Despite second lawsuit, Emerson still on road to reform

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • January 22, 2015

At issue: Another lawsuit faults Emerson for handling of sexual assault cases.

Our take: Don't lose sight of changes Emerson has made since then.

Another student has come forward to sue Emerson College for mishandling her sexual assault case. Just before the new year, the anonymous student, referred to as Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit similar to Jillian Doherty’s from last year. Both students allege that the school violated Title IX, a federal gender equity law, by mishandling their cases, and both have employed the same lawyer, David Angueira. In the lawsuit, Doe says she was assaulted in October 2012, but ultimately did not pursue a criminal investigation after being advised by an Emerson residence director to drop the case. 

These new allegations are just as serious as the ones that have preceded them. But as discussions over this new lawsuit inevitably, and necessarily, begin, it is critical to keep in mind that Emerson has made significant changes since news of the administration’s alleged misconduct first came to light. Policies that may have influenced Doe’s and Doherty’s allegations have likely changed, in major ways, since then.

In March, the college hired Melanie Matson as its first director of violence prevention and response/sexual assault response advocate. In the fall of 2013, the college launched the Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate program, and also underwent an external review from the consulting firm Margolis Healy & Associates to evaluate its compliance with Title IX policy. In October, another sexual assault advocate and licensed social worker, Greta Spoering, began working at the college, specializing in assisting those who have survived interpersonal violence.

Although changes have been implemented, even Emerson administrators recognize there’s still room for improvement. Sylvia Spears, the vice president for diversity and inclusion, has been open about stating that the college still has shortcomings, and is continually looking for ways to do better. In September 2013, Spears told the Beacon, “I think this year you will see increased educational opportunities about prevention, increased education on how to respond if anyone does want to talk about it, and so you should see an overall increase in discussion on campus.” 

And when the college announced a new comprehensive sexual assault response and prevention policy in September 2014, Spears acknowledged the flaws of the previous guidelines. “In the past, certainly sexual misconduct was prohibited on our campus,” Spears said in an interview with the Beacon, “but it was embedded in our sexual harassment policy and non-discrimination policy.” The new policy specifically defines “consent” and outlines the rights survivors have, from date of report through resolution, Spears said. 

As the debate over the school’s alleged negligence in a second rape case ensues, let us keep in mind the progress that the college has made since this specific incident occurred in the fall of 2012. We should give credit where credit is due for efforts that have been made to make our school a safer place—if not, what are we fighting for? While we continue to move forward and fortify our sexual assault prevention and response policies, let our online comments turn into thoughtful vocal opinions, and let our internet discourse turn into interpersonal dialogue. Let us continue to advocate for further change, while helping to accomplish it, too.