“The first time I heard the word ‘nigger’ was when I came to America,” said Ashley Davis.
Originally from Guatemala, Davis, a junior mechanical engineering major, said she feels uncomfortable in her classes because she is often the only, or one of very few, black students.
According to reports from the Registrar’s Office, the African-American population at UNM has increased by half a percent in a 10-year span, rising from 2.5 percent to 3 percent of enrolled students.
The apparent frequency of the N-word’s use on campus has risen dramatically in proportion.
Over the past 18 months, reports of discrimination and racism have erupted on campus with regard to the status and equal treatment of African-American students at UNM.
Eight incidences of discrimination targeting African-American students have been reported, said Christina Foster, program coordinator for African-American Student Affairs.
“Here at the University of New Mexico we have had several incidences that have specifically targeted black people, and the (use of this) word was the source of this attack,” Foster said.
Students report that casual use of the N-word is becoming common, giving rise to heated debate about its historically ugly power and its increasingly open use on campus.
“One of the reasons this word is so popular today is because it is used quite frequently in the media, particularly in music,” Foster said,
The Civility Campus Council was created last year in response to these reports of discrimination, Dean of Students Tomas Aguirre said. The council’s mission is to provide a monthly open forum to discuss delicate matters in a safe and educational environment, because racism and discrimination need to be discussed, he said.
“These are the kinds of things I lose sleep over,” Aguirre said.
Previous CCC forums have included topics on Islam, Judaism, undocumented students, same-sex marriage and, of course, the N-word.
At a CCC forum last Thursday, entitled “What’s up, my N?” Cinnamon Burton, a junior sociology major, spoke about her recent confrontation with the N-word.
Burton said she returned to her dorm room and found the N-word written on a whiteboard on another room’s door. As the only African-American student on the floor, she felt the racial slur was directed at her. She said it was enough for her to move out of the dorm.
This trend has many concerned about the negative implications of using the word so casually, Foster said. There is growing concern that there may come a point when discriminatory remarks toward African-Americans go unpunished.
Mark Worthy, an educational consultant in Student Services, said part of the problem is that the word can be either friendly or demeaning.
“There is a deep history with regard to how the term was used and how it is still used,” he said. “It depends in the visceral conception. You know when someone means it in a very demeaning manner.”
Brandi Wells, ASUNM senator and a senior political science major, said the issue comes down to who is using the word.
“I have no problem with black people using the word with each other,” she said. “The problem for me is when people who are not black begin to use the word casually.”
She said much of the issue surrounding the N-word could be resolved if people stopped worrying about race.
“We need to break down the idea of race, understand that it is a human construct, and that it is not real,” Wells said. “If we would stop treating diversity as just a numbers thing it wouldn’t be as hard to ignore. It wouldn’t be as hard to discipline and reprimand these situations.”
For more information about the Civil Campus Council, visit community.unm.edu.