The Spectrum of Safety in Trumpland, by Katy Sperry

Northern Arizona University is located on an island of blue in an ocean of red in the state of Arizona¹. Since November 8, 2016, this island has felt much smaller to me. The day after the election I was walking to teach my 9:10 AM composition class, when I saw, for the first time on my campus, a student wearing the hat, cherry red, made in China, “Make America Great Again.” I started sobbing into the arms of a colleague I just happened to run into immediately after I saw the student.

My class was in small group workshops, and one group happened to have a large number of students of color and a student in the LGBTQ+ community. I found myself barely able to look at them, because, well because, the truth is that I am not very threatened by a Trump presidency. I am a white, cis, Christian, straight, middle class, woman. And yes, I am an artist and Trump threatens that, and yes I am a woman and Trump threatens that. But as I sat and looked at these students I saw the faces of people who were and are threatened and oppressed in ways I will never be.

Trump’s first one hundred days in office just passed. He has broken promises, supported sexual assaulters, threatened our national parks, and continues to threaten and further oppress the marginalized. But alongside these things, Trump’s behavior has emboldened a marginal group of students on my campus. Students who have always been here, replenishing themselves year after year. But, suddenly these students are no longer respectfully disagreeing with their peers, they are harassing their peers, their instructors, professors. They are threatening students and faculty. They are empowered to do this because the leader of our nation does it daily on Twitter and in interviews and in press conferences.

In the days following an election a Flagstaff resident, and presumed student, took to driving their pickup truck around NAU’s campus and downtown Flagstaff. The truck’s bed held a flagpole that flew two flags both cherry red, one read “Make America Great Again” the other has no words but thirteen white stars inside a blue “X” and is a symbol of slavery, oppression.

Students and humans can support whatever political candidates they choose, but when the candidate advocates for dropping bombs on Syrian civilians and calls Mexicans “rapists” and claims that men just have to “grab ‘em [women] by the pussy” his words are inherently threatening the safety of the people and communities around us. Supporting the man who says and does these things is inherently oppressing the people his words oppress, inherently threatening the communities he is threatening. Trump support has bulleted this blue island cherry red².



¹Apache, Pima, and Santa Cruz Counties all voted blue in the 2016 election as well, but all counties in immediate proximity to Coconino County showed a vibrant hue of cherry, leaving Coconino County in a bloody sea.

²Remnants of traditional colonization and current neocolonization mean that threats and oppression are not new for the marginalized in Coconino County, specifically the Indigenous population of Flagstaff (whose stolen land we live on), they have been resisting oppression this whole time regardless of the color of the map.

Humankind v. Mankind: Freedom of Speech and Classroom Policies, by Katy Sperry

Recently my university got national spotlight because an alt right (read: nazi) website posted an article about a professor deducting a single point from a student’s essay for using the word “mankind” twice. A faculty member of the English department is being sent threats of death and rape for enforcing MLA language guidelines.

The students’ protesting this point deduction proclaim that their freedom of speech is being challenged by faculty enforcing gender-neutral language in their classes. As previously mentioned, “humankind” is the term recommended to refer to all mankind by the MLA. But, aside from this, I think it is important to talk about what free speech does not mean.

Free speech is not the ability to say whatever you like in any context, specifically inside the context of things like classrooms and places of employment. When you work at McDonald’s you cannot come to work wearing a Burger King uniform. There are rules and guidelines in life, and it’s important to be able to think critically about the difference between a removal of rights and an enforcement of guidelines and policies.

In the classroom, instructors enforce their syllabus’ policies. Policies concerning academic language and discourse are outlined on the course syllabus when necessary. The aforementioned faculty member did not tell the student they could not use the term outside of class or even that they could not use it in class. Rather, the faculty member clearly described the guidelines of the course in the syllabus and explained to the student that a failure to follow guidelines would result in grade reduction. This is the way school works, whether it is high school, trade school, or a four-year university. There are policies and guidelines that are enforced by the entire university and policies enforced in every individual classroom.

I work at the public library, and I am not allowed to take a political stance at work, so if I come to work carrying my “kiss my ass [democratic party logo]” sticker on my water bottle, my boss asks me to keep my water bottle in the back for the day. My boss isn’t taking away my freedom to use that water bottle outside of work, or even to step in the back and take a drink of water out of the view of patrons. Rather, she is enforcing the guidelines I agreed to when I got the job. If I don’t like it, I can use the water bottle anyway. But if I get fired for taking a political stance at work, that’s my fault, not hers.

Loud People Visiting Schools and a Brief Discussion of Birds, by Justin Kanzler

The three-wattled bellbird has a call audible to humans up to half a mile away; it lives primarily in Central America, and from the base of its beak protrude three long worm-like tendrils. Most, if given the choice, do not surround themselves with three-wattled bellbirds in part because they are very secretive, and in part, because they make for lousy pets. The megaphone shout of the three-wattled bellbird is not something anyone wants to come home to. Instead, people buy parrots, parakeets, pigeons, birds that may still be loud, but they aren’t absolutely painful to be around. When you’re half a mile from a pigeon, there’s not a chance you’ll hear that thing coo. It is not that nobody wants a bird for a pet, it’s that nobody wants a bird that’ll blast your eardrums while you’re in the shower because it thinks your towel looks like something it could make a baby with.

When we think about the difference between three-wattled bellbirds and parrots, we can also think about the difference between screaming and talking, between rage and dialogue. A man came to NAU recently, and he conducted himself like a three-wattled bellbird. He did not speak to students, he yelled at them. He did not discuss his ideas, but he loudly condemned the students who didn’t agree with them.

It’s important to say that it is not the ideas that made this man’s actions reprehensible, and it doesn’t matter if I disagree with him. It is not the ideas that made his presence toxic, it was how he presented those ideas, and he presented them as if there was no alternative.

He stood outside one of the more popular locations on campus and yelled to crowds passing by that they were doomed to hell, that what they believed made their lives worthless, that they would be judged and deemed unworthy. He was a three-wattled bellbird when he could have just as easily been a pigeon. He was loud, angry, and invited no discussion. When people say college students are afraid of dissenting opinions, they tend to ignore the fact that every side has people afraid of disagreement. When this angry man screamed at students, some students screamed back. We’ve got bellbirds on all sides. However, other students tried to talk to them, and they were met with the same hate and noise every other student had been attacked with. The bellbird can be heard from a great distance, and though being loud is great for getting your message heard, it is not so useful for discussion. Imagine you’re in court, and when it is finally your chance to present your case, the opposition screams “criminal!” any time you say a word. You’d get frustrated with the other side pretty quickly, not only because they think you’re a criminal, but because they aren’t letting you present your side. Instead, they just keep yelling.

So it isn’t that this man came to NAU to tell students their lives aren’t worth living. It isn’t that he disagreed with the students and believed they were too weak to accept that anyone believed something they didn’t. It’s that he came to campus, screamed his condemnations, and refused to acknowledge anyone who didn’t agree with him.

A natural counterpoint to all of this is that “in the real world” people will yell, they will scream, and they will be angry. A natural counter to that counter is that those yelling people are idiots who are so caught up in their own opinion that they refuse to acknowledge anyone can disagree with them, and disagreement does not doom cooperation, but rage does.

So what do you do when bellbird-ing about campuses doesn’t work, when yelling at and raging doesn’t get your point across. Remarkably, students are actually pretty decent listeners. They pay tens of thousands of dollars a year just to listen to people, so it makes sense that they’d be pretty good at it.

NAU has been host to a variety of visitors with ideologies they wish to spread. One such man is “Uncle” Don Fanning, a man who passes out stickers with “Peace Please” printed on them, and he talks to any students who want to talk to him. I have never spoken to Don Fanning, and the only reason I know his name is because of this article about him from 2003. The difference between Fanning and the yelling man is not only their message. One man screams his beliefs at people and the other talks about his perspective to anyone who wants to listen. One is a three-wattled bellbird, heard from a distance and loathed by everyone within half a mile, and the other is an African gray parrot, which are known for being highly intelligent and worthy companions. One is a toxic neighbor, the other is a pleasant friend. The ideas don’t matter, the discussion does. Students do not hate being confronted with ideas that go against what they believe. They hate what everyone hates: being called a criminal and then never allowed a chance to present their side.

The March for Science; by Jeanne Mack

When the March for Science happened in Flagstaff two Saturdays ago, I was not there. I wasn’t one of the local Science advocates parading down the street, banging on a drum, and shouting generally pro-Science things at the top of their voices. I wasn’t there, partially because I was at the Thin Air community writing workshop, but the fact is that I’m not sure I would have gone even if I was free.

Our workshop was held in the community room of the public library, which is right along the route that the March took as it circled downtown Flagstaff. We’d opened the windows to let in some fresh air, and as the warm breeze filtered into the room, so did the screams for Science and drumbeats in the not-so distant distance. As I listened, I thought about why I wasn’t willing to lend my support to “Science” in general.

It’s not because I don’t realize what good Science has done–furthering humanity’s understanding of the Earth we live on, enabling people to overcome deadly diseases, etc. It’s that I’m unable to overlook all the bad that Science has left in its wake as it powers forward, toward those impressive achievements.

For every life saved, there is another life that has suffered in the name of Science.

Imagine a close friend or family member of yours has a mental illness, maybe severe depression. Maybe you don’t even have to imagine this. But now imagine that when they go to a doctor to receive medical care, they are told that to treat their illness, a doctor will first need to sedate them and then drive a sharp ice pick-like instrument up through their orbitals, behind their eyes and into their brain, until their frontal lobe has been effectively killed.

Scientists, neurologists, and doctors believed that lobotomies were the cure for mental illness starting in 1936 in America. They held onto this belief for long enough that they were able to complete about 2,500 lobotomies.

Maybe thinking about the world with a scientific, analytic mindset allows for a certain remove from the human aspects of life–allows a scientist to view participants in an experiment as subjects and not people.

In the same era of lobotomies, there was also forced sterilization of the disabled, the non-binary gendered population, intersex populations, indigenous people, and ethnic minorities. There was the development of the H-bomb and atomic bomb, which allowed for the subsequent bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’d like to think that Science has learned valuable moral and ethical lessons from the horrors of its past. Ideally, scientists are more aware of both the positive and negative effects their work can and does have on the world. I’d hope that there’s more of a priority on slowing down, and thinking about things from every angle–appreciating the perspectives of those that their work directly impacts.

But it’s possible that Science will always inherently be at odds with less quantitative elements–like compassion, tolerance, and understanding.

I’ve been listening to a podcast that traces the fight for Mauna Kea, a sacred Hawaiian mountain that sits at over 13,800 ft elevation. While astronomers are desperate to construct a Thirty Meter Telescope at the top of the mountain in order to observe planets and stars and ancient galaxies with an eye sharper and more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the local community is tired of having its sacred mountain defaced by scientists. Astronomers have already built sites on the mountain, and left the environment in disarray as a result. It’s a fight over the importance of Science’s quest to understand humanity’s origins and a community’s prioritization of preserving the culture and nature we already know about, immediately surrounding us.

Science has been and will continue to be a complicated arena, and while I understand that the March was in response to our President’s recent defunding of several different scientific programs and entities, and do not in any way support that defunding, it’s imperative that we remember the complexities that have arisen at the hands of Science. The lives of lobotomized and sterilized people, the damage caused by atomic bombs–were those sacrifices worth it? My inability to answer this question is what holds me back from championing Science as an inherently good cause.

Several Indisputable Claims and Why I Fear Chainsaws Simulated; by Justin Kanzler

Simulated Reality Theory argues that the universe is actually a simulation created by a computer with powers far beyond our comprehension. That means everything–including the interdimensional loose change that lives in every couch simultaneously–is actually a few imperceptible lines of code for us to blithely accept and complain about. A foundational argument for the possible existence of this omniscient computer is that nobody can prove it doesn’t exist. Also Elon Musk believes in it and that guy made, like, a bunch of cool shit so obviously this is something worth considering. I worry about the logic behind believing something is possible just because it’s impossible to disprove. And my fear of accepting the logic of simulated reality theory is, quite naturally, rooted in my deep fear of chainsaws.

I saw a therapist. He was on a tv show, but that’s the kind of therapy I can afford, and this tele-therapist said it is important to define what your fear is to you, so instead of listening to advice from someone talking directly to me or someone that actually exists, I’m listening to Dr. Television. My fear is chainsaws. To me chainsaws are the unwholesome union of engineering and a profession defined by hitting trees while wearing flannel. They are the product of cleverness and violence just like all of our greatest inventions: unmanned aircrafts, mustard gas, the microwave. What other than a mechanized razor stick could have come from this incongruous matrimony of brilliance and muscles. Other than their obvious utility as tree-murderators, chainsaws have 2 things going for them that frighten me to my nougat core: they are silent until activated, and they can be purchased as most large home improvement stores. Silence and Home Depot create the frightening possibility that everyone around me is quietly hiding a chainsaw behind their backs or in their comically large trench coats or even a teeny tiny chainsaw tucked away in a purse next to 3 mismatched sticks of gum and someone else’s sock. There could be a chainsaw in every hand if that hand is out of my field of view, and nibbles at my piece of mind like a rabbit nibbling at a lost and sorely missed lumberjack thumb.

With the information available to me and with the rationale posed by Simulated Reality, I can make the following indisputable claims:

Claim 1
There is a man with a chainsaw outside my room. The door to my room is closed. The curtains are drawn. It’s that time of night where anybody outside is either a murderer or an astronomer. Outside my door there is a hulking man with a greasy burlap sack over his head, and he is holding a jagged collection of unsympathetic metal teeth powered by internal combustion. There is a silent chainsaw-toting beast-man outside my bedroom door, which I have only now realized is totally inadequate defense against chainsaws because it’s wood and wood is what they eat, and based on the information I have available to me, I cannot possibly prove he’s not there. I can see every corner of my room; I can understand everything I can perceive with however many senses I have. Based on the information my senses give me–limited as they are by damage from loud concerts, reading at night, and sneezing like I fucking mean it–I can’t prove that someone isn’t about to shred my door with an unsympathetic wood-ravager before doing the same thing to me.

Claim 2
I was seconds away from a buzzing evisceration yesterday at my bus stop because the woman by the trash can had the new Echo CS-370 Chainsaw strapped to her back and hidden beneath her coat. That warm smile wasn’t one of greeting when I walked by. It was a smile hiding a graphic secret, a smile that knew she was planning on loudly making my entrails into extrails using a tool that can turn a healthy vertical tree into a horizontal dead one in under a minute. My squishy body wouldn’t provide a third the resistance a tree could, and that smile showed me that maniac knew it. I can never prove that my bus stop companion was mere moments away from hauling 40.2 CCs of slaughter from the trash can before doing to me what she’s probably done to countless blocks of ice: carving me into something wet and misshapen. I can’t prove it, but I am certain she wanted to see what I looked like as a puree.

Claim 3
When I closed my eyes during Heads Up Seven Up as a kid, the other children actually stalked the room with chainsaws instead of creeping around touching thumbs. I haven’t been afraid of chainsaws for my whole life, but that just verifies what I always knew: I was a stupid child. Looking back, it’s laughably obvious that the only reason eye-closing was a part of Heads Up Seven Up (HUSU?) was so the other children would have a chance to whip out their child-sized chainsaws–which come in Hello Kitty print, Camo, or faux blood stain–and prowl around the room picking who they want to annihilate. The only comfort I have is that the teacher would have intervened if a child had actually tried to saw another child while they were defenseless–probably because the teacher was saving them all for later. I’m onto you Mrs. Piers; your therapist tone and poofy gray hair can’t hide your secret murderous intent. I can never prove that my seemingly placid and apparently loving 5th grade teacher had a chainsaw hidden under her dress the entire year I knew her, but my 10 year-old senses were less acute back then. I was an amateur to paranoia, but now I am seasoned like a good chicken. Even if there’s no way to prove it, I bet she was poised to attack every time I was distracted during mid-morning journal hour.

So what lesson can we draw from the potential of a simulated reality? Fear. We should be afraid. Absolute bowel-voiding terror should dominate every second of our lives because there is no possible way to prove you are safe from potential chainsaw vivisection or any of the other three thousand and six ways the warranty on our soft ham-bodies can be voided. It is impossible to dispute my chainsaw-inspired fears because the evidence against them just doesn’t exist. I live in fear because I cannot disprove the possibility that someone nearby is hiding a chainsaw and amping themselves up to tear through my supple flesh and transform my walls into a lumberjack-son Pollock painting. I cuddle my cat and weep my terror because we can’t commit to thinking something is ludicrous just because it is difficult to cite common sense to a philosopher. So I’m cowering under blankets–which may or may not be digitally generated–because that seems to be the only viable option.

Let Me Explain To You Why You Get No Extra-Credit; (a dispatch from your web-editor)

Let Me Explain To You Why You Get No Extra Credit
by Eric Dovigi

A dead skunk is permitted to decompose on the side of a road until it dissolves like a putrid dandelion, yet I’m not allowed to sit on a public bench for more than a half-hour.

On this Earth, to shoot, stab, blow up, push, stone, set on fire, toss in acid, banish, exile, ostracize, discourage, hate, and ridicule are the most ubiquitous methods of empowerment.

In our culture, people are invited and encouraged to commoditize themselves on human-sharing websites that suggest they assign themselves a status, a profile, neat lists of friends, events, and take photos of themselves with squishy faces, let people know what sorts of boring things they will be doing that night and invite other people to share in the boredom; or by means of a carefully chosen quotation, express the intention to spend a lifetime in pursuit of artistic accomplishment of which they will never, ever, in a million years in a million possible universes, be even partly capable.

People jump on top of alligators for fun, eat spoonfuls of cinnamon, lick frozen aluminum poles, build paper mache wings and leap from the Eiffel Tower, all with more confidence than I have ever had, doing anything, in my entire life.

This morning I walked to work with plastic bags tied around my shoes. My shoes were made for running in the summertime. The right shoe has a large hole in the side.

It is winter. Snow is everywhere. By the time I got halfway to work the plastic bags had torn mostly off. My right sock was drenched. I stumbled and fell cutting through the dry gully by the graveyard.

Every day I wake up tired, and I spend so much time during the day just being tired that by the time I go to bed, I’m not really that tired anymore, so I lie awake until it’s morning.

You came into class twenty minutes late yesterday. Twenty minutes. Here is a list of pretty much the only people that are ever twenty minutes late on a regular basis: a) employees who are about to get fired, b) people having sex at near-absolute-zero temperatures, c) Gandalf, d) the New York Phil’ under Leonard Bernstein (I don’t expect you to get that joke), e) Kanye West when his watch is set forty minutes ahead, and f) the rabbit from Alice In Wonderland.

You have not been writing down the word-of-the-day since at least September. I watch you.

I don’t like your Facebook profile picture. Yeah, I looked up your name on Facebook.

I make less money now, as an instructor at a university, than I did when I worked retail–by a long-shot. Lagavulin ain’t getting any cheaper.

I’m starting to go a little deaf in my left ear. What’s that? Extra what?

I’m afraid of dying. I want those extra-credit points for myself. I want to horde them up. Maybe my inflammation will reduce. Maybe cell-senescence will slow–or reverse. Maybe my traumatic memories will disappear. Let the serotonin flow. Let wine rain from the sky. Give me those extra-credit points! They’re mine! num num num…

No. I don’t want them. I don’t want those extra-credit points because they’ll only dull the pain for a moment, child. The elation won’t last. The sense of safety, of accomplishment, of pride, will pass quickly and leave no residue, and the weight of Earth will descend with swift eagerness and you will be utterly crushed, you tiny tiny human. Old people will fuck you over forever, until they die, and then you’ll be old, and the dead skunks will dot the roads and you won’t be allowed to sit on a bench, and cars will hit you, and people will laugh at you, and you’ll have spent your entire life as a teacher making less money than you did when you worked retail, and then you’ll die.

There is no such thing as extra-credit.

Voyager 1 Meets God; by Justin Kanzler

After home I have seen light.
And I have drifted unmoving through an emptiness
That never saw me,
small beneath spheres colossal
casting shadows infinitesimal
in the lit wake of titans.
I am here to watch and to understand,
and here is never the same.
I am out,
the first to find what
has been forever here.
Before you,
I found
red faded light playing upon me even as it died,
and a massive turbid monster perfect scarlet punctuating marbled brown,
I have seen fractured crystal cold dancing circles as a crown,
and I have seen blue eyes wide against a wall of black,
I have been here in the company of giants
but what is here,
is nothing,
passive, enveloping everything,
and there, too, is light.
I found you,
black eyes bearing heavy hallowed distant light,
your body, nothing coalesced and impossible,
and I saw through you
to far lights
In the teeming glow of drifting stars,
I found you
watching, too.
But you looked in all directions
like something lost,
or like something had lost you.
And you were so unhappy,
knowing as you did everything that had come to pass,
and looking as you can to everything that would be,
and who could be happy so paralyzed by inevitability,
for what you knew would happen
but unable to intervene
because you knew you wouldn’t.
But the same light that lit me golden
finally illuminated you with my reflection.
And you knew I would come,
and I knew you would follow,
together to find new light and giants.


Tricky Wash; by Matthew Johnstone

People called coyotes

will take you across,

                                                                                  highways will have roses

to stray the hell, no

one says animals

veer at name, how

this blurry dust field

home ends,


                    the wend fell us moving

                    white light aside, why

                    men wear the names of

                    animals down their

                    fronts, as cooks,


                                   or pitch their bodies, down

                                   to what, a method of state,

                                   no walking at to where is

                                   away, season seen onto

                                   the eye, then this true

                                   else is our nor, down


rows of shoulders, how border

share us down to none, we, an

act, leak at field, that or as

far as collapsing in directions,

coasts, that include, eyes


                                            in the sun blurred bodies,

                                            gave and met, and ripped

                                            apart, us and out into

                                            them slowing, to suggest

                                            we easily become else to,

                                            speak in these, breaths that

                                            hung from mustache


                                                                            through chain link

                                                                            fence, snaking inland,

                                                                            near here the field,

                                                                            remains horses, bones

                                                                            curled on their sides

                                                                            atop floating pollen,


                                                      blind though edgeless, as west,

                                                      were stupid to further, the

                                                      lice white suns the sky apart so

                                                      sky in this ravine makes little

                                                      sense, they handfuls in sightless,

                                                      search where were there no



                    You are calling this canyon   

                    Tricky Wash

                                  choking thousands, no

                                  animal asks you why the

                                  sun speaks a synonym of

                                  us, anywhere earth not

                                  become ours, cars that

                                  press against one

                                  another, no coyote,


the more you look someone

has no eyes

in the eyes

A publication by Northern Arizona University's MFA Program