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Jeans for Justice brings performances, advocacy

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Erin Schwall, faculty member in the Performing Arts Department, used the Jeans for Justice Rally to speak about the play she is directing, Won't Stay Silent, which examines sexual assault and is playing Thursday, April 23, at the Semel Theater. Schwall is a survivor of sexual assault and spoke about the importance of giving survivors a voice. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Emerson Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) held the Jeans for Justice Rally at Common Ground in the Walker Building on April 17—urging students, faculty, and staff to wear jeans all day to stand in solidarity with sexual assault survivors.

“No one ever deserves to be harmed, no matter what they’re wearing,” said Melanie Matson, director of VPR. “Together we are visually stating that no one deserves to be harmed.”

Jeans for Justice is an international movement that stems from a 1999 Italian court case in which a rape conviction was overturned because the victim was wearing jeans during the attack.

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An informational table at the Jeans for Justice Rally at Common Ground, on the 10th floor of the Walker Building. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

At the rally, there were speakers and a performance by Steven Martin, director of off-campus student services, who is a classically trained opera singer.

Steven Martin, director of off-campus student services who is also a classically trained opera singer, performs at the Jeans for Justice Rally at Common Ground in the Walker Building on April 17. (Smartphone video by Dan O'Brien)

VPR has held several events in recent weeks that coincide with the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month and produced a public service announcement video promoting Emerson STANDS, a bystander intervention and violence prevention program.

The Kappa Gamma Chi sorority also held several events as part of Emerald Empowerment Week.

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Melanie Matson and Greta Spoering, survivor advocates who work at Emerson Violence Prevention and Response, at the Jeans for Justice Rally. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Performing Arts faculty member Erin Schwall, who publicly identifies herself as a sexual assault survivor, used the rally to talk about Won’t Stay Silent, a play she is directing that features 12 undergraduate Emerson students and examines issues around sexual assault, harassment, and the social constructs that perpetuate this type of violence.

“We stay silent to survive, but we need to speak in order to live,” Schwall said.

Schwall, whose background is in improv comedy, said the play is both sad and happy. She said there is scientific research showing that laughter leads to people talking about their experiences, which leads to healing.

Won’t Stay Silent is playing at the Semel Theater, in the Tufte Performance and Production Center, on Thursday, April 23 at 8:00 pm. Admission is free.


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Katie Grindeland '17 performs as monologue from Won't Stay Silent at the Jeans for Justice Rally on April 17. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Michelle Martinelli ’15, president of the Kappa Gamma Chi sorority, spoke about rape culture after attending a talk on the subject on April 13 by YouTube host and rape and dating crisis advocate Laci Green.


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Michelle Martinelli '15, president of Kappa Gamma Chi, spoke about Emerald Empowerment Week and the importance of sexual assault awareness at the Jeans for Justice Rally. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

Martinelli shared an anecdote about a young man who once joked that he couldn’t make rape jokes around Kappa Gamma Chi members because he thought they were supposedly uptight.

“I shouldn’t have to explain why making a rape joke isn’t OK,” Martinelli said. “You [as a man] think it’s funny, but you don’t have to think about it as a real possibility as something that could happen to you.”

Martinelli mentioned the well-cited statistic that one in four college-age women are at some point victims of some form of sexual assault. However, she said there is increasing awareness of male victims. Kappa Gamma Chi hosted the play Black ‘n’ Blue Boys/Broken Men on April 18, which examined that issue.

Alex Clark ’16, president of the Phi Alpha Tau fraternity, has volunteered with Emerson STANDS and said he’s working closely with Matson to involve more male students with the College’s ongoing violence prevention and awareness activities.

Clark said that as a gay man who had difficulty in high school, he understands the importance of living in a safe and accepting community.

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Alex Clark '16, president of the Phi Alpha Tau fraternity, spoke about the importance of educating men about sexual assault. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)

“A huge factor in choosing a college was going somewhere that I could feel accepted,” Clark said.

Miranda Banks, assistant professor in Visual and Media Arts, reiterated the importance of Emerson STANDS, which trains people to help bystanders experiencing unacceptable behavior, such as cat calling or name calling, to promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion.

“It’s very hard to change the behavior of perpetrators, but it’s not as hard to change the behavior of the bystanders,” Banks said. “If we see women being mistreated in the classrooms or dorms…those micro-aggressions are so powerful. The faculty here care deeply about these issues and want to work with you toward change.”

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Assistant Professor Miranda Banks, of Visual and Media Arts, speaks at the Jeans for Justice Rally. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)


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