Brandeis University’s Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon returned to campus on Dec. 15, following a period spent on academic leave. McMahon departed in September in order to complete her dissertation with the Rutgers School of Social Work.
McMahon’s dissertation focused on sense of community among college students. Working with other social work students, she analyzed the impact of an implicit curriculum—those elements which are not part of a class, but are part of a university’s culture and affect students.
“The implicit curriculum is the independent variable but then those factors get mediated by students’ sense of community and the questions for the dissertation is whether or not those factors of implicit curriculum and sense of community make students feel more empowered,” McMahon explained in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.
She feels her research will translate to her work at Brandeis in terms of connecting the elements of the Brandeis implicit curriculum to the aspects of her office. She also plans to examine Brandeis’ sense of community and its mediating factors in conjunction with student empowerment.
During her time away from campus, McMahon believes that the university made very good progress in the area of sexual services and feels lucky to have great colleagues who were able to step in.
She cites Rani Neutil, who works with several prevention services on campus and is available for confidential discussions, and Lisa Hardej of Academic Services, who held office hours in the Office of Prevention Services during McMahon’s absence. “[Hardej] has a lot of positive relationships with students, and is a good listener, so I felt her work with students dropping in who needed support was really important,” said McMahon. Kristen Huang, recently hired in September, worked with the Rape Crisis Center. McMahon also praises the students who have worked diligently on various projects, including Brandon Weintraub ’16 who has constructed the bystander training program, and the three students hired to organize the Rape Crisis Center, Victoria Jonas ’15, Sam Daniels ’16 and Ava Blustein ’15.
“I think the students who have been hired are a huge part of feeling like the Rape Crisis Center is going to flourish,” said McMahon of their efforts.
McMahon remained involved in campus activity while on leave, primarily through phone conversations. She kept in close contact with Weintraub, ensuring he had the help and resources necessary to build the bystander training program. McMahon also kept tabs on the development of the university’s new Rape Crisis Center. Glad she can now communicate and work with colleagues and students in person, McMahon said, “It’s helpful to be able to be back on campus and both be able to help facilitate things moving along and support the work that’s already being done.”
McMahon explained that though she enjoyed the process of her finishing her dissertation, she is very excited to have returned to Brandeis and enthusiastic about possibilities for this semester.
“I really enjoy working with students. I really miss being able to have the benefit of that interaction,” said McMahon, who feels she learns much from the students she works with and enjoys “being able to support students and seeing how they develop and grow and change.”
McMahon has many projects planned for the upcoming semester, including an open house event in February, which will be an opportunity to highlight both the Office of Prevention Services and the Rape Crisis Center. She will also be involved in the process of hiring and training student advocates to staff the Rape Crisis Center.
“We’re looking forward to having this open house, particularly for students on campus to be able to check out the Rape Crisis Center and meet the students who are on the staff there and kind of get a sense of the place,” said McMahon noting she hopes the event will introduce students to the service as well as allow her and her colleagues to acquire feedback concerning student needs in terms of the center.
Along with students and other staff members, McMahon will continue efforts to discern the best structure for the RCC. She notes she does not wish to duplicate services already in place, such as 6-Talk, and values coordination and communication between sexual services on campus.
This semester, McMahon will begin to work with the new Title IX officer the university is hiring. She will also focus on the continuing bystander training program. Evelyn Milford ’16 will be working with her office in order to advance the program.
Additionally this semester, McMahon has high hopes for advancing the campus climate survey. She has participated in the process of drafting the survey. “I think [the survey] is a really important opportunity for us to get feedback in a very sort of systematic way from students about their experiences on campus,” she said.
Students are excited by McMahon’s return. In an email to The Hoot, Jonas wrote, “Sheila’s return to Brandeis means only great things for the Office of Prevention Services and the development of the Rape Crisis Center. We’re lucky to be establishing the Center with the help and guidance of many dedicated professionals, and Sheila is one of them.”
Daniels is likewise thrilled and said “Since [McMahon] started at Brandeis, she’s formed relationships with survivors and activists alike. She’s perceived as trustworthy and a true advocate, which makes her instrumental in the success of the RCC … Because Sheila’s a familiar face involved, I think people will feel more comfortable about the Rape Crisis Center.”