A protest Friday over the University of New Mexico’s official seal, which some students say is racist, culminated in a raucous confrontation in the president’s office.
At least 20 people marched into President Bob Frank’s office on Friday afternoon and asked him if he thought the seal, which features a conquistador and a frontiersman, was racist.
“I don’t,” Frank responded.
His answer triggered almost immediate protest from those who had gathered.
“It’s a shame to be ignorant right now,” someone in the crowd said following Frank’s statement, according to video of the incident on Facebook.
Frank also said he’s open to listening to students’ concerns with the seal.
Some students say the conquistador and the frontiersman on the seal, which was adopted in 1969, though its origins stretch back to the 1910s, glorifies the violent European treatment of natives and is indicative of deeper-seated racism at the state’s flagship university.
In addition to protesting the seal, the students presented a list of demands that includes increasing the number of Native American faculty, the creation of a Native American cultural center and a tuition waiver for students from federally recognized tribes.
“What we’re asking for is the bare minimum of what UNM should have been doing,” said Jennifer Marley, a student from the San Ildefonso Pueblo.
Some protesters wore shirts featuring a revised version of the seal, with the conquistador and the frontiersman standing atop a mountain of rib bones and skulls along with the text, “What Indians?”
They carried neon yellow signs with phrases such as “Bob Frank, abolish the seal” or “No school pride in genocide.”
The protesters first convened outside Scholes Hall, which houses the president’s office. There, they carried picket signs while listening to students share their reasons for protesting the seal.
Students with the Black Student Union and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, a Mexican American group, also spoke. Roughly, three to four dozen protesters joined the event held on an overcast day.
They then burned pieces of paper featuring the seal and later filed into Frank’s office where they asked him about the seal.
The students have also been circulating a petition with their demands. As of Friday afternoon, they had collected just under 200 signatures online, although they were also collecting signatures at the rally on Friday.
Ultimately, it’s the board of regents’ call to change or otherwise alter the seal. Protesters say they plan to attend a May board of regents meeting to discuss the seal and other issues with the regents directly.