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Survivor resources, advocacy advance at Emerson

MatsonSince her arrival on campus last spring, Melanie Matson has led a number of initiatives for Emerson Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) to educate community members on issues around interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, as well as updating institutional policies.

Matson’s leadership coincides with Emerson’s appointment this month of Betsy Facher Rauch as the interim full-time Title IX coordinator as the search for a permanent full-time coordinator continues.

Matson’s work has helped Emerson position itself as a higher education leader in providing resources for survivors of power-based interpersonal violence, including stalking, sexual assault, and abusive relationships, along with educating the community on prevention and helping anyone affected by trauma.

In September, VPR obtained a grant from the Avon Foundation to aid Emerson in education around violence prevention. VPR has also held formal and informal educational activities for the past several months, including discussions about healthy relationships and human trafficking.

How has VPR educated the Emerson community on interpersonal violence issues?

Matson: From August through December 2014, VPR provided educational sessions to a total of 1,224 students, faculty, and staff members on how to help a friend, bystander intervention, and active listening skills. We also had online articles and materials about our services publicized through various outlets, such as the Emerson College website, electronic newsletters, radio interviews, social media, and orientation sessions for new students and employees.


Greta Spoering and Melanie Matson are survivor advocates for Emerson's Violence Prevention and Response. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

How has VPR made an impact on helping survivors?

From May through December 2014, VPR has supported more than 30 students, staff, faculty, and Emerson affiliates who were impacted by abusive relationships, stalking, sexual assault, and harassment committed by other students, staff, faculty, alumni, and non-Emersonians, on or off campus, recently or in the past. Violence and harm can have an impact, no matter when—whether it happened yesterday or 10 years ago—where, or who was involved.


VPR offers a safe and confidential space for students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as friends and family affiliated with Emerson College who have been impacted by power-based interpersonal violence, such as sexual assault, stalking, and abusive relationships.

Greta Spoering, a licensed clinical social worker, and I work as confidential advocates to help anyone. (Our offices are open Monday–Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm, in Ansin 303–304.)

While no one deserves to be harmed, if someone has been impacted by violence or harm, they may find it helpful to talk with someone about their feelings, rights, and options. VPR recognizes that people may already have their own tools and resources for support, and offers additional options and resources to match what else they might be looking for, such as supportive listening, safety planning, information about trauma and self-care, requests for accommodations and no-contact orders, help navigating campus and legal processes, and connections to campus and community resources.

How has VPR helped Emerson update institutional policies around discrimination and harassment?

VPR has worked with students, staff, and faculty on these efforts. Emerson has a Sexual Misconduct Policy that clarifies the campus response process and resources, and trauma-informed processes for responding to people impacted by power-based interpersonal violence. Students and employees can request accommodations, no-contact orders, and additional support if they have been impacted by violence. VPR continuously advocates for confidential support, accommodations, trauma-informed responses, and primary prevention of violence through bystander intervention and community engagement. VPR also played a role in the “Emerson 360” campus climate survey that was distributed to students, faculty, and staff, and will be facilitating focus groups to continue to strengthen VPR support, educational sessions, and Emerson policies and processes. (More information on your rights.)

How has VPR increased communication with the community?

We are regularly updating our website, Facebook page, and Twitter account with new information and resources, which enhances our communications with Emerson community members whenever they go online and wherever they may be, from Boston to Los Angeles to Kasteel Well. Posters, brochures, articles, and other materials around Emerson campuses also help spread the word about resources and support. People can learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships, self-care, support and resources, educational sessions, volunteering and activism, how to incorporate this topic into a class project, and more online whenever and wherever it works for them. This information also conveys the message that we support each other here at Emerson and people impacted by power-based interpersonal violence will be supported.

What is Emerson STANDS?

Emerson STANDS (Stand Together, Act Now, Do Something) is an active bystander campaign and training program that encourages and equips potential bystanders with the knowledge, skills, and resources, to safely and effectively intervene to prevent power-based interpersonal violence, including sexual assault and harassment, abusive relationships and bullying, and stalking and threats. The strategy has three main components, which are sharing social norms messaging about safety, respect, and community responsibility for individual safety; active bystander training for students and employees; and ongoing community building to support and reinforce social norms, active bystanders, and a violence-free community.


Emerson STANDS bracelets decorate an office windowsill at Emerson. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Who is participating in Emerson STANDS?

Emerson STANDS is continually increasing its presence and reach. Students have advised Emerson STANDS efforts, educational sessions, VPR support and advocacy, and VPR communications. Several students participated in a public service announcement (PSA) promoting Emerson STANDS, which will be released in April for National Sexual Assault Awareness and Activism Month. VPR has been working with various student organizations to plan and implement educational sessions as well. Anyone interesting in participating in Emerson STANDS may contact us through our website.


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