The seal at The University of New Mexico will remain the same – for now. The UNM Board of Regents’ voted unanimously today to approve two of six recommendations to abolish the university seal, but stopped short of approving a complete change by removing the existing figures, a Spanish conquistador and a frontiersman, and replacing them with something more inclusive, aspirational, honoring diversity and/or defining of an institution of higher learning.
The recommendations the Board approved as part of the motion included determining the mechanism for redesigning the seal by appointing an inclusive committee, and to engage in a comprehensive cost analysis that determines the phased out plan for eliminating the seal and replacing it.
“This motion says we are receptive to the concerns by determining a way to change the seal and how we going to pay for it,” said Regent Jack Fortner.
The official seal came under intense scrutiny earlier this year after Native American students, including members of the UNM Kiva Club, and The Red Nation, an off-campus Native American advocacy group, said the current seal is offensive in glorifying the violent treatment of natives. UNM has one of the highest populations of Native American students in the U.S.
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Jozi De Leon, who has helped guide the discussion over the course of the past six months beginning last May, presented an overview of the work her committee did to the full board, the first time ever the seal has been brought to the full board according to De Leon.
“What I heard was let’s wait and see what the cost is going to be,” said De Leon. “I think that was the major concern that I heard during this budget climate that we have to be concerned about anything that’s going to cost the university additional money. But I didn’t hear a ‘no.’ I heard a lot of concerns and I’m hoping they understood that by accepting the numbers, they are validating the individuals that did show up and did weigh-in. I’m hopeful in that we didn’t hear a no.”
One of the areas of concern for the Regents was the amount of responses during the six-month process that included five fora and two special meetings. The Office of Academic Affairs, in cooperation with the President and Board of Regents, hosted the public forums to gather input from alumni, faculty, staff, students, and community members.
Individuals had the opportunity to provide feedback to the administration and the regents by responding to email requests for reactions and suggestions sent through faculty, staff, student or alumni listservs. They could also attend one of several fora where participants voiced their opinions either verbally or through written comments on index cards.
However, only 395 people voiced their opinions on the matter, mostly students (139), who attended the forums, said the seal should be changed. Most respondents via email included alumni (23) and staff (28). Eighty-seven staff participated, while only 46 faculty chose to voice their opinion through either medium during the process. Overall, 236 individuals voted to change the seal.
“We could have done a survey that would have increased the sample size, but that certainly would not have gotten us to where we want to go in terms of having a vibrant discussion about why the seal was offensive, who it offended and how we might include a more inclusive seal,” said De Leon. “I still believe that the process was really the most important process we could have engaged in as a university and anything les than that might have led us to higher numbers, but maybe not the same path and not as important a process in terms of engaging folks and creating understanding.”
Several themes did emerge through the process including:
Bigger Challenges (BC) – UNM has bigger challenges to address and changing the seal is viewed as frivolous or the cost of changing the seal during this financial climate is problematic;
Diversity/ Inclusion (D/I)- UNM is a different university today than when the seal was created and the seal does not speak to the institution’s value statement about diversity and inclusion nor is it inclusive or various groups i.e., women, African Americans, a growing international population;
Hiding History (HH)– any changes to the seal will be negating or hiding a historical past that is important to remember or can be used as a teaching moment;
Offensive (O)– the seal is offensive because of its focus on a painful and violent history toward Native Americans and other New Mexico populations or racist in its sole inclusion of White European colonizers and aggressors.
Symbols Problematic (SP)– the frontiersman, conquistador, the swords/weapons, UNM Script and the absence of Native Americans is problematic; include symbols that represent UNM as an educational institution or use NM symbols/imagery – i.e., Sandia Mountains, Sun, Rio Grande
Tradition (T)– any changes to the seal will impact UNM tradition or the seal is an important symbol representative of the UNM experience.
De Leon says an inclusive committee will be formed to continue the process.
“We’ll continue to move forward,” she said. “I’m hoping this will mean, as we look at redesigns, that we will find some designs that are feasible, and that are cost-effective so that we can do both – be concerned about the budget, but also be concerned about the change and look for something that’s agreeable to a number of people.”
Other recommendations which weren’t voted on included the development of a short-term response to students who are graduating and do not wish to wear the regalia with the seal, and the development of a plan for how diplomas will be transitioned, and an option to purchase a new diploma.
At the Board of Regents meeting, several members of the Kiva Club spoke up in favor of changing the university seal including Hope Alvarado, who said: “It is imperative that we recognize, for lack of a better word, diversity and that all of our students feel represented on this campus.”
ASUNM President Kyle Biederwolf said, “One of the strengths of our University is our diversity; that each of us defines all of us. ASUNM believes the seal doesn’t reflect that commitment to diversity and is not inclusive of our student body. We urge the board to abolish the seal.”
The seal has been affixed on diplomas and used as a backdrop at some UNM events for 46 years. Several entities at UNM use the seal including the president’s office, the university’s secretary and the Board of Regents use the seal on official documents. The seal is also stamped on students’ diplomas.
The earliest known seal appears on the University catalog and resembles the Territorial Seal of New Mexico. The first appearance of a conquistador and a frontiersman appears in 1909 under President Edward Dundas MacQueen. Since then, the seal has undergone seven iterations and has been redesigned each time. The latest design was ratified and approved by the Board of Regents in 1969 and trademarked in 2010. A vote by the Board of Regents is required to change it.
If you would like to send your comments regarding the Seal, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For comparative consideration, visit other university seals.
For more UNM historical information, visit UNM seals.