The 49ers Fiasco
Every fall, the Student Activities Board (SAB) works with the Student Government Association (SGA) and student volunteers to put on the biggest celebration of the semester: 49ers. During the first half of the semester, the SAB works to design artwork, logos, slogans, posters, and flyers to distribute throughout campus. The logo and slogan often end up on memorabilia that is given to students at 49ers events for free.
This year, the theme for 49ers is masquerade. Julianna Khenaisser, the SAB Advertising Chair, was responsible for creating the artwork for all memorabilia, posters, and flyers, and for putting up and distributing these items to students throughout campus in order to raise awareness and advertise for 49ers.
Dillon Thomas is the Fall Chair of the SAB. "My job is basically to plan and run events on campus for students," he said, "I try to bring new things to people and give more life to campus outside of academics."
"The theme this year was masquerade, it was decided by the SAB last year. So, going with the theme, we were given the job to come up with the slogan and the logo," he continued. "We really wanted to bring back old traditions and events, and we wanted to bring back the risqué logos and slogans to let people have more fun. So, the logo we came up with was more suggestive than last fall's logo."
"I submitted the logo design and slogan to Annine [Gabaldon] and Melissa Begay," said Julianna, "and from there, giveaways were ordered. Then, the night the memorabilia arrived, we were told that none of the memorabilia could be distributed."
"I cannot allow the distribution of the glass, condom, or t-shirt. I understand about $4000.00 has been spent on these items, unfortunately the artwork displayed does not represent New Mexico Tech in a positive way" reads the email from Melissa Jaramillo Fleming, the Dean of Students and head of Student University Relations.
"Simply put, we felt the logo and theme were inappropriate and that it didn't represent New Mexico Tech appropriately. So, we asked them [the SGA and SAB] to discard of them" said Melissa Jaramillo in an interview.
When asked how this year's slogan and logo differ from those of previous years, which were certainly as suggestive if not more so, Melissa responded by saying "I think that over the last few years we have worked towards changing it so it represents NMT, its students, and what we're doing here in a better, or more positive, light."
"The tradition is still there to celebrate 49ers, the activities are still there, so I don't necessarily think that a t-shirt or wanting to change a logo changes the fun. It's how we approach it," she continued.
When asked about her thoughts regarding the administrations role in representing students in events like 49ers, she replied with "We all answer to someone, for something, in some way. My ultimate hope is that we could work together. I never want there to be division between students [...] and I would want us to feel that we are working together for the best for NMT and what we're about. Sometimes we might have to agree to disagree, but we all have to move forward and see how we can improve things for the future. In any partnership there should be a happy medium."
This is where the story really begins.
In the past, the SGA has consulted with NMT administration for a variety of reasons: support for new legislation, requests for additional funding, support for petitions, and more. However, according to the SGA's constitution and the student handbook, the SGA does not answer to administration, but to the student body and the Board of Regents. The Vice President of the SGA, along with members of the Senate and the SAB, attended the Board of Regents meeting on Friday, October 13th, one day after Melissa's email was sent. At the meeting, they explained the situation to the board members, and asked for a decision. Rather than making a decision, however, the Board of Regents "deferred to administration", giving their power to the administration.
You might be wondering "if the Board of Regents deferred to admins, and admins said to dispose of the memorabilia, what's the problem?"
The problem is multi-faceted, and it will be difficult to cover everything in this one article. Given that, some have said that the first part of the problem is censorship. Another part of the problem is the involvement of Title IX and sexism. And yet another part of the problem is the precedent this entire situation sets for the future of the SGA.
Let's begin with the censorship aspect first. The vast majority of students on campus are autonomous adults, and as adults, many members of the SGA have argued that the administration's decision to dispose of memorabilia that contained this logo constitutes censorship. By every definition of the word, these students are correct. Paydirt reached out to President Wells for a statement:
"The 49ers event at NMT is one that our students look forward every year as a time that they step away from the academic pressures and join in campus activities that have carried on for decades such as 'Painting the M.' My administration wants our students to enjoy this time. However, the celebration must be conducted in a manner that is consistent with a caring, safe, open, and inclusive environment for all students, reflecting a campus ethos at the highest level of integrity and ethics. "
"The memorabilia created by some of our students for the 49ers event does not reflect this ethos. Rather, it can be interpreted through its images and working in a manner that degrades women and suggests irresponsible sexual behavior. Thus, my administration has respectively informed those students pushing for such memorabilia that it will be not associated with or distributed for the 49ers event or any other NMT activity."
This statement clearly illustrates that the NMT administration feels strongly about the logo and slogan, but the question remains: is it the administration's right to decide what kind of art elected members of the SGA create? Is it the administration's right to censor the artwork of students, especially when the artwork and memorabilia would be distributed to the students in the end? At what point does a good-will relationship between the administration and the SGA cross the line into censorship and control? Everyone has their own opinions about this, and everyone deserves a voice in this conversation. When the decision was made, it was made before the Board of Regents deferred their authority. This is a clear overstepping by administration, but it is an overstepping based on previous interactions with the SGA.
Title IX and Sexism
As for the involvement of Title IX and sexism, the student body needs to have a conversation with the SGA and administration.
"I don't think it's [the logo] putting women in a compromising situation. I'm a student. I made this for the students. I think that there are concerns about the kind of environment they want Tech to be, and I don't think that we want it to be an environment where we have to take ourselves seriously if we don't want to. I don't think we want it to be an environment where we can't have some fun," said Julianna. "[the administration] tends to be more sensitive to artwork that is revealing of women," she continued. "it sends a bad message. It says that women shouldn't be comfortable with their bodies, and it says that men can't control themselves. The most you can say about the logo is that it implies sexuality. It's not explicit" Julianna explained, "I never intended it to be something degrading. I don't think that's what it portrays. I wanted to show women in a position of power."
After reaching out to Melissa Jaramillo, Dr. Wells, and several students regarding this, the assumption was that the logo was banned because of Title IX, yet nowhere in correspondences from administration did Title IX violations come up, although it very easily could have, given the fact that NMT is under investigation for Title IX violations. Even if Title IX was used as the reasoning behind the admin's decision, it could be argued that nothing was violated. The memorabilia doesn't discriminate against women (according to the artist), and it is representative of a more accepting and sex-positive culture. Additionally, the implication that riding crops and leashes (often used in kinkier sexual activities) represent "irresponsible sexual behavior" is inherently sexist and sex-negative. If the administration's wants students to be responsible in and out of the classroom, shaming non-traditional sex is a questionable way to accomplish that goal.
Finally, there is the issue of the precedent that is being set. Because of the administration's relationship with the SGA, and given that the SGA's power is derived from the student body and the Board of Regents, this situation poses a dangerous precedent for future disagreements.
Since the administration's decision was made before the Board of Regents deferred their authority, administrators could use this situation as leverage for why they should have authority over the SGA. This fundamentally violates the spirit under which the SGA operates. In the future, if the SGA advocates for students on campus in a capacity that the administration disagrees with, the fact that they have now successfully exercised authority over the independent student-run government will give them greater power in future negotiations. While this is unlikely, the possibility is inherently harmful to the operation of the SGA. The student government exists to represent and serve the students. In some instances, that means standing up to and fighting against administration. What good will the SGA be as a representative body if they are unable to fight for the interests of the students against the interests of the administration?
This is the reason the SGA is fighting so hard against this decision. This is the real issue, and it has the potential to change more than just the logos and slogans for 49ers. Every decision made by the SGA and the administration is like a brick being laid down in a wall. New decisions will be based on the outcomes of previous decisions. If one brick is laid incorrectly, it can alter the structure of the entire wall. This is absolutely worth fighting for, and it is absolutely in the best interests of the students to be informed of the situation.
-Garrett Massey, Paydirt Editor-in-Chief
Letter of Grievance
To: Office of the President, Dean of Students, and the Office for Student and University Relations
From: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Undergraduate Student Body
Student Government Association of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Date: October 16 2017
Subject: Censorship of Student Activities Board 49ers Memorabilia
To Office of the President, Dean of Students, and the Office for Student and University Relations:
We are writing this letter in regards to the Administration’s decision not to allow the distribution of, and to dispose of, the memorabilia created by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Student Activity Board (SAB), an executive agency of the Student Government Association of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (SGANMIMT), for the 2017 celebration of 49ers. The stated reason for this decision was only that “the artwork displayed does not represent New Mexico Tech in a positive way.” The memorabilia in question included glasses, t-shirts, and condoms costing approximately $4,000 out of the SGANMIMT Budget. The NMIMT Administration has stated that the memorabilia in question does not violate any state or federal laws, including Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.
It is our belief that the Administration has vastly overstepped the authority they have by ordering the SAB not to give out the already purchased memorabilia, as the SGANMIMT is not under the Administration but is a representative means of self-government for the undergraduate student body. The SGANMIMT derives its authority from the NMIMT Board of Regents, and the Administration’s decision was made before the Board of Regents deferred the decision to the Administration. Specifically, the SAB and the SGANMIMT were informed of the Administration’s decision Thursday October 12 2017 at around 5 pm; whereas, the NMIMT Board of Regents did not defer their decision until Friday October 13 2017 at approximately 3 pm. The founding principles of the SGANMIMT is to be the voice of the student body and to defend their rights from being trampled upon by the Administration or other organizations. Since the SGANMIMT is wholly separate from the Administration, the Administration does not have the authority to censor or prohibit the actions of the SGANMIMT in any regards unless State or Federal laws or NMIMT policies are violated.
We believe the Administration overstepped their jurisdiction when they did not provide an explanation that showed how the SAB was in violation of any State or Federal laws or that the logo violated a specific policy put in place by NMIMT and commanded the memorabilia not to be distributed before gaining the proper approval of the NMIMT Board of Regents. As such, since the Administration failed to provide a just cause for the censorship of the logo and acted unilaterally, we are insisting upon a reversal of the decision and that the distribution of the already-purchased memorabilia be allowed.