Mandatory training may have a certain tone to it, but the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center is working to distinguish the sexual assault prevention trainings the organization offers, like The Grey Area, as programs that initiate real conversations and help students build skillsets for healthy relationships.
“The purpose of The Grey Area is to start having these larger conversations with students about how we can change societal and cultural norms, about sexual violence, but I also try and acknowledge stalking, harassment and domestic violence as well,” Julia Egger, campus advocate and Grey Area trainer, said.
The training Egger gives UNM’s students today is much different than the one she received as a young adult that mostly emphasized how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault. The training offered at UNM is focused on primary prevention — highlighting how individuals can help shift culture and address the root causes of violence. The skills learned help students of all genders, ages and backgrounds to understand their roles in keeping their communities safe and healthy.
The conversation begins nearly as soon as new students get to campus, with most completing the mandatory training, The Grey Area, during their New Student Orientation as a 90-minute in-person session. The Grey Area is a required training for all students regularly present on campus and enrolled in degree-granting programs for one-credit hour or more per semester, with exception waivers available for people who may have been personally impacted by sexual violence. With summer approaching, a new wave of training sessions will begin in April for transfer students and June for incoming freshmen.
“It feels like a great time to intervene because students are young, they have just entered this new space, they haven't been away from parents,” Egger said. “So I think it’s important to set them up with skills to recognize unhealthy behaviors, both with others and within themselves, to understand the dynamics of sexual and domestic violence, gender-based violence, to be presented really openly and honestly the ways in which these things affect us and the kind of insidious nature of sexual and domestic violence.”
New Student Orientation leaders like Mikaela Bunch are trained to open up the discussion further with students in smaller groups after The Grey Area. Bunch has felt the impact of the training even after orientation ends.
"The UNM Grey Area training is an important tool for empowering UNM students to help maintain a safe community and campus for everyone,” Bunch said. “Knowing that everyone who comes to the university has received this training makes me feel safer and more confident in my surroundings."
In the last year, Egger has trained more than 6,000 students as part of The Grey Area alone. It’s a mark of achievement for the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center, which opened in Fall 2015 and launched The Grey Area in 2017. More than 44,000 students have received in-person training offered by LoboRESPECT on sexual assault prevention, bystander intervention, healthy relationships, active listening and consent.
Lisa Lindquist, director of LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center, has been a part of the department since its inception and is glad to see what they’ve been able to accomplish in less than 10 years.
“I always say we're the baby of the centers because we're so young just being at seven or eight years old at this point, but I've been here since the beginning, and what it's evolved into has been pretty amazing,” Lindquist said. “When I first started, I was saying things like, I just want us to move the needle on this culture and now I can look back and say, we really have done some pretty incredible things.”
LoboRESPECT administers more than just the mandatory training students receive when they arrive on campus. In addition to providing a confidential reporting option and resources for sexual violence survivors, the center also trains UNM’s NCAA athletes on sexual harassment and assault prevention annually and offers additional, individualized trainings to student organizations and classes on-campus by request.
In early April, Egger provided specific, situational training to members of UNM’s fraternities in advance of their Spring Formal event. Individualized trainings provide students an opportunity to develop skills tailored to the situations they may be in, emphasizing what consent looks like, how a bystander can intervene in a situation before it becomes dangerous, and de-stigmatizing that men can also be affected by sexual violence.
“We're trying to have a larger conversation specifically when we talk with athletes and when we talk with fraternities to include them as people who are affected rather than talk to them like they are going to perpetrate or they are the only people that are perpetrators,” Egger said. “We know that people on campus don't want to assault people, don't want to cross people's boundaries and want to have healthy relationships. We approach it in a non-punitive way with students, because we're all in this together as a team to change the culture.”
In addition to giving students preventative skills, trainings also open the door for students to the resources available to them in difficult situations, regardless of the circumstance or how they choose to move forward. The LoboRESEPECT Advocacy Center offers students confidential reporting, assistance with tuition refund appeals, access to the Lobo Food Pantry, outreach to professors, connection to other campus resources and more.
For both Lindquist and Egger, ensuring students know where they can look for assistance, the options available to them on campus, and putting a face to the organization before they may ever need to utilize its services, is a primary goal.
“To me the most important piece of this training is that it shows students they can still get support, whether or not they want to work with the police, whether or not they want to go through the criminal justice process and they can still get support, even if what happened isn't violent or it doesn’t meet a criminal threshold,” Egger said.
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