Last Friday, in the wake of severe criticism from the Department of Justice, President Bob Frank outlined the steps UNM is taking to create a safer climate.
Several University entities are following suit, saying action is being taken to meet the necessary standards on a campus-wide level.
Lieutenant Tim Stump of UNMPD said that, although there was limited mention of the police department in the report, some of the findings reported were of importance. He said the department continues to be dedicated to the safety and security of the entire UNM community.
“There is a lot of experience in this department, a lot of training. Our Sexual Misconduct/Assault Response Team Officers, they’re chosen because of their training, their experience, their willingness to be thorough investigators, and these investigators are always seeking ways to better themselves through training,” Stump said. “We are always looking for training to better ourselves, to better serve UNM.”
He said UNMPD welcomes criticism for the sake of growth and more effective policing.
“Anytime you get someone from the outside coming in to assess, evaluate, give recommendations, you take that because you want to be a better police department,” Stump said. “You don’t have to agree with everything, but you see what they see, what they’ve assessed and from there we can try to be better.”
Following last Friday’s press conference by University officials, UNMPD Police Chief Kevin McCabe said the lack of communication and collaboration mentioned in the report was something he plans to address. McCabe said he appreciates a perspective that brings the issue to light.
In the meantime, students and other members of the community should recognize UNMPD as the public servants they are meant to be, he said.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been committed to the criminal investigation and response to any kind of crime, especially when it comes to sexual assault,” McCabe said. “We give it a high priority and as much resources as we can. I would just hope that all the students know that we’re approachable, whether it’s to ask us a question or just to say ‘hello.’”
Campus groups continue to increase awareness
Lisa Lindquist, director and project manager of LoboRESPECT, said the program’s primary function is to provide support and advocacy to students who have dealt with an incident of sexual assault or another form of sexual misconduct - duties that parallel some of the DOJ’s suggestions.
“The other piece is educating our students and our campus in general, raising awareness around what those issues are, what consent looks like and how to be a great bystander,” she said. “Our two-pronged approach of advocacy, support and education (is) really going to further enhance our ability to meet the criteria that the DOJ is talking about.”
Francie Cordova, director at the UNM Office of Equal Opportunity, said she was glad the DOJ was willing to assist in what UNM has been making progress towards for awhile.
“I think the DOJ report was a snapshot in time,” she said. “Since that time (December, 2014) the University has made a number of great strides toward being compliant, including the Lobo Advocacy Center, and the rearranging of the OEO staff, and hiring additional staff.”
Cordova said OEO is currently conducting a climate survey, in which a quarter of the 10,000 surveys sent out to random students on campus have been returned. The purpose of the survey is to monitor the progressing levels of student-awareness surrounding the advocacy center on-campus and how to handle instances of sexual misconduct, she said.
“We’re well on our way to what the DOJ identified at that period in time,” she said. “Many of the things the DOJ was mentioning were things we had already identified and been working on but, certainly, we’re always open to improving.”
Report is just a piece of the larger puzzle, OEO says
Heather Cowan, Title IX coordinator at OEO, said she too thought the Office of Equal Opportunity was aware of many things mentioned in the article, and that the office didn’t entirely agree with the findings reported. She said the means by which the DOJ came to its conclusions were insufficient for a proper investigation.
“We do this work day-in and day-out, and they came and took sort of a snapshot, and they spoke with just a handful of people who have been through our process, so of course, that’s going to give a very specific picture of our office and the investigations we do,” Cowan said.
In regards to future actions, the office is planning on undertaking to comply with federal standards, she said the office recognized the concerns and challenges surrounding their claims procedure.
“Step one is to really roll out our finalized claims procedure,” Cowan said. “Step two is revising our sexual misconduct and sexual violence policy.”
She said the office is working to get another investigator on board and has made advancements in hiring, training and planning in recent years.
Despite the office’s efforts, Cowan said she is concerned with student perceptions surrounding sexual harassment and hopes to see an increase in the climate survey’s twenty-five percent response rate.
Ashen Gutierrez, a junior nursing major, said she thought the DOJ report was a step forward for UNM and that all feedback should be considered by the University.
A key issue within the report was that of timeliness and the difficulty for certain campus organizations - such as OEO - to handle cases of sexual misconduct in a timely manner without being adequately staffed, she said. Gutierrez said dealing with issues of this nature takes an emotional toll, especially when the process is drawn-out over an extended, increasingly uncomfortable period of time.
“The more they work on it, the safer students are going to feel coming forward at UNM,” she said. “There’s a big stigma (that goes along) with reporting sexual assault, that people aren’t going to believe you. It’s good that UNM is taking steps to make victims feel safe at UNM.”
Johnny Vizcaino is a staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thedailyjohnnyv.