UNM’s new mandatory employee training on sexual harassment and misconduct covers a wide variety of material with real-life scenarios.
“Intersections: Preventing Discrimination and Harassment” is the new safety course outlining UNM policies on sexual violence, gender-based discrimination, sexual orientation, health status, race, domestic violence and stalking. The course is to be completed by all UNM faculty and staff by December 31, 2016.
The new course includes artful design and animation while replacing the old “Preventing Sexual Harassment” training course.
According to UNM’s Human Resources website, New Mexico’s Risk Management Division - as well as the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration - requires that discrimination and harassment training be provided to employees on at least an annual basis.
The one hour training informs employees about their responsibility to report incidents, UNM policies and available resources. The course advises on how to avoid illegal and abusive behavior, as well as harmful stereotypes.
“This course contains content involving sexual violence and may be triggering to some individuals,” a warning upon beginning the course states.
The training gives many examples of policy violations in the form of animated scenarios based on real court cases and workplace situations. One section involves the definition of micro-aggressions that harm individuals in the workplace or academic setting.
In one scenario, an actress performs the testimonial of a woman who is interrupted, condescended to and ignored in her male-dominated profession as a female.
“I appreciate it when people give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m as familiar with the basic disciplines of my work as my male peers,” the actress said.
Another scenario involves a man who makes an offensive remark and, when confronted about it, immediately becomes defensive, only later to realize his lack of selflessness.
“What matters is how I affected someone else,” the actor said. “Every person deserves to be evaluated as an individual.”
The training ultimately begs the question: how do your words and actions affect those around you?
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The course advises individuals to support colleagues with psychiatric issues by avoiding the careless use of terms that may stigmatize. For example, calling someone “psycho” or “crazy” for acting unusual, or “schizo” or “bipolar” for changing their mind is described as offensive to those dealing with mental health issues.
Don’t announce someone’s transgender identity without their permission, or ask them about their “real name,” or surgical status. Identifying people based on gender-neutral features like “the person in blue,” rather than “the woman in blue,” avoids stigmatization.
Support gender neutral restrooms and affirm that individuals may use whichever bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, the training instructs. It also advised not to refer to people using slurs or tolerate others using slurs.
Everyone has unconscious biases, and daily interactions with co-workers are affected by these biases and generalizations. Awareness of these biases is not always enough, and it is important to take concrete steps to reduce or prevent the negative impact our unconscious biases might have on our co-workers.
The course instructs trainees on how to deal with discriminatory behavior and how to be active bystanders. Distract someone who is harassing someone else by asking them for the time or telling them their car is being towed, the training suggests.
The program also informed trainees of situations where certain behavior was reported as discriminatory, but was found not to be.
“Mere ‘hostility’ is not the same as illegal harassment. The law does not require people to be polite,” the training states. “Of course, just because behavior isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.”
According to UNM policy, UNM may discipline employees or students for making accusations of discrimination or harassment in “bad faith” or “with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the claim.”
The new training is being introduced in the midst of an ongoing investigation into former UNM professor Cristobal Valencia, who was recently placed on emergency suspension as the University delves into sexual harassment and discrimination allegations brought forth against him.
Pertaining to sexual violence, the new course asserts that college-age women experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault of any age group. Male college students are five times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault than non-students of the same age, as well.
One barrier to reporting incidents of sexual assault is that victims often don’t realize that what they experienced was a crime or conduct violation. The course advises employees to help students know and understand campus conduct policies.
“We’re really happy about the new course, we’ve contracted with a company called LawRoom to provide it. They create these trainings for many colleges and universities nationally and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from staff and faculty who have taken it,” said Heather Cowan, Title IX coordinator of the UNM Office of Equal Opportunity.
Cowan said student employees are required to take it this year when previously they were not. “We’re really happy that so many more people around campus will have this information in such an engaging, interactive format,” she said.
In his recent weekly perspective, UNM President Bob Frank said federal requirements and UNM policies have changed recently, and urged UNM employees to begin the course right away so that they can be informed in regards to this important content as they begin the new semester.