The Associated Students of the University of New Mexico Senate unanimously denounced new Title IX recommendations made by the federal government Wednesday night — recommendations most of them didn’t even read.
Resolution 15F was a condemnation by ASUNM senators of the recently released Title IX recommendations by the Department of Education. It also called upon President Stokes and the Board of Regents to release separate statements in opposition of the recommendations. Finally, it encouraged UNM students to participate in the 60-day comment period on policy and practices.
Rather than the student government, the resolution was authored by nursing student Elisa Davidson. Sponsoring senators included Senators Selina Montoya, Rachel Montoya and Mohammed Assed. Davidson, a sophomore, also works at the Women’s Resource Center — one of two confidential reporting sites on campus.
In Sept. 2017 Education Secretary Betsy DeVos scrapped the Obama administration's “Dear Colleague Letter,” which had been in place since 2011. DeVos has previously criticized the Title IX guidance for stepping on due process, and not being fair.
Title IX is a federal law that guarantees equity on the basis of sex for any institution that receives federal funding, including public universities.
On Nov. 16, a 144-page document focused on Title IX’s prohibition specifically on sexual assault and harassment was released by the Department of Education. Some of the most significant changes were redefining sexual assault, the addition of cross-examination in live hearings, limiting their own Office of Civil Rights use of fines and fees to punish institutions and change how religious exemptions are given out.
The American Civil Liberties Union released a scathing statement against the recommendations the same day.
“The new rule inappropriately tips the scales in favor of the accused and against those who report sexual assault,” wrote Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director.
Earlier this week, Office of Equal Opportunity Director Francie Cordova told the Daily Lobo “it’s still unclear” how the new regulations would affect UNM’s policies because of a 2016 agreement with the Department of Justice on how to handle cases of sexual harassment and assault.
Davidson said that, despite the uncertainty, UNM should still make a statement.
“It definitely is the easier thing to just let it play out, and have students who are particularly interested in politics take a stand independently, but it’s so crucial that the University makes a statement, because even if (the recommendations) are not going to change things for survivors at our University, it will for survivors across the entire country,” Davidson said.
Davidson said her focus is now getting students involved in the comment period and asking University leaders to take a stance on the proposed regulations.
“I hope (Stokes) will continue to do that work at UNM and continue to take a stand to support survivors and those who provide resources,” Davidson said.
Davidson said she received her first training apart from “the little paragraph professors are required to put on the syllabus” from the WRC. She said that paragraph is the only exposure some students’ have to being educated by their school on their civil rights, which she says isn’t enough.
“If you’re in a position where you need to know the rights that are protected under Title IX, or need to report something when you’re in the middle of a crisis, you need to be aware of what resources are available,” Davidson said.
Davidson said it took her a while to read through the policy-heavy recommendations and examined interpretations to help decipher some of the meaning. She told the Daily Lobo that investigations into sexual assault were already complicated before the new policy was put in place.
“It’s easy to see the bigger picture, like the redefinition (of sexual assault) — that jumps out as a bigger problem,” Davidson said. “But it takes a lot more to look into how the fine-tuned details of an investigation would change, I think that’s been oversimplified and overlooked.”
Senator Rose Cary said during the meeting that the Department of Education’s redefinition would have detrimental consequences for survivors.
“(DOE Title IX recommendations) doesn’t advocate for survivors, it almost advocates for people who have been accused or who are perpetrators,” Cary said.
During discussion, ASUNM senators praised the bill as meaningful.
“I just wanted to say this is one of the most important resolutions we’ve written in ASUNM,” said Senator R. Montoya.
Steering and Rules Chair, Jorge Rios, motioned to vote on the resolution after personally thanking Davidson and the Senate.
“As a survivor myself, I deeply appreciate this resolution and the intent behind it, it means a lot to myself and other survivors,” Rios said.
In an emailed statement, ASUNM President Becka Myers said she stands behind the Senate’s passing of Resolution 15F.
However, when the Daily Lobo interviewed senators after the meeting had finished, the overwhelming majority said they had not read most of the Title IX recommendations they had just denounced — many hadn’t read them at all.
Responses from senators ranged from “not the full thing” to “know generally” about what the recommendations concerned.
Of the senators interviewed, only Rachel Montoya said she had read the recommendations, adding that “what went through today was leaning on the Women’s Resource Center. We really trust them and they provide so much to our student body.”
Myers and Vice President Emily Wilks, who both read the recommendations in full, said they felt the senate had taken the proper steps in preparing for the vote.
“It’s everyone’s own prerogative to be as involved in politics as they want to be,” Wilks said. “I think they understand the connotations based on the descriptions that they were given before voting.”
Myers added that “those that did read it did a really good job during committee” explaining the resolution.
Myers clarified later that the resolution never actually went to the Steering and Rules Committee. The resolution was proofread by Steering and Rules, sent through Joint Council and discussed by senators in the lounge.
Speaking on the matter, ASUNM Director of Communications Brendon Gray said “this is an example of the Senate taking feedback from a student who is really knowledgeable about this important, complex issue.”
Danielle Prokop is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.