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Discussions start on a new seal for UNM

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

After some students called it racist, the University of New Mexico’s nearly half-a-century-old seal might be changed.

UNM President Bob Frank announced Friday morning that he and his staff have started discussions about creating a new image to replace the current seal that features a conquistador and frontiersman, figures some say are racist and glorify violent European treatment of Native Americans. Others say it represents Spain’s role in the founding of New Mexico.

Frank told the Board of Regents he met with some students to discuss the seal on Thursday.

“It was a very educational experience for me,” Frank said.

The announcement comes weeks after students staged protests about the seal. The largest protest took place last month outside Scholes Hall, home to the office of the president. They carried loud speakers and highlighter-yellow picket signs that said “Abolish the racist seal.”

This is an image of the University of New Mexico's current official seal

This is an image of the University of New Mexico’s current official seal. Some student groups say the seal is racist and offensive. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Protest of the seal has been ongoing since the student group Kiva Club, a Native American student group, and the Red Nation, a Native American advocacy group, first raised their complaints about the seal earlier this year.

The protesters say it’s emblematic of deeper-seated racism at the university, and they also have a list of demands that 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.

University officials have already started talking to students about the seal, and on Thursday they hosted a sparsely attended public forum – during finals week.

Jozi de Leon, head of UNM’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, said her staff would start discussions with groups such as staff and alumni who are available during the summer, and UNM will host a second public forum in August.

The university also emailed a survey earlier this month asking students to share their thoughts on the seal, then yanked it. De Leon said the site where the survey was hosted allowed students to take the survey multiple times.

Head of the Board of Regents Rob Doughty wrote an Op-Ed in the Journal in which he said it may be time to consider changing the seal.

“A seal should be a core reflection of the university’s identity, and it is important that it be an accurate reflection of who we are now and for the foreseeable future,” Doughty wrote. “If one agrees with that idea, then the students who have raised the issue have a righteous claim because this seal seems to fail that test.”

The current seal has been around since 1969, though its origins can be traced back to the 1910s.

Conversations at UNM have thus far been mostly focused on changing the seal, with most in favor.

But three members of the public offered a different view during the public forum portion of Friday’s regents meeting. While they didn’t say the seal should remain the same, two said they didn’t believe the conquistadors had committed genocide against Native Americans. One person suggested that the seal retain the conquistador and frontiersman, while adding a Native American.

Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, said removing the conquistador would be denying the role the Spanish played in colonizing New Mexico.

“Modifying yes, removing is unacceptable,” he said.

He suggested getting rid of the conquistador’s sword, and maybe have him riding a horse.

Ultimately, it’s the Board of Regents’ decision to change or alter the seal.