Matt McGorry ’08—of Orange Is the New Black and How to Get Away with Murder fame—says feminism and social justice “prov[ide] a framework” for him to be the best version of himself.
McGorry visited his alma mater on October 25 alongside national BuzzFeed reporter and former Huffington Post senior editor Tyler Kingkade for an event titled “Activists and Allies: A Conversation About Dismantling Power-Based Violence on College Campuses” at the Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre.
“We all really do have the power to change the world,” McGorry told the crowd of about 300. “When people take a stand, it affects the people around you. Those people take that with them. That seed is planted and that tree grows.”
This event was part of a two-day National Leadership Institute: Changing the Narrative on Campus Violence hosted and presented by the Avon Foundation and Futures Without Violence. For the third time, Emerson was one of 20 colleges across the country to be awarded a grant by the Avon Foundation to strengthen violence prevention efforts, specifically the College’s Violence Prevention and Response (VPR)’s Emerson STANDS program.
“We believe violence is not inevitable and we do believe that community responsibility for individual safety makes a big difference,” said VPR Director Melanie Matson. “We believe each and every one of us can play a role in ending violence.”
The National Leadership Institute invited half of the colleges awarded grants—including Brandeis University, Lesley University, and Providence College—to Emerson to hear from guest speakers, hold roundtable discussions, and brainstorm ideas about what’s working in terms of violence prevention on campus and what can improve.
“Emerson is such a progressive school and I think we’ve always been leaders on many issues,” McGorry said, noting how proud he was to see the new gender-inclusive bathroom signs on campus. “I feel especially honored to be here talking about such important issues. And now, really understanding so much of the values of the school and how that relates to how I’ve ended up in my work now, is really important to me.”
Nina Sennott of YW Boston and Emerson Student Government Association President Emily Solomon ’17 moderated the discussion between McGorry and Kingkade, as well as the following question-and-answer session. They made it clear that in order to enact institutional changes to violence in our culture, activists need the help of men and people in powerful positions.
“I think this says a lot for how far we’ve come as institution,” Solomon said following the event, noting Emerson’s efforts to combat and prevent campus violence through its programming, training, and administrative initiatives in recent years. “Both Tyler and Matt were incredibly self-aware of their status, their privilege, and their power, and were able to speak directly to how that impacts their activism and how they make sure they’re not speaking over people.”
McGorry embraced this role as an ally and made it a point to recognize his privilege as a white, straight, cisgender man. A central point of his in the conversation was to call to action other men in privileged positions to recognize systematic problems with violence and push for change.
“I think specifically my place in this is to engage men more to think about the issues of gender-based violence and the roles that we need to have as allies, and at a more basic level, as good and moral human beings,” said McGorry.
Kingkade shared his experience as a reporter covering topics like masculinity, body image, and sexual assault. He recalled his college experience being similar to McGorry’s in that he was not forced to confront issues of gender-based violence. He encouraged activists to “be loud” and make people aware of the issues they are fighting to fix.
The event was introduced by Emerson’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sylvia Spears and a series of student performances of slam poetry, spoken word, and dramatic scenes. Ashley Dunn ’18 performed a piece of her poetry before the panel discussion began. She said the speakers’ advice to “call in, not call out” is something she will take with her as an activist.
“So many people just want to call out automatically to show off their knowledge, not to educate the other person on whatever topic is at hand,” she said, “because it is a conversation, not a debate, and not an argument.”
Sara Barber ’19 read a poem to open the evening’s discussion. After the event, she said she was excited and grateful to have participated in the Institute.
“I feel honored to have opened for an Emerson alum who is doing such important things now,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to see that people are willing to listen and share in a community that’s willing to talk about these things.”