This has been an especially emotional week for many of you, especially those who were in support of or against ASUNM Resolution 10S.
As the Dean of Students — or, as I prefer to identify, the “Students’ Dean” — I always aim to provide advocacy, help you through critical moments and support the overall academic mission of this institution. Neither role is more important than the other and all are inherently interconnected.
As the Students’ Dean it is important to point out that I advocate for UNM students, not issues. I do not tell students what or how to think, but as an educator I try to encourage them to think critically, behave civilly and engage in transformational learning moments. Cultivating a more civil campus — one in which students can engage in civil discourse — is a priority for President Frank and I. I have had the privilege of working with many of you to support this institutional priority through the CommUNITY campaign and Civil Campus Council.
A little over a week ago, I was approached by a student leader to discuss her concerns about ASUNM Resolution 10S. I followed this conversation up with a larger meeting with her student group and other members of the Jewish community. After the meeting I offered to say a few words at the beginning of the ASUNM event, very much like I have done in the past for other student groups and individuals with similar concerns.
My brief statement at the ASUNM meeting was intended to encourage a more civil dialogue. I also wanted to raise awareness of how the language of the resolution was negatively impacting a particular group of students on campus and making them feel marginalized. I believe that feelings are universal; pain, fear, frustration and anger are emotions that we all share. Comparing their feelings to the feelings of other students here on campus, students that I have advocated for and worked very closely with in the past, was only to demonstrate that we have to look at the intentions and impact of our actions. Even with the noblest of intentions, we should always be aware of the impact our words and actions have on others. For the record, I vetted my talking points with student supporters and sponsors of the resolution prior to the meeting and at no point were any concerns raised.
Unfortunately for a few students, my remarks were not interpreted as I intended. For that I apologize. I can take my own medicine and, regardless of my intent, I regret the impact my words may have had on some of you.
I want to acknowledge the one student who accused me of supporting white supremacy (not once, but twice). Not that this could be any further from the truth, but it did help me realize that my message might have gone astray. I also admit that at first the student’s words greatly offended me. I consider my career choice somewhat vocational: I was a first-generation student of color from somewhat humble beginnings. I was the recipient of a Texas Achievement Award, which was very similar to our Bridge Scholarship, and my first experience as an activist and student leader was through the South Africa divestment movement at the University of Texas.
At the same time, this student’s remarks highlight a greater concern of mine, one that illustrates why civility is so important in so many different ways. Mary Wortley Montagu was an English writer and poet who lived in the late 1600s and early 1700s. She was an early feminist who defended the dignity of women as moral and intellectual beings equal and, in some ways, even superior to men. One of her more famous quotes is: “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything.” If one’s agenda is to hurt or insult someone, then by all means throw civility out the window. But if one’s agenda is to pass an initiative, further a cause or make the world a more equitable and better place for all of us, then civility gives us the greatest chance of getting there.
Bullying, intimidation, a lack of transparency, misrepresentation of the facts, manipulation and insults are all examples of change models that do not work. Microaggressions or any form of violence are unacceptable in a place of learning. In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
In closing, I would like to thank all of our students for the privilege of being their Dean. As I quickly approach my one-year anniversary, I know that I have done many things well and that there are many other things that I could do better. It is important to note that UNM has only had two other Deans of Students: Dean Karen Glaser and Dean Randy Boeglin. Collectively, they served our University with distinction for over 70 years, so I am relatively young in terms of my position. Any successes I have had during my brief tenure have been a direct result of the hard work and support of the Dean of Students staff team and the greater campus community.
Like anyone who works at UNM, my primary objective is student success. I want all of our students to graduate and, as a parent of three young children, I hope you will make the world a better and more equitable place for all. I believe that the student can be a teacher, and the teacher a student. Not a day goes by that I do not learn something from you that helps me both as a person and a practitioner. If I can advocate or support you in any way, please feel free to reach out at any time. I have dedicated office hours for students only, and if my door is open and I am not with another individual you are always welcome to drop in.
Everyone’s a Lobo … A Salam, Shalom, Peace.
Tomás A. Aguirre
Dean of Students
The University of New Mexico