Four University of New Mexico buildings, built and named over two mid-century decades, still bear the names of conquistadors: Coronado Hall, Alvarado Hall, Oñate Hall, and DeVargas Hall.
Now, UNM is taking the first step in a long procedural process toward addressing campus buildings named after contentious historical figures, according to UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair.
The UNM Committee on Naming has been reviewing whether current University policy allows buildings to be renamed or if new provisions must be written to do so, Blair — a member of the committee — said on Wednesday. Current UNM policy covers naming new buildings but lacks a specific provision on their renaming.
Blair expects the committee to finish its work “by the end of the month.”
UNM President Garnett Stokes announced her request for the policy review in a campus-wide email sent on June 19. Earlier that week, a man protesting the Juan de Oñate statue outside the Albuquerque Museum was shot by a counter-protester, and the sign at UNM’s Oñate Hall was later vandalized.
The review comes as the United States is grappling with how certain historical figures and events fit into our monuments, institutions and collective identity. New Mexico possesses a legacy of colonialism and Indigenous genocide as reflected in the names of its public buildings.
“People are asking that these signifiers be removed because it’s not about history, it’s about knowledge and power and it’s about erasure,” said UNM American Studies professor Jennifer Denetdale. “Keeping those names also reflects on silencing and erasure of Indigenous presence at UNM.”
The Committee on Naming, made up of several faculty and administration members, does not pick names for new buildings. It researches whether potential honorees — proposed by the department who will use the new building — meet the criteria laid out in UNM policy.
“Exemplary character,” as well as “extraordinary university service” or “significant financial contributions to the University related to the naming opportunity” are the qualifiers for being honored with a building name. The committee then counsels the UNM president, who can recommend the honoree to the Board of Regents for final approval.
If approved, the naming will last as long as the lifespan of the building, provided the honoree continues to meet the above criteria according to UNM policy. No provision specifies what happens if the honoree fails to do so.
The Committee has been studying how other universities have handled similar issues, Blair said. The Committee is also exploring options to better include the UNM community in naming decisions.
Oñate, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, Hernando de Alvarado and Diego de Vargas were all conquistadors with documented cruelty and abuses towards Puebloan people.
“It certainly sends messages about UNM to the rest of the world if they decide not to address the questions of renaming these buildings,” Denetdale said.
Gabriel Saiz is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GSaiz83