ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico outlined its new protocols to handle sexual assault for a committee of lawmakers, even as critics said the school has more work to do to better help victims of rape and harassment.
That was the discourse at a legislative committee meeting held at the university’s Technology and Science Park. The agenda called for UNM to address a recent Department of Justice investigation that found the school in some cases failed to handle sexual misconduct correctly and failed to comply with gender anti-discrimination laws.
The report also found that UNM had confusing policies regarding sexual assault, and that investigations were lengthy and inadequate. That review started in late 2014 and the federal agencies findings were released earlier this year. Since that time, UNM has simplified its policies and altered the investigative process to make it faster, among other changes.
Those efforts include a recent survey of students about their perception of sexual assault on campus. About 3,000 students participated and the results of that survey will be made public in the coming weeks.
The university also held training this week for employees to better deal with sexual assault. They also mentioned The Lobo Respect Center, a site where students can report sexual assault.
Elsa Cole, the university’s attorney, said the DOJ had not yet developed a final plan for UNM to move forward. She did say that, after sending the letter of what the school had done recently, the list of things UNM would have to be shortened.
“We have not heard from them about what should be in the final agreement,” Cole said.
Victims of rape and their advocates who criticized the university followed the administrators’ presentation.
Ashlynn Ota, a former student who said she was raped at a fraternity, said the process of reporting her rape was confusing.
The UNM police didn’t communicate with administrators, university investigators requested her rape report and she lost her university therapist.
She said it took months to secure her medical leave.
“All of the issues with the way that UNM handled my sexual assault fall squarely in line with the findings set forth by the DOJ,” Ota said. “If UNM really wants to pursue its mission of providing high-quality education, health care and research, you should realize none of the goals are realized if students, faculty and staff are unsupported.”
May Sagbakken, the director of The Rape Crisis Center of Central New Mexico, praised the university for the steps it had taken, but said those recent efforts are a small part of the bigger picture. The center later on Thursday issued a statement calling for the university to formally accept responsibility for the findings of the DOJ report and apologize for “allowing the problem to persist for so long.”
“No news conference or carefully prepared testimony can distract from the hard truth that UNM has only just begun to address these deep, systemic problems,” Sagbakken said.