Sexual misconduct training gets mixed reviews - Albuquerque Journal

Sexual misconduct training gets mixed reviews

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

One student described it as “interesting and engaging.”

Another dubbed it “garbage.”

The University of New Mexico’s sexual misconduct prevention training has earned mixed reviews from the students who must take it under the university’s three-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some applaud the tone of “The Grey Area” program and say it provides important information; others question its usefulness and complain about having to take it, according to documents the university recently sent to the DOJ.

But the feedback – included in a new status report from UNM to the DOJ – also indicates the training has been an effective educational tool.

More than 75 percent of students agreed they better understood sexual assault and Title IX after the presentation.

A similar number agreed they had more confidence recognizing sexual behavior that violates UNM policy and felt more confident about reporting sexual harassment or assault to UNM.

The feedback shows UNM has helped shift the campus culture in a short span, according to Lisa Lindquist, director of the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center, which provides “The Grey Area” trainers.

“A year ago, when we were entering into all of this and thinking what this would look like, it was so daunting to think, ‘How are we even going to move the needle on it,’ ” Lindquist said. “A year later and (we can) say, ‘Wow, we really have.’ ”

UNM’s new report includes more than 150 pages of student feedback. It represents opinions from more than 5,000 students who responded to an email questionnaire UNM sends after the training.

Ninety percent of respondents agreed that the presentation was organized and easy to follow, and 76 percent agreed they better understood Title IX, a federal sex discrimination law, after the session.

“I am so happy that UNM is facilitating these types of lectures,” one participant commented in an evaluation. “It is long overdue, and something that I think is important for people to hear on a recurrent basis.”

But only 60 percent agreed with the statement “the topics covered in this presentation were relevant to me,” and several challenged its relevancy.

“A lot of the presentation made me feel like I was being talked to like a child. Most of the topics should be common sense to others,” one student wrote.

Lindquist has seen such critiques but said she believes most participants get something valuable from it. UNM offers variations of the “The Grey Area” for undergraduate, graduate and professional students and that facilitators attempt to engage participants at their own level, she said.

UNM would need DOJ approval to make significant changes to the program, but Lindquist said the university is considering the feedback and will try to address the prevalent criticism that the sessions are too long.

Currently, UNM asks students to plan for two hours, which includes time for check-in, the formal program and small group breakouts.

UNM signed its agreement with the DOJ in 2016, after the federal agency completed an investigation into complaints the university did not adequately handle sexual misconduct reports. The university must train all students, except for those taking minimal credit loads or who rarely visit campus.

The agreement required all students to complete training by the end of 2017.

UNM has trained a total of 22,412 people so far, according to the status report. But that still leaves 6,197, and UNM plans to continue offering sessions through March 30.

The university has not formally instituted a penalty for those who do not take it, saying in a statement such students “may have a registration/transcript hold added to their account.”

If the DOJ determines UNM failed to comply with any part of the agreement, it would seek a “satisfactory resolution” with the university, according to the document. If one is not reached, the department “may initiate civil enforcement proceedings in federal court.”

The DOJ declined a Journal request for comment about UNM’s progress or if it faced any penalty for not completing all students’ training.

But Lindquist said she was “encouraged” after a DOJ site visit late last year.

“I think they were pleasantly surprised with what we’ve been able to accomplish,” she said.

The agreement also requires special training for all UNM employees. In 2017, 93.6 percent of them completed an online course called “Intersections: Preventing Discrimination and Harassment,” according to UNM’s report.

UNM expects to spend about $1.5 million over three years to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

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