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DOJ clears UNM on handling of sexual misconduct cases

University of New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal file)

UNM President Garnett Stokes

UNM President Garnett Stokes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three years after the U.S. Department of Justice reached an agreement with the University of New Mexico to address the university’s handling of sexual assault and harassment on campus, the department has said it is ending its monitoring of the agreement.

“Based on this three-year review, we have determined that no further action is warranted at this time,” the Justice Department said in a letter to the university late last week. The department did, however, warn the university that the determination “does not preclude the Department’s investigation of future complaints against UNM, if any.”

UNM President Garnett Stokes announced the development at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Board of Regents. In a statement, she said UNM has complied with all of the requirements of the 2016 agreement, which included training faculty, staff and students on sexual misconduct prevention at the university.

UNM also agreed to revamp its policies and investigation methods in exchange for the Justice Department not suing the university.

“We cannot be a strong university unless we address sexual misconduct effectively, fully, and in a timely manner,” Stokes said in a statement. “During my tenure, it has been a top priority for UNM to comply fully with the agreement.”

UNM notes that over the past three years, nearly 37,000 students received sexual misconduct awareness training, which Regent Marron Lee pointed out is about as many people as the population of Alamogordo. UNM employees have also received training, and the Athletics Department has received specific training.

“I believe this is an unprecedented effort,” Stokes said.

The university also committed new resources for investigations and advocacy regarding sexual assault, and university officials revised and implemented polices and processes for dealing with sexual misconduct on campus. Other changes included putting information about police escorts and the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center on student identification cards and formalizing the process for students to use their preferred names on those cards.

The university has analyzed how much the reforms cost the university, but the report was not available Tuesday, said Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university.

The university entered the agreement after a DOJ investigation that found that UNM had failed to comply with federal gender anti-discrimination laws. The investigation was launched in December 2014.

The DOJ findings included criticisms of UNM’s labyrinthine policies on sexual assault, and lengthy and inadequate investigations. UNM was just the second school to be investigated by the Justice Department for how it handles sexual misconduct.

In 2016, UNM administrators released the result of a 3,000-person survey in which nearly one in 10 students said they had been sexually assaulted while at UNM and that nearly 1 in four reported they had been sexually harassed within the past year.

University officials said Tuesday that they have taken “transformative steps to address sexual misconduct and change the campus culture.”

“UNM is proud of the improvements made in training on and resolution of sexual harassment and assault cases,” Francie Cordova, director of the UNM Office of Equal Opportunity and interim chief compliance officer, said in a statement. “We will continue to fine-tune our procedures and increase support for those impacted by sexual misconduct.”

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