UNM will continue to see the controversial Spanish conquistador and frontiersman displayed on diplomas, official documents, offices, event backdrops and campus merchandise after Tuesday morning’s meeting, when the Board of Regents announced that the University seal will not be changing any time soon.
At the meeting, the Board of Regents listened to a presentation by Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Jozi De Leon, and after, a unanimous vote approved two of six recommendations to eliminate the seal.
The approvals: appointing an inclusive committee to determine how a redesign will be executed, and creating a cost analysis plan for seal abolition and replacement.
Jennifer Marley, a junior Native American Studies student and vice president of the UNM KIVA Club, called the lack of change “unfortunate.”
“We’re really frustrated...we hoped this was a day that we would hear whether the seal would be abolished or not,” she said.
But instead, the process was lengthened.
Marley still considers this a small victory, because the campaign is being discussed — however, she also said extending the process is disappointing.
“We feel that the constant stalling of this campaign and the refusal to change the seal this far in is bigotry from the regents,” she said.
“A price was put on racism,” Marley said, when discussing the board’s focus on financial impacts, as opposed to changing the seal itself.
Addressing graduating students’ wishes to not wear the seal, the option to purchase a new diploma and a plan to transition diplomas were other recommendations that were not voted on.
Marley clarified that the style of the new seal should not be the campaign’s focus.
She advocated even for small changes, such as the basic school lettering found on notebooks and other bookstore items, because she simply would like to see any change to the seal from what it currently is.
Marley said the seal places UNM “in a bad light,” because many individuals nationwide are aware of the ongoing efforts to change it.
Marley was surprised that a board member claimed he was not aware of the feelings of discrimination against Native Americans or issues regarding the seal, despite previous in-depth research and other information being presented to him at other meetings.
Marley said situations like these are “a classic predicament of the oppressed having to explain to their oppressor (that) what they’re doing is wrong. That should never be the case, but it is.”
The board expressed concern that not enough members of the UNM community were able to voice their opinions on the subject.
Feedback was collected through forums and email listserv requests, and 395 individuals gave feedback on the decision, with 236 voting to abolish the seal.
In response to this, Marley said the groups advocating for change took as many steps as they could to gain staff, faculty and student input.
She recalled one regent stating that the sample size of input is too small to have accurate opinions, adding that meeting a certain number of responses should not determine whether something is racist.
Marley said other seal-related topics were discussed during the meeting, such as: the need for UNM to focus on other more serious issues, the financial cost of changing the seal in already dire fiscal times, the seal not addressing UNM’s contemporary diversity and its alleged emphasis on an oppressive past, among other concerns.
After the meeting, Marley said UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah approached the KIVA Club, urging them not to feel demoralized, because although the process is going to be extended, the seal will be changed.
Abdallah — along with many other students, staff and faculty — has been supportive of seal abolition efforts, she said, but it can’t happen without approval from the board.
The current version of the seal does not portray Native Americans in an accurate light at all, according to Marley.
Marley called the representation of Native Americans as a bird on the seal — “really gross” — particularly because a bird is not a human, unlike the conquistador and frontiersman.
She said it is quite common to “glamorize” conquest, but it is time to challenge “the tri-cultural myth and this hierarchy that’s been in place since the late 1600s.” Marley also said that a large part of the situation is preserving the past.
“It’s an example of what it looks like when people cling to New Mexico’s divisionist history. People are afraid to acknowledge the violence of this land and what UNM was founded on. Because of that, I think their behavior is really reactionary,” Marley said.
A changed seal will bring other changes to increase racial equality, she said, because the campaign does not just focus on the seal, but also includes other steps to make the University a safer space for minority students.
She said if further efforts to change the seal are not made, she and others involved in the campaign plan on filing a Department of Justice report, as taking on legal measures may place the University at risk for losing federal funding.
Even after she graduates, Marley said she hopes to continue to advocate for a variety of topics that relate to this movement.
“As long as I’m alive, I will continue to challenge religionist history and everything that erases our people’s struggle,” she said.
Elizabeth Sanchez is a reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.