Emerson announces Melanie Matson as new assault response advocate

by Ryan Catalani / Beacon Staff and Rebecca Fiore / Beacon Staff • March 17, 2014

Emerson has hired Melanie Matson as its new director of violence prevention and response/ sexual assault response advocate, according to Sylvia Spears, vice president of diversity and inclusion, and an email sent to the college community by President M. Lee Pelton. The advocate position was created after a federal gender discrimination complaint was filed against the college in October.

Matson will begin at Emerson on May 1, according to Pelton's statement. Matson previously directed the University of Kentucky’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center. She holds a doctorate in education, a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and a bachelor’s degree in social sciences.

In her new position at Emerson, Matson will oversee and develop the college’s initiative to prevent sexual assault. She will be tasked with caring and advocating for survivors, and managing the Sexual Assault Survivor Advocates program, comprised of volunteer students and faculty members, which was launched last semester.

“We are very fortunate to have someone of Dr. Matson’s caliber join our community as we work to improve our sexual assault prevention and response efforts,” Pelton wrote in the statement. “She will also be making a brief visit to campus this Friday to informally meet with members of our community before the end of the semester.”

At a presentation at Emerson in early February, Matson highlighted the community’s role in stopping sexual assaults on campus. She said she would work to integrate bystander intervention workshops into all four years of students’ careers at Emerson, not just their first-year orientations.

“Right now, our nation is looking to colleges to be leaders and examples of sexual assault prevention and education,” Matson said at the presentation. “And I believe Emerson can be one of these leaders.”

Calling sexual assault a tool of oppression, Matson said the only way to make individual safety a community priority is by transforming the dominant culture.

“One out of every five college women experience sexual assault in their four years at school,” said Matson. “At a school of 4,500 students, that’s more people than the Paramount Theater seats. That’s how many people are impacted. We have a serious problem and everyone needs to be involved.”

Emerson began the search for the advocate position in October, after Sarah Tedesco, Jillian Doherty, and Sarita Nadkarni came forward with a federal complaint alleging the college mishandled their reports of sexual assault and violated Title IX, the gender equality law.

Robert Amelio, director of diversity education and human relations, chaired the search committee, which included four administrators and one student.

In December, Amelio told the Beacon that the advocate would be hired by mid-January.

According to Spears, the reason why Emerson has waited this long was to include students more in the process.

“We didn’t want it to happen while students weren’t here,” she said. “It’s important for the community to have access to the candidates.”

Amelio told the Beacon in late January the search yielded approximately 70 candidates, four of whom were selected as finalists.

Although Emerson organized meetings for the college community to meet and give feedback on each of the four candidates, two of the presentations—including Matson’s—were absent of students, and only a handful showed up to the others. Several dozen faculty and staff members were present at the meetings.

Since October, Emerson has also launched an internal investigation, led by Spears, to evaluate its policies on sexual assault response and prevention, nd has selected the consulting firm Margolis Healy & Associates to evaluate its compliance with Title IX. To gather information for its report, members of Margolis Healy will be on campus this week to talk with students, faculty, and staff.

Assistant news editor Christina Bartson and News Editor Laura Gomez contributed to this report.