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UNM, DOJ agree to reforms to combat campus sexual assault

Recommended actions expected to cost $1.5 million

UNM and the U.S. Department of Justice signed a formal agreement on Monday outlining changes the University must implement to be in compliance with federal Title IX and Title IV policy.

The agreement offers a three-year plan for updating UNM’s policies and practices in the handling of Title IX complaints, acknowledging that the University began addressing some of the issues outlined in an April report which detailed the findings of the DOJ’s investigation into how UNM handles claims of sexual assault or harassment.

U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said the agreement addresses four areas: policies and procedures, investigative practices, training students and staff, and eliminating a hostile environment.

Martinez said the people responsible for enforcing Title IX and Title IV, including UNMPD, will have the training they need to do so, promising that people will now know where to report as well as have a clear understanding of prohibited behavior.

Martinez said the agreement creates a foundation to make UNM’s system safer.

To that end, one of the requirements is creating internal protocols for the Office of Equal Opportunity to communicate with people involved in the sexual assault and harassment complaint process, and with UNMPD.

“The victims who we spoke to who had suffered sexual assault, we found that they had dropped classes, that they had expressed fear of going to certain areas of campus, that they were experiencing mental health issues such as PTSD or suicidal thoughts, and that some of them had lost scholarships or in some cases had withdrawn from the University,” Martinez said.

UNM President Bob Frank said, following the initial shock that the DOJ was investigating UNM, the two entities have built a good working relationship. He said the DOJ’s involvement has actually helped speed up the process to change policies.

“They’ve helped us recognize where we needed to be,” Frank said. “We thought we’d come a long way but they said, ‘Well you haven’t come far enough on some issues.’”

The agreement also outlines specific deadlines for the University to meet certain mandates.

By Feb. 1, UNM must have infrastructure in place to provide in-person training to all students, faculty and staff, and will start providing notice to all students who haven’t had in-person interactive training that they must complete it by fall 2017.

By Dec. 31, 2017, all graduate students must have completed in-person interactive training.

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Frank said the plan will cost an estimated $1.5 million dollars to implement, and the University does not yet know where those funds will come from.

Associated Students of UNM President Kyle Biederwolf said the student body will work with UNM administration to guarantee successful implementation of the requirements laid out.

“We know this is a good step forward in our collaborative efforts to improve campus safety at the University,” he said, “but our work has just begun.”

Frank said it will be difficult, however, to provide in-person training to the entire student body.

“It’s going to be challenging for us, but it’s a good thing for students to learn about. It’s a good thing for faculty to learn about, it’s a good thing for staff to learn about,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Title IX coordinator Heather Cowan said she is excited for the DOJ to review some of the policy and procedure changes that UNM has been working on for several years.

The entire process of the DOJ reviewing policies, and UNM then reviewing the DOJ’s recommendations, is lengthy — which has been difficult, she said.

Cowan said her office will work closely with colleges and departments to ensure that everyone at every level can get the in-person training as soon as possible.

Martinez said UNM has been cooperative in coming to an agreement with the DOJ.

He is optimistic about the agreement, because the DOJ is a partner with UNM in this endeavor to set realistic goals and time frames to help the University succeed in making the necessary changes.

“We want to make sure that the campus is safe and that individuals who want to go to school have the ability to go to school and be educated without fear,” Martinez said.

Martinez emphasized that the DOJ “isn’t going anywhere.”

“We are part of this process and we are going to be a part of this process until the system is fixed,” he said. “Sexual harassment and sexual assault are civil rights issues, and civil rights is one of the top priorities for the Department of Justice. That’s why what we’re doing right now is so important.”

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