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Thousands of UNM students learning how to curb sexual misconduct

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Nearly 16,000 students at the University of New Mexico’s main campus have participated in training meant to curb sexual misconduct, and the university is planning to reach thousands more by year’s end to ensure compliance with its U.S. Department of Justice agreement.

UNM signed the agreement a year ago today in the wake of a 16-month DOJ investigation into how the state’s largest university handled sexual assault cases. Its requirements include that the university administer “The Grey Area” training program to all undergraduates – with a few exceptions – by the end of the 2017 fall semester.

The 1½- to 2-hour training covers “healthy relationships, ‘hooking up,’ consent, bystander intervention and sexual assault,” plus reporting options and UNM policy, according to UNM’s website.

So far, 13,982 have taken it, according to a progress report UNM sent to the DOJ on Monday.

Graduate and professional students must take a specific version of “The Grey Area” training by Dec. 31; UNM says 1,954 have completed it.

UNM has more than 26,000 students enrolled this semester, but some are exempted from the training based on their limited course loads or presence on campus or their involvement in non-degree-granting programs. Officials could not say Monday exactly how many students still need the training, but “we anticipate training several thousand additional students with the dozens of sessions still scheduled before the end of the year,” Libby Washburn, chief of staff and chief compliance officer, said in a written statement.

UNM also has not determined how it will enforce the training requirement; Washburn said the school will decide early next year how to handle students who failed to participate.

The progress report – which was not mandated by the agreement – comes one year into the three-year agreement UNM signed after the DOJ determined the university was not complying with laws that prohibit sex discrimination and had discombobulated policies on sexual misconduct and a confusing reporting structure.

More than 90 percent of UNM’s faculty, staff and student employees in 2016 took an online training course titled “Intersections: Preventing Discrimination and Harassment,” according to the report.

Employees who deal more specifically with sexual misconduct cases, like campus police and Office of Equal Opportunity staff, have completed a combined 1,500 hours of additional training in areas related to Title IX, rape crisis and “trauma informed investigation,” according to the new report.

“In the past year, UNM has made substantial progress in complying with the delineated tasks and implementing improvements,” the report states.

But the report also acknowledges the scope of the challenge. Despite the progress, UNM “has more work to do in attempting to change attitudes and behaviors,” it says.

Officials are also revising policies related to sexual misconduct and equal opportunity, and plan to put them out for comment this academic year, and bolstering staffing ranks in areas like training and advocacy.

Meeting the terms and the added staff will cost an estimated $1.5 million during the three-year agreement, UNM said in a news release.

If the DOJ determines UNM is not complying with terms, the parties have 60 days to reach a resolution. If that does not happen, the department “may initiate civil enforcement proceedings in federal court,” according to the agreement.

Compliance has not come without controversy – some professors have opposed a UNM policy that requires all faculty members to file reports with the Office of Equal Opportunity when they are told about any sexual violence involving a student. The Faculty Senate objected in a formal resolution that says “scholarly research” shows that mandatory reporting can have a negative impact on victims.

Interim president Chaouki Abdallah has convened a task force to look at the employee reporting requirements; it “may suggest changes” to the policy, according to the report.