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UNM must apologize for inaction

It’s time for the University of New Mexico to tell the truth about its handling of sexual assault on campus.

Yes, as UNM President Robert Frank said in his recent guest column in this paper, it is true that the University of New Mexico has made strides toward addressing the sexual assault crisis on campus.

Those steps include trainings on sexual assault reporting and prevention; new policies and procedures to resolve complaints in a more fair and timely manner; and updating its Office of Equal Opportunity policies, and hiring two new investigators and an intake staffer.

But, while these things may be true, they are only part of the truth.

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It is time that we start telling the whole truth – not just the parts that help parents feel better about sending their children and their hard-earned money to the University of New Mexico.

We need to also tell the hard truths that will keep those students safe on campus.

That is why, while we thank Frank and the university for what they have done, we are compelled to publicly hold them accountable for what they have not done.

Simply put, UNM has not:

• Accepted responsibility for findings in the Department of Justice report.

• Moved quickly enough to ensure that students, staff and faculty have the information they need to report sexual assault.

• Allocated enough resources to the Advocacy Center for it to be effective.

• Been transparent with its response to the Department of Justice.

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• Involved all the stakeholders necessary to ensure the successful implementation of positive changes.

What’s more, UNM in general and Frank in particular have treated the safety of students and ending sexual assault on campus as an afterthought.

The truth is that, without the U.S. Department of Justice intervening, the university would not have taken any action. Sexual assault and harassment, which have been rampant on campus for decades, would have continued to be the norm. Parents would still be dropping their kids off at the dorms thinking that they would be safe and protected, when they absolutely were not.

The truth is that the university was dragged kicking and screaming into making the limited reforms they have made. And they did so in a private process that effectively muted community partners, outside organizations, campus organizations, faculty, staff and survivors.

And the truth is that neither the university nor Frank has ever apologized to victims, parents, students, staff, faculty or families for allowing this problem to persist for so long or for the cavalier attitude with which the university dismissed and downplayed sexual violence.

Don’t misunderstand us: Progress has been made.

But, as we said, that is just part of the truth.

The whole truth is that, until all of the hard work is undertaken and every student is safe to learn and grow on campus, UNM’s work will not be done.

No news conference or carefully prepared guest column can distract from the hard truth that UNM has only just begun to address these deep, systemic problems.

Very soon, another round of parents will drop their sons and daughters off for their freshman year at the University of New Mexico. When they drive away from the dorms, those parents will naturally be worried. They’ll worry about their child making new friends; they’ll worry about their child eating well and doing their laundry; they’ll worry about their child’s future.

But no Lobo parent should have to add to that list the worry about whether their child will be protected from sexual violence.

And that is the truth.

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