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Feds, students discuss UNM sex policies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Students and members of the University of New Mexico community began talking directly with the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday about campus policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault.

DOJ staff members were on campus gathering information from students, faculty and staff at a series of forums.

They will be back today and Thursday for additional meetings.

Three sessions Tuesday included one geared toward student-athletes, who have been the focus of a number of allegations of sexual misconduct. Almost exactly one year ago, UNM was rocked by allegations that two Lobo football players and another man raped a student. After a lengthy investigation – during which the alleged victim changed her story – prosecutors declined to bring charges.

The two other sessions were held at the Student Union Building.

In response to a question about whether sexual violence is a problem on campus, one woman at the SUB forum said, “no more an issue here than it is nationwide.”

But she also said she would like a greater ability to report an assault.

“What would I actually do?” she asked. “Who do I go to immediately?”

When a facilitator asked whether UNM was good at providing information, one woman said there are so many offices to go to, “it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what avenues you’re going to take.”

Others questioned whether events such as last fall’s “Celebrate Sex” week contributed to the problems on campus.

And while some praised a new mandatory orientation on sexual violence for freshmen, they said the information is never repeated later – and there is no similar program for graduate students.

Beginning at noon today, the DOJ will hold office sessions for two hours for anyone who wishes to voice a private concern. The venue is the Cherry/Silver Room in the SUB. Later, at 6 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m., a focus group for all interested parties is scheduled for the Fiesta A & B, Jemez and Trailblazer/Spirit rooms in the SUB. They will be followed at 7 p.m. by a focus group for fraternities and sororities in the Cherry/Silver Room of the SUB.

In December of last year, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division opened a review of UNM’s response to allegations of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, on campus. UNM is cooperating with the investigation, which was prompted by “multiple complaints” about UNM, according to the DOJ.

In a letter to campus officials at the time, the DOJ said it had “received complaints regarding the University of New Mexico’s response to alleged sexual harassment, including sexual assault.”

The letter from the department’s Civil Rights Division was initiated in part under a law that proscribes sexual harassment on campuses that receive federal funds. “We have reached no conclusions regarding whether the University of New Mexico has violated these statutes,” the letter said.

UNM is only the second university to be the target of a DOJ sexual assault investigation. The first was the University of Montana.

UNM President Bob Frank, noting that the investigation is apparently based on student complaints, said the university has made great strides in recent years in developing a proper response to allegations.

“We take this with the utmost of seriousness,” he said on the day the investigation began. “We don’t believe we are a university out of control.”

In 2013, the university received 11 reports of sexual assaults on campus. In 2014, there were eight.

“UNM is committed to reducing sexual violence in the campus community by providing anyone who may have experienced it with resources and support, and by resolving complaints promptly and fairly,” Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre said this week.

Those who cannot attend a focus group or a one-on-one meeting with Department of Justice representatives or who have privacy concerns may set up a private, in-person or telephone conversation by calling (855) 856-2048 or by visiting community.unm@usdoj.gov.

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