The University of New Mexico's seal has been in use for about 46 years. But a group of Native American students and advocates are hoping it won't last much longer.
Student organization the Kiva Club and local leadership group Red Nation launched a campaign this month to get the university to nix its seal and be more welcoming to the Native American community. They argue the seal, which shows a conquistador and frontiersman, is racist because it promotes colonialism, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
“I saw it, and I was like, ‘Is this really true?’” Nick Estes, the doctoral student leading the protest, said at a recent meeting. “This is my interpretation of what that actually means. I actually couldn’t believe it. I didn’t actually think that this was a real thing that the University of New Mexico would be doing.”
The University of New Mexico, a public school with more than 27,000 students, first adopted the seal in question in 1969. It was based on the design of former university president Edward Dundas McQueen Gray, an Englishman. This month, Estes unveiled a redesign of his own, depicting the conquistador and frontiersman standing on top of bones with the message "What Indians?" stamped across the logo in red.
“How can we even begin to have the conversation of structural inequalities if you have dehumanizing imagery of us?” Estes told KRQE.
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Current university president Bob Frank said he was open to a discussion about changing the seal — a decision that would require approval from the board of regents. Other administrators agreed. "We should be open to listening to the concerns of the students,” Jozi de Leon, vice president for equity and inclusion, told the Albuquerque Journal.
More than 100 people have signed an online petition demanding the seal be replaced, noting that schools across the country have spent the past year removing Confederate imagery in response to similar concerns about spreading hateful messages. The protesters also want the University of New Mexico to build a Native cultural center and have more Native American representation on its board of regents.
About 10 percent of New Mexico's population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native alone, according to Census data.