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Seeking higher standards for UNM behavior

It’s time to set the record straight.

I am a teacher, a graduate student, a mother of four children who attend Albuquerque Public Schools and one of the many supporters of the New Mexico Coalition for Equity and Justice.

Despite the fear of being targeted and possible retaliation, I am here to speak up for what led to the formation of this coalition and what the real arguments are.

First of all, it’s not just about the changes that were made to the Bridge scholarship. We are battling against an institutional system and its power holders that have demonstrated a top-down approach in running a public institution.

What many do not know is that changes to the Bridge scholarship had been made public at a high school counselors’ breakfast before the University of New Mexico community had been informed.

It was a Facebook post that alerted students and the wider community that changes had been launched by university administrators without any input from anyone or any program at UNM. Counselors were already informing high school students and their families that they would no longer be eligible for this scholarship if they did not have a 3.0 and – not or – at least a 23 on their ACT. The nation’s average ACT score in 2012 was a 21.1 and New Mexico’s was a 19.9. This gives you an idea where students stand as a whole in regards to the ACT.

It was after we learned that the changes had been launched without input that a forum was organized.

In the days that followed, numerous students and families shared their accounts with us, in great despair. This change would have caused great economic hardships for students, and they were realizing they could no longer apply to UNM.

Community organizations were approached for help. That’s when students and community leaders decided to coalesce and hold a forum with Provost Chaouki Abdallah.

The argument has now shifted with a lack of facts and data.

People are asking, “Don’t we want only the brightest and the best at UNM?” Who could argue with that? But statements such as these continue to miss the point.

The reality remains that our nation’s children continue to receive their education in disparately unequal school systems that continue to favor some over others. One needs to only look at the alarming achievement data to realize that our educational system is flawed and continues to leave many behind.

Is it that “these” students are deficient? Is it that they just don’t work hard enough? Is it that their families just don’t care about education? These are the types of loaded arguments that are being brought forth. They are loaded because they are based on the erroneous belief that students of color are just not able to make the grade.

The coalition is not taking the position that students of color can’t earn above a 3.0 GPA and at least a 23 on the ACT. We all know that our students can make it, especially when structures and opportunities are in place that will allow them to flourish.

What we are saying is that we will no longer tolerate the many exclusionary acts that students and the community have had to endure from insensitive university power holders.

Is it really so outrageous to ask the provost and other UNM administrators to adequately inform and include the UNM community and the larger community in decision-making processes and policy changes involving and affecting students? Is it wrong to ask the university to use the lens of equity and inclusion when making policy changes that will affect New Mexican students and communities?

We are saying that the educational playing field is far from being level and most importantly that the University of New Mexico and other state institutions need to practice inclusion. We do not support exclusion.

The New Mexico Coalition for Equity and Justice is made up individuals and organizations throughout the state concerned about access, equity and social justice issues. Virginia Necochea is a UNM doctoral student.

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