ASU's Project Humanities educates on cultural appropriation

Humanity 101 is a yearlong initiative hosted by ASU's Project Humanities. The organization will host a variety of events throughout the school year, which tackle the theme's central question — are we losing our humanity?

On Sept. 12, Project Humanities will hold its first cultural appropriation symposium for high school students to address questions and concerns about the concept. The event, titled "Cultural Appropriation: Critical Dialogues on Cultural Awareness," will discuss appropriation within Halloween costumes, commercials, songs and other pop culture trends. 

Over the past few months, cultural appropriation has been a hot-button issue. From "Hunger Games" actress, Amandla Stenberg's viral video addressing the problem to rapper Azealia Banks' infamous Twitter feud with Australian rapper, Iggy Azalea, there's no doubt that discussion of the topic isn't happening. 

However, some think society's growing over-sensitivity has created the concept. According to John McWhorter of The Daily Beast, "What began as a legitimate complaint has morphed into a handy way of being offended at something that should be taken as a compliment." 

Project Humanities' cultural appropriation symposium aims to address these discrepancies about the issue.

Director of Project Humanities and ASU professor Neal Lester said there's a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. He said it's not about what you can and cannot do, it's about being more culturally aware. 

Lester also said Project Humanities' previous symposium in February was a response to ASU's blackface-at-football-games controversy last school year. He said that we can still appreciate and encourage cultures without making a mockery or a joke out of them.

The high school students that attended the first symposium were the most confused about the concept, so this time around they geared it toward their age group, Lester said.

ASU students and faculty, along with high school seniors, will be facilitating discussion throughout the day. 

Odessa Clugston, Justice Studies and Economics sophomore and a facilitator of the upcoming event, said that the best way for students to stand up to cultural appropriation is "to become aware of their own actions." 

Clugston said students should "always challenge stereotypes, avoid wearing cultural costumes for Halloween and question how best to show respect for another culture."

The day-long event also includes a documentary about cultural appropriation and a speech by YouTuber, Kat Lazo. Lazo, who handles TheeKatzMeoww YouTube channel, is known for making videos that center around social issues. Her most popular video challenges society's obsession with weight.

The purpose of the symposium is to unveil unintentional cultural appropriation and ignite discussion about the topic. Although the event is for high school students, Melissa Koury, Betty H. Fairfax High School student and intern for ASU's Project Humanities, said it's important and easy for young adults to take action. 

"The phrase 'It starts with one,' is relevant here," Koury said. 

She said people "can take action by learning about cultural appropriation, and passing on that knowledge."

As a part of its Humanity 101 theme, Project Humanities will be hosting events throughout the year for the ASU community.

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Reach the reporter at ambice@asu.edu or follow @alliebice on Twitter.

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http://humanities.asu.edu/sites/default/files/imce/Both Black and White Calender.pdf?809


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