UNM surveys students on gender discrimination, sex assault

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE)- The University of New Mexico will ask 10,000 of its students to share their take on gender discrimination, especially sexual assault. The university says it’s the only way to get an accurate idea of what it’s like on campus and how to improve.

UNM hired a national company — Sound Rocket — to conduct this random survey. The university says they know more students experience gender discrimination on campus than what’s reported. They hope this survey will tell them why.

“Have you received training in prevention of sexual assault?” “Has anyone had sexual contact with you by using physical force?”

These are federally recommended survey questions about campus climate, and UNM officials want to know how their students would answer them.

“We’re trying to figure out, ‘What are the rates on our campus?” said UNM Title 9 Coordinator Heather Cowan. “Are you aware of university policy? Would you go to these resources?”

Sexual assault’s been a hot topic on UN’M’s campus. In 2014, the DOJ opened a review into the university’s sex assault protocol. Then, in January 2015, an outside firm UNM hired called their multiple sexual violence policies confusing.

As UNM’s Title 9 coordinator, it’s Heather Cowan’s job to help protect students from gender discrimination, including sexual assault. Yet, she says it’s tough without a clear understanding of students and what they’ve experienced.

“We’re not seeing our reports and so we’re not doing our jobs well,” Cowan said.

At least, that’s what she thought when she saw recent statistics revealing nearly 20-percent of students have reported sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation, since enrolling in college. When you compare that to UNM’s stat’s, Cowan says it’s troubling. She says less than one percent have reported sexual contact at UNM.

“Maybe they don’t trust us, maybe they don’t know what our process is, maybe they don’t know where to go for resources and support,” she says, but Cowan wants to know for sure.

She says, to believe only about 200 of the university’s 30,000 students have experienced sexual assault, “I think that’s naive.”

Cowan hopes a random, anonymous, campus climate survey will allow university officials to paint a clearer picture of what it’s like for students. That way, she says they can better tailor programs that speak to the school’s diverse student body.

We asked Cowan if this initiative has anything to do with the DOJ’s investigation into the school’s protocol. But Cowan says this has been in the works for some time, even before the DOJ initiated its investigation. Yet, she adds she’s eager to learn the feds’ findings.

Effective programs may have a bigger impact than you think. Title 9 experts says sexual assault victims who get the proper support are, not surprisingly, less likely to drop out of school and more likely to reach their job goals.

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