Border Tensions

At New Mexico State, a growing conflict between Latino students and Republicans -- and charges of a cover-up.
December 9, 2005

A conflict among the College Republicans at New Mexico State University has escalated to charges of a purge of Hispanic students from the group, and is now drawing the attention of Latino faculty members at the university.

In addition, one Hispanic student who says she was kicked out of the Republican group because of her views on immigration asserts that she is being pressured to recant her criticism of how she was treated.

The conflict dates to mid-November, when the Republicans discussed endorsing the idea of using "minuteman" patrols on the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants. Hispanic students say that when they objected, they were forced out of the group.

On Thursday, one of the students who was asked to leave said that she was pressured to defend the group and lie about intimidation she faced after being impeached from her position overseeing the  group's finances. Latinos on the campus said that they were angry about the expulsion of that student and another Hispanic student -- they said in violation of university rules -- and by reports that they had been subject to racial harassment previously.

One Hispanic student in the group said she faced disparaging complaints about people of Mexican decent and often heard racist Mexican jokes in her presence. The student also indicated Thursday that she was chastised for not supporting minutemen border patrols.

“I was starting to feel hurt, and a little confused, I mean are we not all attending the same university, working similar jobs, and in the same organization?!” the student noted in her blog.  “I was a little hurt, but like an idiot I did nothing, but just cry and then think that I was overreacting to the whole thing.

“They asked me if my grandfather and my father made honest livings in this country that was so nice to not send them back,” she wrote. “I was crushed, these were once people who I hung out with, and who I worked side by side with on political campaigns.”

Leaders of the Republican group deny the allegations, though their efforts to defend themselves have led to a new controversy.

Grant Olson, president of the College Republicans, arranged a joint telephone conversation on Thursday afternoon with one of the Latino students who was kicked out. During the conversation with Inside Higher Ed, the student made statements contrary to those posted in her blog. She indicated that she had not been kicked out or mistreated.

However, soon after the phone conversation ended, the student called back, and had a vastly different story to tell, saying that Olson and the group's faculty adviser had pressured her to say that nothing had happened.

The student said that members who kicked her out promised to make her life miserable if she didn’t go along with the plan to “clean up everything.” “I lied [during the speaker phone conversation] because I didn’t want them to pressure me anymore,” she said.

Gregory Butler, a professor of government at the university who advises the group, said he didn't know about the Latino students being ousted from the group, and he strongly denied that anyone had pressured them to say anything. “I didn’t say anything about making this go away. I called to find out the facts," he said.

Olson added during the conference call that the organization appreciated disagreement because “we want to encourage free and open debate…. We want to understand why people believe what they believe.”

Laura Gutierrez Spencer, director of ethnic programs at the university, said that faculty members have become concerned after receiving a letter about the incidents from a recent alumnus of the university, who has publicized the conflict online.

“Other ethnic directors and I are very concerned,” she said.“ We are hoping that the dean’s office will investigate this situation.” She said she was outraged by reports that the Latino student had been pressured to alter her story. “This is absolutely untenable,” she said.

An associate dean is expected to meet with faculty members regarding the situation today.

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