Members of the University of New Mexico community decried last month's increased police presence on campus amid the apex of Black Lives Matter protest activity in the state, taking particular issue with UNM President Garnett Stokes' milquetoast response to the image of snipers atop UNM's George Pearl Hall.
On June 11, ASUNM passed Resolution #1F during a special session meeting which announced the student government's support of the abolition of the modern policing system and urged Stokes to reconsider UNM's ties with external police forces.
While the vote passed by a wide margin, ASUNM President Mia Amin declined to sign the resolution. She cited concerns that ASUNM "is a non-partisan organization" and said it is her "job to serve (UNM) students by staying neutral," per an email announcement shared with ASUNM senators.
In an arcane procedural move, the resolution then moved to President Pro Tempore Emma Hotz, who signed it and handed it off to Vice President Ana Milan who also gave it her signature. The resolution then passed in full.
Amin's neutrality matched stride with Stokes' refusal to commit to any change in UNM's relationships with police. Despite the resolution's widespread Senate support, both Amin's and Stokes' ongoing neutrality on the police presence issue discouraged those who worked on the resolution.
"Stokes will do what she needs to do in order to stay president," ASUNM Senator and resolution co-author Suha Musa said. "Mia will do what she needs to do to make sure she's still liked by those who currently like her. As a student at UNM, it's disheartening ... It shows me as a Black student at UNM that my institution doesn't care for me, it (just) cares for my money."
Asked if he thought Stokes would strongly consider the resolution's calls for action, Senator and resolution co-author Ryan Regelado said it was a dubious proposition at best.
"I really don't think so," Regalado said. "Unless someone's in the room advocating for direction and giving her reasons why we should be doing this, then she's not going to listen.
Noting that the ASUNM president is the elected representative of the student body who has regular contact with Stokes, Regalado expressed concern that Amin's neutral stance may hinder progress going forward.
"Our only real connection to President Stokes from the student body is Mia, and if she's staying neutral, then there's no push," Regalado said.
Hotz, a fellow senator and another co-author of Resolution #1F, also lamented Amin's lack of support.
"You can't be neutral in situations that are affecting the people that you're supposed to be representing. You have to pick a side," Hotz said.
Meanwhile, a June 8 letter from graduate students and faculty in the Community and Regional Planning (CRP) department addressed to Stokes' office opposed the use of UNM's campus as a staging ground for militarized police forces. Among other things, the letter demanded that UNM "commit to denying access to campus for militarized policing," noting that its presence was a "threat rather than a path to safety, peace or justice."
Andrea Calderon, a second-year master's student in the CRP department who helped craft the call to Stokes, has been one of many vocal critics of the UNM administration's response to students' concerns regarding safety in light of increased policing.
"Nobody's asking us, 'Are you happy with where your dollars are going at the University?'" Calderon said. "That's just not a conversation that ever happens."
Calderon told the Daily Lobo she believes Stokes' apparent attempt to remain neutral sends a clear message.
"I don't think she's really remained neutral," Calderon said. "I think she's trying to position herself in that way, but by saying that she's going to continue to collaborate with police regardless of our responses and that she wishes nobody had seen (the image of snipers at UNM), it really shows that she's concerned with public perception more than she’' concerned with changing the dynamics between University leadership and (the police)."
Now weeks removed from the sniper incident, activists in the UNM community are still waiting for a stronger response from Stokes.
"Everything that Stokes does sends a message," Musa said. "It's not okay for the institution and for the admin to say 'We're going to start having conversations' and then wipe their hands (as if to say) 'Okay, we're done' like that's something to be proud of."
For Calderon, Stokes' response seems due in part to the fact that many UNM students won't be enrolled in a few years' time. Because a majority of students spend "at most six years" at UNM, Calderon says that student organizations struggle to establish a foothold when it comes to implementing change at the institutional level.
"I don't see (Stokes' stance) as a neutral stance," Calderon said. "I see that as a directly oppositional stance to what we're pushing. Universities are accustomed to sweeping to the side issues that students bring forward because we rotate in and out."
Originally from Maryland and having completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, Calderon has noted that university presidents in general tend to look to leadership from peer schools to guide their response to emerging issues.
"For university presidents, the folks that they care about with regard to their perception are other peer universities," Calderon said. "It might be unfair for me to say that, but in my experience with university presidents as a whole throughout my life, I'm willing to bet that her career is more dependent on the perception of other university presidents than on how she's perceived by students."
When it comes to UNM's relationship with police, Calderon believes that Stokes' perspective is driven by leadership at other schools across the country rather than more largely defined by her own opinions on how to manage the University's relationship with the police.
"It's guiding her alignment with police, for sure," Calderon said. "A lot of universities have not cut their relations with local police departments, (and) a lot of presidents have come out and said 'we’re having conversations' — they sort of give this very neutral or non-response response."
Both Calderon and the ASUNM senators interviewed for this article expressed their intentions to continue pushing for accountability in the administration's response to student concerns.
Joe Rull is the data and sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @rulljoe