The University of New Mexico is under fire to change its seal. The current seal depicts two Spanish conquistadors. This is part of a wider movement asking for universities to remove controversial symbols. This includes calls to rename Calhoun College at Yale, remove Wilson imagery at Princeton, or change the Harvard Law School Crest. This movement is not exclusive to the US. Similar calls are being made to remove perceived symbols of colonialism in South Africa and elsewhere. Nor are these calls exclusive to the political left. Conservatives at my alma mater want to get rid of a Che Guevara mural.
I for one am against these calls.
I am against these calls on the basis that I do not feel college campuses should be safe spaces. Students should be exposed to ideas they may found troubling in college. Students need not embrace these ideas. I am not making the case that we should re-institute slavery or attack the nearest Indian reservation. Students are free to, and I hope, reject these ideas but they should be exposed to them if only so they know their weaknesses.
More importantly though I feel that it whitewashes history. I am against these calls for the same reason I dislike seeing whites celebrate Native American Day. Removing symbols of colonialism or observing an indigenous people’s day are good symbols that efforts are underway to correct historical injustices. However in practice they are a way for people to pat themselves on the back for being socially progressive and little else.
There are many things that could be done to improve the welfare of Indians, but few have the drive to carry them out. Why should they? Instead of changing bad public policy they can get rid of a seal or statue and think they’ve done their part. If they’re particularly lazy they can change their facebook display image to include a rainbow or French flag. Symbols of colonialism should be kept and used to remind people that historical injustices continue to be propagated.
In the specific case of the UNM seal I am concerned that it is too easy for attacks against Spanish conquistadors to be turned into general attacks against the Columbian exchange. The enslavement and massacre of Indians was awful. However it is difficult, especially since I am a mestizo, to believe that the interaction between the two worlds was ultimately for the worse. To the contrary the exchange made the world richer.
Pizza is a prime example of this. Pizza could not exist prior to the Columbian exchange. Europeans lacked tomatoes and native Americans lacked wheat. The first pizza was made in Italy, but even then what most of us think of pizza has its roots in New York City. Pizza is a mestizo, half European half American. If UNM does change its seal it should consider having a native and conquistador sharing a slice.