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Profs tout ‘social justice’ college

A UNM college that has been three years in the making is now looking for student input.

This semester, various University professors who have been spearheading the formation of a College for Social Transformation will gather suggestions from the University community said Tiffany Lee, an associate professor with the Native American studies department.

“What we’re doing this year is getting feedback from all our stakeholders. We each have different kinds of courses and degree offerings,” she said. “We really have to collaborate on what are the kinds of degrees that are going to come out.”

Lee said she and her colleagues began working on a proposal for the proposed college three years ago. She said a committee from various University departments started meeting regularly to organize the college two and a half years ago.

According to a letter to the Daily Lobo from John Mitchell, a student participant in a feedback forum organized by Lee’s committee last week, the College for Social Transformation “will bring academic, research and student services units under one umbrella.”

The proposed college would include the academic departments of Chicana and Chicano studies, Africana studies, Native American studies, women’s studies, peace studies and sustainability studies.

“Our interest was in serving social justice, achieving social justice, and working towards social justice in New Mexico,” Lee said. “We found some common ground across many of the ethnic studies and other studies that have the same values and missions.”

The committee plans to submit a formal proposal for the college to UNM administrators in the fall semester of 2014, Lee said. She said that if the timeline goes smoothly, the college will launch in the 2015 school year.

Lee said her committee plans to use existing funds and revenue sources to fund the potential college, which might require the creation of a new building on campus. She said the committee also plans to search for other off-campus funding sources, and that there is no budget estimate for the project yet.

Lee said the new college would be essential to UNM in the long run.

“It’s one way to really transform the purpose of the University,” she said. “While the University is really important to help students learn how to do critical reading and writing and research, we also need to be more accountable to our communities that we’re served by and to recognize some of those power structures that prevent us from doing important work with those communities.”

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Leslee Horn, a UNM senior majoring in Africana studies and health education, said she fully supports the formation of the college.

“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “I definitely feel that ethnic studies and programs should be incorporated into something like this because there needs to be more diversity and perspective when it comes to different ideas.”

Horn said that although the college would surely increase community involvement and impact the University greatly, she is reluctant to say that social justice on campus would suddenly improve drastically.

“It’s going to take probably quite some time to actually see some change, especially if it’s there just now trying to be implemented,” she said. “But I definitely think there will be more cultural sensitivity as well as social awareness about what people are doing on campus.”

For the college to be formally approved, the proposal should be OK-ed by various University administrators, Lee said. The proposal would then seek approval from the New Mexico Higher Education Department, she said.

Lee said she urges students to contribute to the formation of the college by participating in forums about the college. She said her committee plans to set its next forum early in the spring semester.

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