Help can come from unexpected places. It’s a fact that a new partnership at The University of New Mexico is taking to heart.
The Women’s Resource Center, (WRC) Dean of Students Office (DOSO) and the Office of Compliance, Ethics & Equal Opportunity (CEEO) are working together to provide confidential resources for students.
When entering restrooms across various campus buildings, students will now see flyers on the inside of stalls containing an accessible QR code. Scanning the code will direct users to a UNM landing page that provides information and contacts for victims and survivors of sexual misconduct and assault, or anyone experiencing distress.
That includes assistance from the WRC, Lobo Respect Advocacy Center (LRAC), UNM Police Department, CEEO, and more.
“A question that may come to mind is, ‘why the bathroom?’” CEEO Compliance Programs Manager Beck Rivera said. “Well, the bathroom is one of the most private places for someone and many of us use our phones there. By posting this information in the bathroom, users can access this information without others potentially looking over their shoulder. In a nutshell, bathrooms are private and safe.”
The idea, Rivera said, came from UNM's Title IX Coordinator, Angela Catena. She had seen information about the QR code concept as a way to channel resources and hoped to replicate it for UNM.
“At that point I had what I needed to pick up the idea and run with it. Through signage, we are not only creating more pathways to assistance for this population, but also increasing UNM's messaging that we are here, we care, and we can support you.” Rivera said.
It’s an effort the WRC has been emphasizing more and more, thanks to the help of federal funding from the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW). When proposed with this collaboration, leadership excitedly accepted, especially with their current awareness campaign wrapping up–Stalking Awareness Month.
“Stalking is one of the main areas the grant focuses on,” Project Director of the OVW Campus Grant Miquela Ortiz Upston said. “We try and definitely get awareness about these issues when we have moments like this. We’re trying to find a way to give people more privacy and get the help they need ”
Ortiz Upston says the partnership helped the WRC bring attention to Stalking Awareness Month, and related dangers students face, not just in January, but all year. Awareness is a key component to this mission as well: knowing the red flags of dangerous behavior before it’s too late.
“If we can help people realize, maybe that isn't such a healthy behavior, we can prevent things from happening through early awareness, so that they don't end up in a much more serious situation later down the road,” Ortiz Upston said.
Oner in 10 undergraduate women and 1 in 33 undergraduate men experience stalking on campus, according to the Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC). In the 2022 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, that total approached 50 incidents for UNM’s main campus in 2021.
“That's a number and something we don't want to take lightly,” Ortiz Upston said. “I do know stalking is something that has happened more and more at UNM since the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Former and current intimate partners make up half of reported stalkers, according to SPARC. The WRC’s prevention education strives to de-escalate these situations before they lead to instances of dating violence. The totals for incidents of domestic violence, rape, assault, and dating violence combined, was over 100 on main campus in that same report.
“One serious, and often overlooked form of sexual harassment is stalking. If someone is concerned they or someone they know are being followed and didn't know where to turn, they could access the resources through the QR code and get the help they're seeking,” Rivera said.
“We got to take care of folks,” WRC Prevention Education and Victim Services Graduate Assistant Michelle Perez said. “Let’s acknowledge the limited accessibility to resources some are experiencing and let’s care for them.”
Something important this partnership brings to light is the fact these are just reported cases. The total number of people who experience these crimes is likely much higher. That’s why that closed door privacy is critical.
“This is affecting folks depending on their identity and mental health,” Perez said. “If we really take a microscope and look at marginalized communities, we can create a network to really help students and staff have a healthy and safe environment. I hope that's what can happen with the continuation of these campaigns.”
SPARC reports adults ages 18 to 24 experience the highest rates of stalking among adults. As Perez noted, however, that number keeps climbing when you look specifically at the victimization rates of students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, Indigenous students, and biracial or multiracial students.
Still, something the WRC is working on, and is hoping to convey with these flyers, and safe social media usage guidelines, is that stalking does not have to be an in-person situation. It can be virtual, through social media, or even not taking no reply for an answer, through calling or texting.
“Sometimes people already have a pre-existing idea of what stalking might look like, so they might not realize that what they're experiencing is online stalking or online abuse,” Ortiz Upston said. “They might not have ever had anybody tell them to look for those red flags or look for those signs.”
The damage of dealing with these issues can be detrimental to the college experience, and a person’s well being, Perez says.
“You know, when you are experiencing stalking in any shape or form, it's going to affect your livelihood,” they said. “It's going to affect your quality of life, but there are the networks being developed through the grant to have prevention, education, to intervene and to take action. That's how I think change is able to come about.”
Whether it is stalking partner violence, assault, or a mental health crisis, the organizations behind these fliers and beyond are united through their end goal–to keep students safe on campus.
“I think what we all want is for students to have a safe and healthy learning environment,” Ortiz Upston said. “Everybody has the right to be able to learn with it, having to have those extra pressures. And so if we can do everything we can to support our UNM students to have a safe learning environment free of those things, then that's what we want to try and do.“
The restrooms which will include these resources are being finalized now.
Learn more about how these UNM organizations are helping support students at the Women’s Resource Center, Dean of Students Office (DOSO) and the Office of Compliance, Ethics & Equal Opportunity (CEEO) and Lobo Respect Advocacy Center. Students can also email the Coordinated Community Response Team.