Eliminating systemic racism in NM starts at the top - Albuquerque Journal

Eliminating systemic racism in NM starts at the top

Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) director Rachel Gudgel has got to go. Her very presence in government is precisely the representation of systemic racism we must eliminate and hold accountable.

In 2018, our Legislature was tasked with taking immediate action to overhaul the state’s education system after Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that New Mexico was violating our constitutional mandate to provide an adequate and sufficient education – especially to students of color, low-income students, English language learners and students with disabilities. Gudgel’s removal (for allegedly making disparaging remarks about Native Americans) is a key part of living up to that mandate. Her continued presence is an all-too-real embodiment of not standing by our values of anti-racism and of truly holding leadership accountable for their words.

Social science research has proven that racist and disparaging words hurt, and do real and lasting damage, even more so when they come from a key leader of the system seeking to educate and value our youth. Gudgel remaining at the helm means ongoing pain for our pueblo and tribal communities, ongoing pain for our hardworking LESC staff, and ongoing pain for all New Mexicans, knowing that our education system allows racist and hurtful statements to persist, and excuses their perpetrators.

Our system is designed to hold the director of LESC accountable to elected officials, who must ensure that our government is truly representative of our ideals and best interests. Gudgel does not represent us or our values. She does not represent the values of our people. Instead, she has come to represent the change that we must endure to truly transform education and remove systemic racism. Accountability starts at the top, and representation matters.

The decision to keep Gudgel in her position, even for the time being, has sent a ripple through our government. It has undermined our efforts to eliminate systemic racism and caused immense setbacks in our progress to advance an equitable and adequate education system. Sadly, these effects will continue to be felt for years to come.

This fallout is directly embodied in the recent resignation of Regis Pecos, a brilliant and stalwart leader in promoting and producing adequate and equitable education in our state. After decades of service to New Mexico, Pecos has left his position as senior policy adviser for New Mexico’s House of Representatives’ Majority Office in response to the lack of action around Gudgel, holding us all to account for the perpetuation of racism and disparaging remarks that will remain as long as she continues as the director of LESC.

Thus far, the system established to prevent such impunity has failed, so we make this public plea for self-accountability. We ask that Gudgel take responsibility for the weight of her actions and turn in her resignation.

If New Mexico is serious about transforming education in our state and rising from our last-place national ranking, our system must be led by someone who understands the needs of our diverse state, and the weight of racist and disparaging language. We must not only recognize the damage done by such inappropriate words and actions, but also take real, tangible steps to root them out of our system.

As allies of Native communities within our own districts and across our beautiful state, we do not stand with Gudgel or the farce of institutionalism. Rather, we stand with our communities; our pueblos, tribes and nations; and the future of New Mexico’s children.

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