Police intervene after talks between NMSU graduate student union and administration break down

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LAS CRUCES — Negotiations between the New Mexico State University administration and a union working on better terms for graduate students broke down on Tuesday, prompting a call for police to ease tensions.

A graduate student, Lauren Jackson, who called an offer from NMSU administration ‘insulting’, at one point tore up a draft contract and threw the torn pieces of paper into a room where senior brass were meeting of the University.

Gena Jones, the university’s assistant vice president for human resources, later told officers the pieces of paper hit her in the face, according to a police report. A responding officer asked Jones if she wanted to press charges for assault, but ultimately decided against it, the report said.

NMSU graduate students have been campaigning for better working conditions for years and in May were union certification through the state labor board. The union continued to hold public rallies, often at Hadley Hall, the seat of NMSU administration.

‘Listen to us’

On Tuesday, union and NMSU administration leaders met for a bargaining session at Hadley Hall.

After back and forth that resulted in no resolution, the university administration decided to end negotiations for the day.

Jackson said the students wanted to further explain to NMSU leaders why they thought the university’s proposal was not acceptable. A group of about 25 students gathered in the lobby of Hadley Hall, outside the assembly hall, while NMSU administrators were inside the hall.

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The students chanted “listen to us” and at one point knocked on the door of the meeting room to attract the attention of those inside.

NMSU General Counsel Roy Collins III opened the door slightly.

Graduate students Jackson and Dan Vargo — both from the Fish Wildlife and Conservation Ecology department — were at the door trying to deliver a message letting NMSU administration know what they thought of the latest offering.

Vargo wrote a big “NO” in red ink on his copy and slipped it inside the room while Jackson tore up his copy and said, “that’s what we think of your proposal” all throwing the pieces of paper around the room.

Collins closed the door and the group inside the meeting room had no further contact with the students outside.

Addressing the Sun-News Later Tuesday, Jackson claims she couldn’t see past Collins and didn’t know the torn pieces of paper she threw around the room had hit anyone.

The police called

An NMSU police report written by Sgt. John Lovelace said officers were first dispatched to the scene because a caller claimed students were throwing staplers. Lovelace said officers found no evidence to support that claim.

The NMSUPD made contact with the students gathered outside the assembly hall and established that the party was not doing anything illegal. Lovelace spoke with NMSU administrators inside the meeting room when he was made aware that Jackson had thrown the pieces of paper into the room.

“While talking with Jones, I asked her if she wanted to press charges against Jackson. She originally said she was, but then changed her mind,” Lovelace wrote in the report.

Lovelace said he then approached the group outside the meeting room to speak to Jackson, but learned that she had left.

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In his report, Lovelace claimed that he tried to contact Jackson by phone and that his calls went to voicemail each time. Jackson denied receiving calls or any other attempts to contact NMSUPD.

Jackson, who is black, said she was concerned when she heard from people at Hadley Hall that the police were looking for her.

“The assault by a black student is a very serious complaint, especially with the seriousness police have with black people across the country and they potentially put Lauren’s life in danger because of her posture,” Vargo said.

The union and NMSU administration plan to return to the table in August.

Read the police report:

Annya Loya is a generalist journalist and can be contacted at [email protected] or @annyaloya on Twitter.

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