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New allegations of sexual misconduct rock Institute of American Indian Arts

May 12, 2019

Allegations of sexual assault and harassment at the Institute of American Indian Arts erupted on campus and social media sites this week after flyers appeared describing an alleged sexual assault in graphic detail and a Pueblo women’s activist group posted a Facebook message naming two male employees it says are at the center of the accusations.

The school’s alumni council also weighed in, calling for one of the men to resign immediately.

The two men were involved in planning a recent event on campus to bring attention to missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBTQ community, Three Sisters Collective said in a Thursday post on its Facebook page.

“This is an issue that is also about domestic violence and sexual violence affecting the most vulnerable in our indigenous communities; we are disheartened to know that these two individuals are reportedly a part of the problem,” the organization said.

The message came a day after IAIA President Robert Martin issued a campuswide statement announcing an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and asking anyone with information about such incidents to contact his office.

“Today, for the first time, we learned of claims of sexual harassment and sexual violence that allegedly occurred on our campus approximately one month ago,” Martin said in the statement. “As soon as we learned of this alleged assault, we contacted law enforcement.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Ríos confirmed Friday that the office is investigating “an incident that allegedly occurred at the Santa Fe Institute of American Indian Arts.” No one has been charged or arrested in the case, Ríos said. He declined to comment further on the investigation.

School officials declined to comment on an internal investigation into the allegations and would not confirm the names of the employees involved or their employment status.

The new allegations come more than a year after IAIA officials distanced themselves from one of their most celebrated educators following allegations of sexual misconduct. Prominent Native American author Sherman Alexie made international headlines in February and March 2018 after allegations from three women surfaced online.

The school quickly retitled a creative writing scholarship that had been named for Alexie less than a year earlier.

On several occasions since the early 1990s, Alexie — whose young-adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian earned a National Book Award in 2007 — served as both a visiting writer and a mentor to students at IAIA.

Christina M. Castro, one of the three Pueblo women who co-founded Three Sisters Collective, a Santa Fe-based social and environmental justice organization, declined to comment on this week’s allegations of sexual misconduct, saying in a Facebook message, “We said all we had to say in the statement.”

IAIA’s alumni council released a statement Wednesday calling for the resignation of the school’s alumni relations manager.

“We do not take this request lightly, but, faced with repeated examples of gross negligence, extreme dereliction of duties and now an accusation of sexual assault, we feel we have no choice but to hold him to account,” said the statement, signed by council President Heidi K. Brandow and four other members.

The New Mexican is not naming the employee because he has not been charged with a crime and could not be reached to comment on the allegations.

A flyer circulating on social media and around campus, purportedly written by a student accuser, describes an alleged assault in the employee’s office April 9.

“I’m not going to finish my semester at IAIA because I don’t feel safe on campus,” the unsigned flyer says.

The woman did not go the IAIA dean of students with her allegations, the flyer adds, because she had voiced concerns about her safety twice before and was told “my concerns had no basis or foundation.”

The flyer says a second employee, who also was named by Three Sisters Collective, has been accused by several students of making inappropriate comments.

Reached by phone Friday, the man told The New Mexican he was wrongly targeted by the messages and that he was not facing any investigations by the school or law enforcement.

He called Three Sisters’ statement “kind of slanderous.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said, “other than being mentioned in the flyer, which I think is wrong.”