Protecting survivors, safeguarding students, faculty and staff, and opening more doors for all: that’s what UNM’s Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and its partners will be able to do more of.
That’s thanks to a new $300,000 federal grant from the The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), created under Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The three-year grant will be focused on providing services to fight the most pressing, personal issues facing the community. As in the name–Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program– the money will pay special focus on cutting down on each of these issues, while supporting trauma-informed responses.
“We want to prevent all of these things from happening,” Director for El Centro de la Raza and grant investigator Rosa Cervantes said. “But we have to recognize we have to have measures in place to support our victims when it does happen.”
VAWA was signed into law in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton. It established OVW and funneled over $1 billion towards pushing penalties for those who commit violent crimes against women, as well as providing assistance to those women themselves.
It’s an old problem, one which UNM has been confronting on paper since 2016, with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Following three years under a formal agreement, UNM had to comply with obligations under federal civil rights laws to prevent and address sexual misconduct, and to provide clear and consistent policies and procedures for reporting, investigating and responding to such conduct.
“I think in many ways UNM has come such a long way from the DOJ,” Cervantes said. “But it's important to recognize there's a lot of work to be done. The grant allows us to spotlight the work that needs to be done and implement some things that will help us grow as a campus,”
Although the University has taken large steps forward since this investigation, incidents of sexual assault and more, are now only compounded today in the world with new avenues, and trailing effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We still feel like there's a lot of work to be done,” Project Director of OVW Campus Grant Miquela Ortiz Upston said.
A large concern was knowing when students were home that not everyone was home in a safe situation. When they returned to campus, the issues were revealed, sometimes worse than they were before.
“Even before the pandemic there was a huge need to do better on these issues. We're proud of the coalition we've built, and there’s a lot more to be done in terms of prevention,” Interim Director of WRC Aine McCarthy said.
Between tech enabled abuse, cases of stalking, and social media influence, new dangers need new solutions.
That’s why it’s not a one, or two organization commitment for solutions. Since 2018 and the first grant cycle, half a dozen and counting community groups have united together under the umbrella of the Coordinated Community Response Team (CCRT). That’s headed by McCarthy, Cervantes, Ortiz Upston, and Amy Levi, Vice President of Academic Affairs for UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC). Each component of the team has its own priority, and working group, from student conduct to victim services.
Just one branch of CCRT includes North Campus, UNM HSC, and the School of Law, an inclusion which Levi says has made all the difference.
“I think the issues we’re focused on in the grant are issues that affect all of the UNM community on both sides of campus,” she said. “I think the opportunity for collaboration and networking has been a big feature of this.”
That’s the main message from the leaders of this effort, represented by the CCRT–it’s about unity. No matter age, identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or even if you are or not a student, this is a problem that affects everybody.
“UNM is an amazing place to me, but we have things we have to take care of in house,” Cervantes said. “We need to do this work, and everyone has a role in keeping this campus safe.”
When it’s all-encompassing issues like these, they say connecting campus within itself, and to the community is like a lifeline when trying to help as many people as possible. McCarthy said it's growing to an even bigger lifeline, across the U.S.
“We know the epidemic of sexual assault and dating violence on college campuses is national. Having this grant puts us in touch with a network of campuses and allows us to be plugged in on a national level to best practices and training, ” McCarthy said.
Looking forward, the CCRT wants more institutional support as they embark on hosting more campus-wide workshops, focus groups, and awareness events. That’s because although this grant is for three years, the solutions need to last longer.
“Three years can go by very quickly,” Ortiz Upston said. “We want to make sure the work that we’re doing and we’re trying to put in place is something that can continue past the grant.”
In addition, the WRC always wants to hear from students about gender-based violence, prevention efforts, and how they can do better at UNM. The center is hosting a series of focus groups and an online survey right now as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the new grant.
“The focus groups are all trauma informed, so that means making sure we have resources available like advocates, counselors and social workers,” Ortiz Upston said. “We want to hear what students have to say about these issues, but we also do not want to retraumatize them while we’re doing it.”
That’s another way right now, the CCRT wants to ensure union on important topics like these.
“I think what’s really important about this grant is that it really leverages our opportunity to bring the campus together, and think through these issues together,” Cervantes said.
The anonymous survey, available in both short and long-form, focuses on sexual assault, self-care, and healthy or un-healthy relationships. The conversation is meant to include everyone, and help everyone.
“We have a commitment to doing intervention work and creating a consent culture on this campus. Students input will inform that work,” McCarthy said.
You can scan the QR code in this article or click this link to complete the short version, or this link for the longer version. There is no deadline, so the WRC always has the ability to hear your concerns and experiences.
The CCRT wants students to know this is not just written down as research. Steps will be taken through workshops and educational pairings to ensure responses are implemented.
“In this whole process of gathering input, we really want to offer something back. It’s meant to be an exchange.” McCarthy said.
What else is next for the CCRT? It’s up to you, Ortiz Upston says.
“For those that are interested in engaging in this work, reach out. We can get you involved in working groups or the greater CCRT,” she said.
No matter which specific cause is close to you, each group within the CCRT, especially the Student Advisory Board, needs a hand.
“This is really important work, and we really want the university and the community to continue to support it,” Levi said. “It’s information that all of us need to keep in our viewfinder.”
Learn more about the work each working group does, as well as the CCRT as a whole, by clicking on the link here.