With attention focused nationally on college campuses’ responses to sexual assaults, the University of New Mexico is taking several proactive approaches to assess and address this issue on our campus. In light of concerns about whether a climate exists at UNM that permits, encourages or fails to adequately respond to sexual violence, the University organized a sexual assault task force that met weekly over the summer months and developed a number of recommendations. In addition, University Counsel has commissioned an external team of experts to review the campus culture and report its findings to that office.

“Every day there seems to be a new announcement of efforts at the national level to address the issue of sexual assault on campus. We at the University of New Mexico want to be ahead on this serious issue, leaders rather than followers in protecting student safety and providing all students with fair process in the handling of complaints,” said Elsa Kircher Cole, University Counsel.

As a federal fund recipient, the University is required to prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment of students in its programs under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. A 2011 Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter explicitly spelled out what universities are required to do to prevent and combat all forms of sexual harassment, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion. If UNM knows or reasonably should know about allegations of sexual harassment involving a student, staff or faculty, the University is obligated to take appropriate action to address the situation or risk losing its federal funding.

The team of experts will be talking with individuals on campus over several weeks to determine how well the UNM community is meeting its Title IX obligations in reporting and responding to allegations of sexual violence. The team, Pilgrim & Associates, is ideally qualified for this review with extensive work in the areas of sexual violence and federal anti-discrimination laws pertaining to campuses.

Heading the team will be Jill Pilgrim, owner and founder of the firm with a background of dealing with sensitive issues for high profile clients, ensuring their processes are fair, balanced and clear. Others on the team include Rita Smith, Lyndelle Phillips and Arthur McAfee, III.

Smith, who specializes in domestic violence and sexual assault issues, has just been tasked by the National Football League to assist in its new focus on addressing domestic violence. Phillips has an extensive background in investigating discrimination and sexual harassment issues. McAfee has handled investigations on college campuses and advised them on conduct and disciplinary matters.

“We are certain we have the right team to look at the culture at our campus and identify any areas that need attention. We hope all who are contacted will be candid and frank in sharing their thoughts and experiences with Pilgrim & Associates so that we at UNM can work together to build the best campus climate to maximize the education opportunities for all of our students, men and women, here at New Mexico,” said Cole.

A designated telephone line has been set up to allow individuals to share their comments and experiences on this subject with the Pilgrim & Associates team. That number is (505) 277-2653. Confidentiality of the information received will be protected to the fullest extent permitted by law, Cole said.

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