I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico today to speak to the 2016 Conclave of state, tribal, and federal judges and lawyers. There is an interesting forum being held nearby at the University of New Mexico where students and faculty are debating the change to the school’s seal which features a Spanish conquistador and a frontiersman. The Native American group The Red Nation have declared the seal to be offensive. Critics are calling the seal a celebration of colonization. The seal is approaching its 50th anniversary at the school. It was adopted in 1969.
The University of New Mexico first developed an official university seal in 1898 that resembled the Territorial Seal of the State of New Mexico. The seal has undergone seven changes and the latest design was the work of an Englishman,the former university president Edward Dundas McQueen Gray. The current design was ratified and approved by the Board of Regents in 1969.
Student organization Kiva Club and Red Nation insist that the seal creates a hostile environmental for the Native American community. Those opposing the seal have come up with their own satirical version showing the bones of dead Native Americans:
Students objected, declaring that it is impossible to “have the conversation of structural inequalities if you have dehumanizing imagery of us.” University President Bob Frank has welcomed the debate and supports today’s forum.
Though there are distinctions, the debate is similar to controversies that we have discussed at other universities over names and images that are now viewed problematic or offensive. Universities reflect the history of a nation — good and bad. Some of us have opposed changes like the effort to remove references to Woodrow Wilson at Princeton as destroying that history. Historical symbols and references remind us of both the good and bad aspects of our evolution as a nation. That history is part of us.
That does not mean that this seal, which is only 50 years old, should not be changed. It is troubling that Native Americans are not represented. Frankly, I was surprised by the omission and I do not believe that the opposition should be dismissed as hypersensitive. This seal was only adopted in 1969 and does not appear to be deeply rooted in the university. I wish that I could attend the forum to hear both sides of this debate. The question however is whether all three groups should be represented since all three groups had profound impacts on this rich culture. Of course, one approach is to go with a design without any historical figures depicted or the use of a symbol like the state flag.
What do you think?