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Emerson receives Avon Foundation grant

Emerson’s new Office of Violence Prevention and Response has received a $5,000 grant from the Avon Foundation for Women to educate bystanders to intervene when witnessing instances of sexual assault, dating abuse, and stalking.

Emerson was one of 30 programs selected to receive this support out of more than 100 applicants nationwide, according to Melanie Matson, director of Violence Prevention and Response.


Melanie Matson, director of Emerson's new Office of Violence Prevention and Response, who is also a survivor advocate. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

“I was really excited to learn we received this grant,” Matson said. “We plan to utilize the grant to create and implement our Emerson STANDS violence prevention strategy.”

Emerson STANDS (Stand Together, Act Now, Do Something) is an active bystander campaign and training program that will encourage and equip potential bystanders with the knowledge, skills, and resources to safely and effectively intervene to prevent sexual assault, dating abuse, and stalking, Matson said. The Emerson STANDS strategy will include outreach; social marketing; educational workshops for students, faculty, and staff; ongoing involvement activities; and a peer leadership team.

Emerson STANDS is the first major project for Matson, who arrived at Emerson in May and also serves as the College’s survivor advocate—a confidential, on-campus resource for students or employees who have experienced sexual assault, stalking, or dating abuse, or want to talk about how to support a friend, colleague, or loved one.

“An advocate is a safe and confidential person to talk with, who will listen, and who will provide information about options and resources,” she said. “That might include medical care, filing complaints and legal actions, requesting workplace and academic accommodations, and it might be someone to just listen.”

Matson says that too often in society a survivor of sexual assault, stalking, and dating abuse is blamed—either intentionally or inadvertently. With Emerson STANDS, she would like to focus on how everyone can be involved in preventing and stopping power-based violence and abuse before it starts.

“Each and every one of us has a role we can play,” Matson said.

“People can share the message socially, with their friends, classmates, and colleagues, that everyone deserves to be safe and violence-free,” she said. “When our culture…doesn’t hold people accountable for it, people think it must be OK behavior, when it’s not.”

“People can share the message socially… that everyone deserves to be safe and violence-free. When our culture… doesn't hold people accountable for it, people think it must be OK behavior, when it's not.”

Student resident assistants and orientation leaders have already received training in Emerson STANDS, which equips people with the skills to “safely and effectively intervene in potentially high-risk situations, as well as proactively create a safe and violence-free context,” she said.

“It might be confronting a friend and saying, ‘Why did you cat-call that person on the street? That’s so uncool,’” Matson said. “Or, ‘Why did you send that email around to all of your coworkers? It was really mean.’”

Other examples include resident assistants interrupting a shouting match heard through the closed door of a residence hall room, or addressing threatening or disrespectful messages written on a message board in a residence hall.

Matson said she has worked closely with Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services (ECAPS), which provides therapy and emotional support to survivors; as well as the Emerson College Police Department (ECPD), which continuously trains officers to act as first responders to students or employees who report experiencing sexual assaults, stalking, or domestic violence.

“Everyone around our country, and possibly the world, is looking to campuses to be the leaders in this,” she said. “I think Emerson is truly taking this issue seriously and trying to respond strategically and effectively.”

Matson previously served as director of the University of Kentucky’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center and as director of the University of California Santa Barbara’s Rape Prevention Education Program.

Need Help?

Emerson College Violence Prevention and Response: 617-824-8857

For 24/7 assistance, contact:

Boston Area Rape Crisis Center: 800-841-8371

LGBTQ Helpline: 800-832-1901

SafeLink Helpline (Abusive Relationships): 877-785-2020 

National Helpline (Sexual Assault): 800-656-4673

National Helpline (Abusive Relationships): 877-785-2020

National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 800-273-8255

Emerson College Police Department: 617-824-8888

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