Presidential Spotlight—April 2022

Source: Laura Fulginiti, PhD, 2022-23 AAFS President

This is the first Presidential Spotlight of 2022, and I am excited to share information with you regarding the Academy. My name is Dr. Laura Fulginiti, but everyone calls me “Fulgi.” I have been a member of the AAFS since 1987 when I joined the Anthropology (then Physical Anthropology) Section as a Student Affiliate. I have worked as a forensic anthropologist at the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner (ME) in Phoenix, AZ, for 30 years and consult with several other ME offices as well. I have been a member of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) since 1997 and have responded to multiple mass fatality incidents. My service to the Academy began when I was appointed as the Program Chair for Anthropology. Since then, I have served in leadership positions throughout the Academy and for the Forensic Sciences Foundation, and I have enjoyed all of it.

I will be sending a second Presidential Spotlight in May that will provide meeting and staff updates. The Academy will be experiencing significant changes in the coming year as we welcome our 12th section, Forensic Nursing Science, and a new status, Professional Affiliate, to our ranks. For this Spotlight, I wanted to focus on introducing myself and providing you with some important initiatives as well as the theme for the 2023 conference, which also happens to be our 75th Anniversary as an organization. Before I do that, I want to provide some additional information regarding the selection process for meeting sites.

 Every year, the Board of Directors (Board) reviews potential host cities for future annual conferences. We consider multiple factors in the decision. This year, one such factor was the passage of a Florida law regarding a restriction on the allowance to educate certain-aged school children on sexual identity and orientation. Some of the ways this legislation is worded is considered by many, including our own diverse community, as discriminatory. A few of the responses received commented on the status of the Academy as a politically neutral forensic science organization. The Board appreciates this viewpoint and shares it. However, we felt this legislation had the potential to negatively impact our membership and, consequently, attendance at the 2023 Annual Conference in Florida. Low attendance hurts the Academy financially and can result in significant monetary penalties. A little more background into meeting planning may clarify the decision to notify the membership.

When selecting a site, the Board and staff must ensure that the host city can provide adequate and affordable hotel space, comprehensive meeting space for our attendees and our affiliate associations who hold meetings in conjunction with AAFS, entertainment and restaurants in a range of budgets, low-cost air travel and ease of access to the city, as well as mobility within the city. As the AAFS grows, the cities who can accommodate us shrink. The Board must also consider that members working for a governmental agency are often precluded from travel to states with discriminatory laws, and cities where their employees may be distracted from the conference (Anaheim—Disney®, Las Vegas and Reno—gambling, Hawaii—well, Hawaii). One of the most cited factors in a member’s decision to attend is the cost of the hotel rooms (neck-and-neck with a warm climate), and one of the reasons we contract several years in advance is to lock in lower room rates for our members. We negotiate to ensure that we keep it at a level that governments are willing to pay, and so that individuals can afford to stay at the host hotel. Every year we have a set room block and if we do not meet the minimum number, we pay a significant penalty (as much as $1.5M). The penalties accrue if we do not meet our negotiated room block and/or our food and beverage commitments, or if we try to cancel the conference due to unforeseen circumstances (like COVID-19, a hurricane, or governmental shutdown). As you can see, this is a complex decision-making process with multiple moving parts. The Board factors in all these requirements, the impact on our members, and the potential penalties when assessing host cities. We encourage our members to stay in the host hotel and have negotiated a larger number of government rate rooms to facilitate this request. We plan our receptions, coffee, snacks, breakfast, and lunch carefully to meet our food and beverage requirements. During this process, we always put the considerations of the membership first, and as an anthropologist, I have been an outspoken advocate for keeping costs down for our members and for our students. I hope this summary clarifies the process a bit, and sheds light on decision-making by the Board.

I have initiated new forms of communication this year in the form of the Board Box and Committee Corner. These features will be highlighted on the website and sent out via the AAFS Newsfeed. The Board Box will be a way for the President to update the membership quickly regarding matters being considered by the Directors. Committee Corner will allow individual committee chairs to share the initiatives they are pursuing, activities they have planned, and to solicit input. My hope is that by initiating these communication forums, the membership will feel more connected to Academy leadership.

Looking forward to 2023 when we will be celebrating our 75th Anniversary as an Academy, various committees are working hard to plan content. The Diamond Jubilee year will highlight our history in a variety of ways, including Academy Apercus—short, witty segments provided by each section to celebrate their history and their members, combined with the perspective of a new member who will discuss why they chose their field, why they chose the Academy, and what they forecast as the future for their discipline(s). Look for these at the beginning of each month, on the website, and in the AAFS Newsfeed. The Past Presidents Council is developing a special session that will explore our history, and the 75th Anniversary Committee is brainstorming mementos and fun events to commemorate the milestone.

The program committee is centered on the meeting theme, “Science Works.” In the past few years, science and the scientific method have been under attack, denigrated, and dismissed. My plan is to offer scientific content demonstrating that forensic science provides trustworthy, objective data that can be relied upon by the judicial system, Congress, and the public. In addition, I want to focus on our members who work at forensic science every day. The meeting will be a celebration of forensic science and the history of the Academy in forensic sciences. I thank all the participants for their efforts in bringing these visions to life. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I encourage you to begin pondering the ways in which you can contribute to the 2023 program. We look forward to seeing all of you in Orlando!