Several months ago members of the NMSA Women of Color Collective gave a presentation to students and staff at an assembly recognizing Indigenous Heritage Month. In conjunction with the presentation, student-created posters were placed around the school to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. On February 16, NMSA was informed one of its students had made a racist and misogynist post on their private Instagram account, by digitally modifying the image of one of these posters.
This was completely unacceptable and we have addressed it as a serious disciplinary matter. We also recognize it as an opportunity to do better as a school in order to ensure that all of our students, including our Indigenous students, feel safe and have a sense of belonging as they learn, grow, and develop as young artists.
While school was out between February 17-21, we sent a message to our students, families, and staff condemning this act, sharing next steps, and apologizing for the harm done. Our school counselor provided support to those students most impacted, and the student who created the offensive image issued an apology, which was emailed to all students and staff. The student will also study the important subject of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and participate in a restorative justice process.
When school resumed on February 22, we met with all NMSA students by grade level to address the incident; to unequivocally communicate that the defacing of this poster was unacceptable, racist, and misogynist; to provide a clear warning against any retaliation directed towards students who brought forward the problem; and to hear student concerns.
On Friday, February 25, a group that included Indigenous NMSA students and community members held a rally outside the school campus to demand that we do more to ensure that Indigenous students feel safe and welcome at our school. A presenter on Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Instruction was leading a workshop for our faculty on campus that day, and he graciously offered to facilitate a dialogue between those protesting and school leadership/staff. We had a productive dialogue, the outcome of which was an agreement to implement three short-term goals: creating a campus space for students of color, holding a day of mourning for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and issuing an apology from the school for harms done. We also agreed that this would be an ongoing process to fully address what is needed for our students to feel safe and have a sense of belonging at NMSA. On Thursday, March 3, we met again with these students and community members to provide updates on these plans.
We are deeply sorry for the hurt this student’s post caused to Indigenous people both in our school community and in our broader New Mexico community. We are very grateful to all those who have taken the time to share their concerns with us, and we hereby pledge a renewed and dedicated effort to address this issue in our school, in order for us to heal and grow as a community. Beyond the three items agreed to on February 25, here are some of our next steps:
- We are working with the Public Education Department’s Bureau of Indian Education to access an upcoming series of professional development modules from UNM designed to support increasing our school’s cultural competence in working with Native American students, using a community approach to improve educational outcomes, effective communication, conflict resolution, etc.
- Regarding the open administrative position, we are currently seeking candidates who have extensive experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion, working with and meeting the needs of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students.
- We will be building our network of discussion facilitators, including Indigenous facilitators, who can help us build a practice of circle discussion work into our school program.
- We are engaging a Restorative Justice expert to bring training and support for the implementation of a schoolwide program.
- We are completing a curriculum review by the end of this school year to identify areas where we need to add more diverse representation, and will be offering an Ethnic and Gender Studies course next school year.
We invite further input from the NMSA community regarding Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice issues. To that end, we have created a specific email address for comments, suggestions, and other feedback: email@example.com. In this process, we have heard clearly from our students that they need us to do more to provide a sense of safety and belonging for all at NMSA, and we are committed to moving ahead together towards healing.