Protest of the University of the New Mexico’s official seal over what some students call racist imagery continued to inch forward Thursday with an unusually boisterous committee meeting of the regents.
Roughly two dozen students with highlighter-yellow protest signs with statements such as “No school pride in genocide” dominated the public forum section of the Academic/Student Affairs and Research Committee on Thursday afternoon.
That committee is made up of three regents as well as Provost Chaouki Abdallah and the heads of the faculty senate and staff council.
Some students say the seal, which features a conquistador and a frontiersman, glorifies the violent European treatment of Natives.
The students were not part of the meeting’s agenda. Regent Brad Hosmer, the head of that committee, said the students’ absence on the schedule was because the committee had yet to find anyone who supported the seal, whose origins trace back to 1910, though the most recent iteration was adopted in 1969.
That got the audience attention. Many murmured. Someone shouted, “Maybe that should tell you something.”
At least the first hour of the meeting was lively. Protesters would snap their fingers or clap while others spoke in favor of abolishing the seal and righting the deeper-seated racism against Native Americans. Students again reiterated their list of 11 demands, which includes increasing the number of Native Americans on faculty, the creation of a Native American cultural center and tuition waivers for members of federally recognized tribes.
Former Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduño also joined the protest Thursday.
“As long as UNM holds onto this heraldry, there will be no change,” he said. “The disrespect needs to be removed to move forward.”
Hosmer ended the public comment period with a brief reflection.
“This is a subject that calls for a dialogue,” he said. “I have heard no proposals other than demolition today.”
Three-quarters of the room emptied after public comment. As Hosmer moved forward with the rest of the meeting, the din of the protesters in the hallway could still be heard. Virginia Scharff, an associate provost, talked with the protesters after the meeting and said the office would listen to students’ concerns about the seal.
“It’s not surprising we see this kind of process of rethinking what represents us because over time this institution has changed an enormous amount,” Scharff said at the start of the meeting. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to see our seal anew through your eyes.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the board of regents to alter or change UNM’s official seal.