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Emerson Dons Denim, Supports Anti-Violence Efforts

Boot cut, straight cut, skinny jeans, or “mom jeans”—faculty, students, and staff from across Emerson College pulled on their denim on April 8 to show their commitment to ending sexual assault and other kinds of violence.

At noon, close to 60 members of the Emerson community piled into the Multipurpose Room at the Max Mutchnick Campus Center to celebrate Jeans for Justice, an international day of solidarity that began as a protest against a 1999 Italian court case in which a rape conviction was overturned because the survivor was wearing tight jeans.

“No one deserves to be sexually assaulted or harmed in any way, no matter what they’re wearing,” said Melanie Matson, director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Response (VPR), organizers of the rally, and the office behind Communities United Against Violence Month.

Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sylvia Spears called on Emersonians to “dismantle cultural norms in our society” that perpetuate rape culture and a culture of violence: using language that devalues people and blaming victims for what they were wearing, what they were drinking, or what they were doing.

“These are so deeply embedded in our culture that they are in the air we breathe,” Spears said.

But the good news, Spears said, is that in just two years, Emerson has created a VPR team and an office to investigate Title IX claims. There is an active Coordinated Community Prevention and Response Team, and President Lee Pelton has made anti-violence a priority, both philosophically and financially, she said.

“As corny as that phrase has become, it takes a village,” Spears said.

Several students participated in the rally. Katie Burns ’18 talked about a column she wrote in the Berkeley Beacon this year about the Netflix series Jessica Jones.

In it, Jessica, a superhero, is stalked by an ex-partner who practices mind control. Though the series never mentions or depicts rape, it clearly shows the aftermath of sexual assault—the victim blaming, the psychological trauma—in a way that is neither lurid nor dismissive, she said.

“We, as a society, should do better when we’re depicting rape on television or in movies…” Burns said. “We are a school of media makers, so as a community of media makers, when we’re talking about these issues or creating this media, we should think about who this is actually for.”

Nathaniel Charles ’18 spoke about “leadership, activism, and social justice,” and how he doesn’t generally think of himself as an activist.

“Taking up space isn’t radical,” Charles said. “If the majority is allowed space because they are people, doesn’t the minority have the same [right]?”

The rally kicked off with a song, “Little Memories,” by Alex LaRosa ’19, a song about heartbreak with “a little bit of looking back on the good things that happened.” Amanda Canny ’17 read a piece she wrote about consent called “Push.”

Several academic and administrative departments, as well as individual committee members, were honored for their work in making Emerson a more violence-free community.

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