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Faculty take it upon themselves to bring attention to UNM's shortcomings

Faculty members passionate about policy reform have created a group, Faculty SAFE, to address UNM’s failure to provide a safe working and educational environment, as defined by Title IX.

“Far too often faculty tend to get overwhelmed with work or, even worse, tend to feel defeated or disempowered,” said Amy Brandzel, a professor who focuses on feminist queer studies and who is part of Faculty SAFE leadership. “SAFE UNM is one of those rare, but extremely needed, organizations where faculty demand to participate and create change for the betterment of our community, no matter how challenging and time-consuming those demands might be.” 

Elizabeth Hutchison, a history professor who manages communications for Faculty SAFE, said the group began as an informal collection of faculty who were concerned with UNM’s initial response to the DOJ report that outlined major areas where UNM needed to improve. 

Hutchison said the administration originally responded to the report with anger.

“We thought, we know that UNM has made great strides, and we also know that President (Bob) Frank’s response seems to diminish the experiences of people who have been hurt,” she said.

The group felt that a widespread dismissal of the report by some was misleading about what work the University still needed to do. Such attitudes might also reinitiate the cycle of trauma for students or community members who already felt that the University had not responded when they needed it, Hutchison said. 

So in May, they wrote a letter, signed by over 100 faculty members, asking that Frank apologize for his response, she said. 

Some of the group members have done academic research on “institutional betrayal,” a psychology field that studies the effects of institutions responding poorly to claims of abuse. 

“We felt like it was important to bring that research to their attention. That’s what we could do as faculty, and ask that in the future the University be more thoughtful and mindful about the impact of its statements,” Hutchison said.

In August, the group became involved in discussions over the mandatory reporting policy for Title IX violations, which gave them the momentum to create a formal group, she said.

Amy Levi, part of the group’s leadership and a professor of midwifery, said she thinks mandatory reporting for all faculty and staff jeopardizes the relationship between professors and their students, and puts faculty in a difficult position. 

Brandzel said research has shown that a blanket mandatory reporting policy actually lowers the number of reports, and can take away the power that victims have in reporting their experience. 

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“We have expertise in so many areas that impact this campus, a wealth of knowledge that is increasingly being ignored as we turn to a corporate model of University structure,” Brandzel said. “Faculty involvement is as essential as student and staff involvement, as this is a community-related problem that will take a community-minded solution.”

Faculty SAFE is currently in dialogue with the administration about what a different reporting policy could look like — one that still protects the University from liability but also centers on victims’ needs, Levi said. 

Hutchison said the group currently has a representative on the Title IX committee.

Pamela Cheek, a professor of French, said this is a good time for students and faculty to transform UNM into a leader on this issue.

“Universities across the country are struggling with moving away from making decisions with a private counsel, a sort of early 20th century model…and moving towards a transparent, but also a supportive, protective and effective way of getting rid of sexual violence on campus,” she said.

Cheek said the DOJ agreement is a wonderful development and the group is determined to make sure it works well for the university and the students. 

Hutchison also said the group may change the focus of its current work, depending on what is most pressing within the agreement. 

Hutchison said the group may be able to help UNM figure out how to provide face-to-face training to all of its students and staff. 

“I think the faculty should have a role, whether it’s an advisory role or some way they can use us to train the trainers, or whether there’s a space for us in that,” she said.

Hutchison said Faculty SAFE has a LISTSERV and awebsite that faculty members can turn to for clear, up-to-date information on Title IX issues. 

Levi said she is invested in making sure people on North Campus are also engaged in the conversation around sexual harassment and assault at UNM. 

“There are lots of things going on,” she said. “We all know about the University seal and different activities that engage people on the campus around causes. But this is something that won’t go away just because you don’t talk about it — and we really need people to understand what’s happening,” Levi said. 

Hutchison said, for her, Frank’s apology last week to the people who have been hurt by the University is a sign that the administration will fully support and invest in the requirements laid out in the DOJ agreement. Cheek, who has been a teacher for 30 years, said these problems aren’t new. 

“There’s certainly, for me, a strong desire to make it possible for young women and young men to be able to function without fear, and to be able to learn without fear,” she said. 

Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.

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