The University of New Mexico’s Committee on Naming has reported to President Garnett Stokes that UNM should develop thorough criteria and an enduring, community-inclusive process for removing controversial names from campus buildings.
After a counter-protester shot a man protesting the Juan de Oñate statue outside the Albuquerque Museum in June and the sign outside UNM’s Oñate Hall was vandalized, Stokes requested that the committee review the University’s building renaming policy.
The committee reported their conclusions and recommendations in a memo sent to Stokes on Sept. 23.
“Removing the name of a building is a consequential decision that requires careful study and thoughtful consideration of different viewpoints from the entire campus community,” the memo reads. “The current UNM Policy 1020 does not specifically provide for the renaming of existing building(s).”
The committee recommended several actions based on the actions taken by universities across the country facing similar reckonings over racism.
An ad hoc committee will be appointed to develop “principles that will guide the review process, a description of the process, evaluation criteria (and) how members of the campus community can submit a proposal to remove a building’s name,” according to the memo.
Now, it is up to Stokes to undertake the committee’s recommendations, according to University spokesperson and committee chair Cinnamon Blair.
Blair said the main question the committee took up was, “Does an existing policy offer an avenue for these types of requests to be made?”
“We want to have something that we’re not going back to the drawing board every five seconds,” Blair said. “That lengthens all these processes, and it also makes it just very random.”
Under current policy, if the name of a building were changed, the appropriate dean or director would submit new name suggestions to the naming committee with the approval of the appropriate executive supervisor.
When it comes to Oñate, Coronado, Alvarado and DeVargas Halls — all named after conquistadors — it’s unclear, even to the University, who the appropriate deans or directors are.
“There are a number of layers in who oversees housing, so I'm not sure at what level that recommendation, from whom that would come,” Blair said.
KUNM, the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corp and a handful of UNM classes share Oñate Hall, the only one of the four buildings that isn’t a residence hall.
“I know that we’ve been in the building the longest,” KUNM general manager Richard Towne said. “We probably are the building captain for maintenance purposes.”
The vandalized sign in front of Oñate Hall has been replaced with a sign that reads “Building 156,” according to Towne — a de facto removal of Oñate’s name from that building.
“The general discussion is that it shouldn’t be Oñate,” Towne said in regard to talks within the KUNM newsroom about the name.
Oñate, after coming to New Mexico in the 1590s, treated the Indigenous peoples with such cruelty that the Spanish government tried him for his abuses, found him guilty and banished him from New Mexico, according to the Office of the State Historian’s website.
“The name of our building is not inspirational,” Towne said. “It actually provokes trauma, sorrow and fear.”
Towne suggested that labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta is more deserving of an honorary naming.
“Monuments and building names should really inspire, which is not the case with Oñate,” Towne said.
After the vandalism of the sign in front of Oñate Hall, KUNM made an informal request to the UNM Staff Council that the building’s moniker be reconsidered, according to Towne.
“Everything was still a bit nutty in early June, so I might need to re-energize that request,” Towne said.
In 2003, the Board of Regents approved the renaming of the Clinical and Magnetic Resonance Research Center (CMRRC) to Pete and Nancy Domenici Hall, according to the minutes from a May 16 meeting that year. But CMRRC was a functional name — a name that “basically defines what the building is,” Blair said.
Oñate, Coronado, Alvarado and DeVargas aren’t functional names, but they don’t fit squarely as honorary names either, according to Blair.
Honorary names will last the duration of the building if the honoree continues to meet the criteria — “extraordinary University service” or “private financial support” along with “exemplary character, an unqualified reputation for honesty, personal integrity and the highest standards of personal and professional ethics” — according to Policy 1020.
Oñate and the other conquistador dorm names likely aren’t subject to that criteria that delineates honorees, since no legal agreement was drawn up between those men and UNM, Blair said.
Policy 1020, which established the Committee on Naming, came into effect in 2001. Oñate, Coronado, Alvarado and DeVargas Halls were all named in the 1950s and 1960s.
“So this is all new territory,” Blair said.
Blair said UNM policy also lacks procedure for naming buildings after places and things.
“The naming committee policy doesn’t have a process for that, so that should be included in whatever we develop,” Blair said.
The naming committee only reviews honoree name suggestions after people or organizations. Any suggested name will eventually end up in front of the Board of Regents.
“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,” UNM American Studies professor Jennifer Denetdale told the Daily Lobo in August. “Keeping those names also reflects on silencing and erasure of Indigenous presence at UNM.”
Gabriel Saiz is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @GSaiz83