations and efficiencies coordinator with the Forest Service’s 4FRI team, said of the partnership.
The Chimney Springs project, between the Fort Valley Trailhead and the Freidlin Prairie dispersed camping area, is the first place that will see thinning work under the new partnership. Logging equipment should roll into the area over the next week or so.
There, The Nature Conservancy will experiment with, for example, using a computer program that allows the Forest Service to create digital, GPS-connected maps that relay instructions on which trees should be cut and which should be kept. Those maps are transmitted to loggers in the forest who can see exactly where they are in the designated cutting blocks and then track which trees they actually fell.
In most of its timber sales and stewardship contracts, the Forest Service uses a much more time and labor-intensive process of deploying crews to mark trees with different colors of paint indicating “take” trees and “leave” trees. With that system, there’s no efficient way of tracking how loggers carry out cutting instructions.
If the tablet technology appears to work well, the idea is to begin using it on a much broader scale across 4FRI and potentially the nation, Provencio said.
The two parties also may experiment with leaving logs and other biomass like branches and treetops in the forest for longer than Forest Service policies currently permit. That allows more water weight to evaporate before hauling, so more logs can be put on each load.
Another idea is to set up weighing terminals, which all trucks must cross before taking logs to the mill, in more convenient areas of the forest to cut down on the distance trucks have to drive with their cargo, Provencio said.
At some point The Nature Conservancy employees also may take on jobs Forest Service staff usually perform, like sale administration and contracting, he said.
Speeding up the pace of logging activity and making it more consistent is critical not only for restoring the forest but also for attracting more mills and other businesses that can process that wood, Provencio said. Those operations need a steady, dependable stream of logs that hasn’t yet materialized on the west side of 4FRI yet, he said.
Another focus of the Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service be on making it more cost effective to harvest the low-value, small-diameter trees that make up the bulk of what will be removed from the forest, said Patrick Graham, the Nature Conservancy’s state director in Arizona. If they can prove economic viability for those types of trees, that should help attract industry to the area as well, Graham said.
Rohit Tripathi owns the type of wood products businesses that Graham is talking about. The new head of NewPac Fibre in Williams said he is fully onboard with the new Future Forest program thanks in large part to the involvement of the Nature Conservancy.
“I needed someone credible and that is The Nature Conservancy,” Tripathi said. “I imagine them as a catalyst.”
The Nature Conservancy has an agreement with NewPac to take the logs coming off of its thinning projects, the two said.
In the past, the bottleneck has been that the Forest Service wasn’t pushing out enough logs for NewPac’s operations, Tripathi said.
“If everything becomes consistent, I'm ready to put in a $10 million investment next year,” he said.
In an ambitious project like 4FRI, it makes sense for the Forest Service to bring in technologies and private entities to help them, Tripathi said.
Graham said this is the most ambitious project The Nature Conservancy has ever taken on in Arizona and plans to invest several million dollars in the work.
“We're trying to really take a fresh look at all of this and try to figure out how do we responsibly, in an ecologically sustainable way, restore our forests but do it in a way that is economically viable," he said.
PHOENIX -- Facing a barrage of questions and criticism, the State Board of Education voted Monday to take another look at its new system for grading schools.
The unanimous vote means that some schools which found themselves with preliminary grades of D and F could move up. That's important because parents use these grades to make decisions about where to send their children to school.
It could also means more A grades. That, in turn, has financial implications with those schools eligible for additional state dollars.
But a revamp may not create all positive results, with some schools potentially finding out that they are not performing as well -- at least by state standards -- as they had initially been told.
The move came amid questions about whether the data used to give out grades ranging from A to F is accurate. There also were issues raised about whether information was properly coded.
But many of the problems appear to be associated with the board's decision on how much weight to give student improvement versus actual achievement.
That was inserted in a bid to ensure that lower-performing schools in high poverty areas had a chance to get high grades because their students were improving. But officials from some higher performing schools said that's not fair to them because their students already were scoring at the peak and therefore have nowhere to go -- and no way to earn improvement points.
What may be worse is that the grading plan may not have produced the desired results.
Board member Patricia Welborn said an analysis she did shows that among schools where 70 percent or more of students were eligible because of low income for free or reduced-price lunches, fewer than 5 percent earned an A grade. Conversely, a quarter were rated D or F.
At the other extreme, she said, more than 54 percent of schools with fewer than 30 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches earned an A; 90 percent were rated A or B.
And there were no schools in that category earning an F.
"I'm very concerned that one of the fundamental rules that we intended not to happen has happened,'' she told her colleagues.
She wants a special Technical Assistance Committee being formed to look at the results to take a closer look to find out why that happened.
"Is there something we can tweak in our calculation that would remove this influence?'' she continued. "I'm really concerned that we have too few high-poverty schools that are represented in the top areas.''
And then are problems with schools that the system wasn't designed to handle.
In essence, the grading is based on one set of standards for K-8 schools and another for 9-12.
But a tearful Mary Jo Mulligan, principal of the Thunderbolt Middle School in Lake Havasu City, said the decision to squeeze her school of 900 seventh and eighth graders into that system result in it getting an F, the only one in the county. Before this, she told board members, it had never been rated less than a B.
"I'm not here to make excuses,'' she said.
But Mulligan detailed the things she believes a grading system should take into account that apparently didn't matter, ranging from a high attendance rate and high school safety to eight exploratory classes that lead to high school career and technical education pathways as well as advanced classes in English, science and algebra.
And she said her seventh graders met the state average test scores in English language arts and exceeded those score in math.
Tim Carter, president of the state board, said the complaints are in many ways not a surprise.
"All of us knew going in that with a new grading system, based on all you've heard today, that issues were going to arise,'' he told his colleagues.
Carter said that's part of the reason that the grades that were made public earlier this month were determined to be preliminary, with the potential they can be changed.
The problems with the grading system are being monitored by aides to Gov. Doug Ducey.
It was Ducey who put $38 million into the budget for this year to be divided up among high-performing schools.
This year it was parceled out based on scores on the AzMERIT standardized tests. But the plan for next year is to use the new school grades.
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss wants to make sure the money is going where it was designed -- and that the final grading system approved by the board does that.
"Some of his priorities are that it's something that certainly takes into account the very different nature of some schools and that we find a way to objectively identify which schools are doing well and which ones need improvement,'' he said.
And Scarpinato said the findings linking grades to poverty underline why "getting the formula right'' is important.
"A school that may be dealing with a unique population, a unique issue, might have very high poverty issues, that the model is taking that into account so that we can truly understand what's happening there,'' he said.
But Scarpinato said his boss is having no second thoughts about providing financial incentives to high-performing schools -- assuming the formula truly identifies them -- because the funds can be used for everything from bonuses for teachers to helping a charter school expand to accommodate more children.
Charter schools have their own concerns.
Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter School Association, told board members more than half of those schools didn't get a grade, some of that because of their own non-traditional grade configurations. And those that did, she said, ended up with "significantly different'' scores than last year.
Sigmund blames much of that on the new grading formula putting more emphasis on improvement than academic achievement. The result, she said, is schools whose students already are performing at maximum levels are penalized because they don't get points for improvement.
Carter said that issue of grading schools with "non-traditional grade configurations'' goes beyond the fact that there are middle schools that do not fit the grading system. Carter said he has seen, for example, districts with K-5 elementary schools and high schools with students in grades 6-12.
There's even one with all 12 grades in a single school. All that, Carter said, is within the legitimate power of local school boards.
Then there's the question of data, specifically schools claiming one set of numbers and a different being used by the Department of Education to compute grades.
"I'm not pointing fingers anyplace,'' Carter said. "I don't think that does us any good.''
But he said those numbers, including things like graduation rates, are important because they can make a significant difference in the grade a school gets.
A related issue, he said, is how those numbers were put into the grading system.
"If there are coding issues and they're widespread, that is something we're going to have to deal with,'' he said.