Meager student attendance at Title IX advocate talks

Student turnout continued to be low at the final presentations by candidates for Emerson’s new sexual assault prevention and response advocate. 

Robert Amelio, chair of the search committee and director of diversity education and human relations, said he was disappointed by the sparse student response.

“We want students to be involved, but they’re not taking the opportunity,” he said.

Despite three emails sent from Emerson’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion alerting students of the upcoming presentations, four students attended the event that took place Jan. 31 and zero students attended the session on Feb. 3. 

Amelio said he personally sent additional emails to members of Emerson Stopping Sexual Assault and the three students who filed federal civil rights complaints against the college — Sarita Nadkarni, Jillian Doherty, and Sarah Tedesco — reminding them of the presentations.

Nadkarni, a junior visual and media arts major, is studying abroad in London and was unable to attend the presentations. But she said if she were in Boston, she would have attended all of the presentations. She said students are not taking their responsibility seriously.  

“The school has done their part, and now it’s our time,” said Nadkarni.

Sally Struble and Melanie Matson, the remaining two of four final candidates, pitched their proposals for preventing sexual assault through education, and supporting survivors with top-notch response programs, to audiences of faculty, staff, and students. 

On Jan. 31, Struble presented in the Athletics Skybox of Piano Row to an audience of four students and 14 staff and faculty members. 

Struble holds a bachelor of arts in social work, a law degree, and is the program director at the North Shore Rape Crisis Center.

She said in her dream world, Emerson would have a mini sexual assault crisis center on campus that would include a 24-hour hotline staffed by volunteers; individual peer counseling sessions; support groups; prevention and education workshops for students, faculty, and staff; and a discretely-located drop-in center for survivors.

“Rape, in my opinion, is the most profound violation of a person’s soul,” said Struble. “The most important thing we can do is give them back as much control as we possibly can in every decision they make, big or small.”   

Matson presented Feb. 3 in a Piano Row meeting room to an audience of 15 faculty and staff members. No students attended.

She is the director of the University of Kentucky’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Center and holds a doctorate in education, a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and a bachelor’s degree in social sciences.

She highlighted the importance of community involvement in stopping sexual assaults on college campuses. At the front of the room, she projected a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Matson said she would focus on primary prevention education through bystander intervention workshops for students throughout their four years at the college, not just their freshman year orientations.

Attendees of each presentation were sent a six-question survey to rate the candidate’s proposals and rank her ability to meet the position’s expectations.

Amelio said the search committee will compile the survey data, interviews with candidates, and interviews with the Sexual Assault Response Team, which includes Ron Ludman, dean of students; Elise Harrison, director of counseling and psychological services; Alexa Jackson, Title IX coordinator; and Jane Powers, director for the Center of Health and Wellness. The search committee will present their top one or two choices to Sylvia Spears, vice president for diversity and inclusion, to review. Spears will make the final decision for the hire, said Amelio. 

He said the college hopes to have an offer accepted before the end of February. 

At the previous presentations given by candidates Kelly Wilt and Meghan Root, only two students attended Wilt’s and none came to Root’s. Two faculty and 21 staff members attended Wilt’s presentation and two faculty and 18 staff members attended Root’s.

In October, Emerson launched a search for the position for which Wilt, Root, Struble, and Matson are applying in response to the federal complaints filed by Tedesco, Doherty, and Nadkarni, which alleged the college violated the federal gender equality law, Title IX, in mishandling their reports of sexual assault. 

Amelio said the four finalists were selected from the search, which he said yielded approximately 70 candidates.

The advocate will work primarily with sexual assault survivors, caring for their particular needs as they seek medical help or pursue legal actions, and will oversee Sexual Assault Survivor Advocates, a group of student and faculty volunteers dedicated to providing effective response, support, and guidance for survivors.  

Kelsey Buckley, a junior performing arts major, said the presentations were at inconvenient times for students to attend. Although she is on the college’s internal task force reviewing Emerson’s policies on sexual assault response and prevention, she said she could not make any of the presentations due to class scheduling conflicts.

Sophomore marketing communication major Emily Engelhardt, who is a resident assistant, and attended Struble’s presentation, said the presentations weren’t marketed to students enough.

Other students who attended the presentations declined to comment. 

Doherty, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major, did not attend any of the presentations and said she is currently undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

 “We need more people to get angry that this is happening,” said Doherty. “If it’s not you, it’s your sister, your best friend, or your girlfriend. I expect more of the student body. They should be actively involved.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly states that Sarah Tedesco declined to comment.