Criticism of the University of New Mexico’s official seal continued this week at a sometimes contentious community forum.
More than 60 people attended the forum, which took place at the Student Union Building Thursday night after regular business hours and during the summer semester.
The debate focuses on the official seal’s imagery of a conquistador and a frontiersman, figures that some students, employees and community members have said glorifies violent European treatment of Native Americans during the colonization of the Americas.
“This is a symbol of oppression,” said Tony Padilla while wearing a shirt featuring Native Americans holding rifles and the text “The original homeland security.” Padilla, a 2014 graduate of UNM, also hand-delivered a protest letter to administrators.
Protest of the seal has been ongoing since 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.
About 20 people spoke, almost all in favor of changing the seal. Their comments were often meet with cheers from the audience.
Only one spoke in favor of retaining the current design. Another said it should be updated, but spoke in defense of the conquistador figure.
Patrick Marron, who wore a baseball cap with the slogan of the presumptive Republican candidate for president Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again,” likened attempts to change the seal to “cultural Marxists trying to destroy our traditions and history.”
“All you’re doing is creating animosity,” Marron said.
While criticism has been focused on the imagery, the protesting students have also said the seal is emblematic of a deeper-seated racism at the school. In addition to changing the seal, the protesting students, many of them Native Americans, have a made a list of demands that include 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.
The forum was the first of several planned by the university. Others will be focused on gathering the opinions of staff, alumni and others close to the university. Jozi de Leon, the administrator overseeing discussion about the seal, said at the forum she expects to present a plan to the board of regents regarding the future of the seal in the fall.