Last week UNM, via email, notified students of the start of Department of Justice-mandated one-on-one sexual harassment and assault training.
Last spring the DOJ concluded a review of UNM’s policies and procedures that pertain to sexual assault response and prevention, to see if the University was in accordance with Title IX policy.
The investigation prompted an agreement between UNM and the DOJ, which Torrez said gives UNM an outline “for how we are going to do the best job we can with Title IX and be in compliance with the law.”
Torrez gave the example of a woman who had been sexually assaulted and was in the same class as the perpetrator.
The woman would probably not want to go to that class to avoid seeing that person, and would eventually stop going to class, she said. Because of this occurring so often, the Department of Education, via the Office for Civil Rights, declared that all students deserve equal access to an education.
Part of the agreement with the DOJ required that in-person, interactive training be conducted with all students at every UNM branch, with the exception of those who are graduating in May.
“The Grey Area training will expand the efforts that UNM has already made to combat sexual assault on campus,” acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah said. “This interactive in-person training teaches students about healthy relationships, respecting one another and protecting the pack. It also helps them learn more about all the resources we have available on campus if they do need help.”
Students, however, have mixed feelings about the training.
Cassidy Martinez, a senior speech and hearing sciences major, said she thinks the training is a good idea to increase awareness for students, but that it should be voluntary rather than mandatory.
“I think students are already struggling with managing classes and work and many of them may not have time to complete this training,” she said.
Another student, Amber King, a freshman exercise science major, said she believes it is a good idea to have one required training to make students aware of sexual harassment and assault.
“Making it required to renew it annually is unnecessary and inconvenient.. After the first time, they will only be taking the course just to not have a hold on their account,” she said.
Heather Cowan, Title IX coordinator at UNM, emphasized that the training is mandatory because of the agreement with the DOJ and the federal government, describing the training as the “emergency exit plan.”
“If it was just voluntary, I think a lot of people would think, ‘I don’t need that right now’, because most of us aren’t thinking, ‘When am I or when is one of my friends going to be a victim of sexual misconduct,’” Cowan said.
However, the national statistics are that 20 to 25 percent of college undergraduate women will experience sexual violence while they are on a college campus, she said.
The Grey Area training will cost roughly $1.5 million for the University. UNM is not receiving any money from the federal or state government to assist with the training.
Instead, Torrez explained the University will shift things around to ensure that they are in compliance.
Torrez said that training must be completed by all students by this December, in order for UNM be in compliance with the agreement. Specifically, evernyone taking six credit hours who have a “regualar physical presence on capus” must sign up for the course, which will lsat about an hour and a half and consist of videos and small group discussions.
LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center Director Lisa Lindquist said that online students are not required to complete this version of the training, but instead will take an equivalent online training course. Lindquist said that graduate student training will not be rolled out until this summer.
After a student receives the in person training, she said they will have to renew their training annually, online.
Lindquist pointed out that the training will not impact students’ ability to register for classes until after the December deadline.
Training has already begun, and although the sessions are currently full, Lindquist assured that UNM is working on creating more sessions for summer and fall as well as more sessions in the afternoon to accommodate students’ schedules.
Lindquist encourages students who are interested in becoming peer educators, and want to help facilitate the small group discussions, to contact personnel at LoboRESPECT.
“Beyond the requirements of the DOJ agreement, this is necessary and it matters. At the University we’re working on shifting the way our community views sexual assault and we’re working on prevention,” Torrez said. “If we could stop one sexual assault from ever happening, it was worth it.”
Kelly Urvanejo is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Kelly_Urvanejo.