Advocate hire stresses bystander intervention

by Ryan Catalani / Beacon Staff and Rebecca Fiore / Beacon Staff • March 20, 2014

Melanie Matson was recently hired as the new director of violence prevention and response/ sexual assault response advocate, according to Sylvia Spears, vice president of diversity and inclusion. 

“[Matson] brought the appropriate combination of skills and background to effectively develop a comprehensive prevention program,” said Spears. 

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.

Tedesco said that while she was pleased to see Matson coming to the college, she believes this should have been done earlier.

“It’s a position that should have been here several years ago,” the sophomore journalism major said. “I wish there was one when I was sexually assaulted.”

At a presentation at Emerson in early February, when she was among four finalists for the position, 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.”

According to Spears, Matson will begin her position May 1. Matson currently directs the University of Kentucky’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center, which is home to the Green Dot program, a nationally recognized organization that focuses on reducing violence in communities. 

Matson 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, composed 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,” wrote President M. Lee Pelton in an email to the community announcing Matson’s appointment. “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.”

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 that 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.

Spears said she was surprised by the lack of student involvement in these presentations since many emails were sent out. 

“[Student attendance] was less than expected,” said Spears. “I can’t explain it. I’m actually still trying to understand the nature of community involvement about this issue.”

Junior Kelsey Buckley said that though she wasn’t able to attend the meetings for the candidates, she did read their resumes. She said she was impressed with Matson’s emphasis on bystander intervention education.

“Bystander intervention workshops have been a proven tactic to help stop sexual assault at many colleges,” said Buckley, a performing arts major said. “Also, just having a person in the administration to be an advocate is great, and she will adapt to Emerson.”

Since October, Emerson has also launched an internal investigation, led by Spears and Lori Beth Way, senior advisor to academic affairs, to evaluate its policies on sexual assault response and prevention, and has selected the consulting firm Margolis Healy & Associates to evaluate its compliance with Title IX and the Clery Act. 

Margolis Healy & Associates representatives visited to talk with students, faculty, and staff to gather information for its compliance report.

Assistant News Editor Christina Bartson contributed to this report.