Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon will be going on academic leave for the rest of this semester in order to finish her dissertation. In her absence, her responsibilities will be divided between Dr. Kristin Huang, a psychologist at the Psychological Counseling Center, academic advisor Lisa Hardej and June Ferestien ’86.

McMahon explained in a phone interview with the Justice that she found out in August that there was a new deadline imposed on her dissertation. She is currently working on her doctoral dissertation through the Rutgers School of Social Work and the Center on Violence Against Women and Children focused on primary prevention of sexual assault on college campuses through bystander intervention.

“I think probably, from a campus perspective, [the timing] couldn’t be worse because it’s the beginning of the academic year, and the university has now come under certain investigation,” McMahon said but added that her leave is “just an unfortunate series of circumstances not related to anything happening on campus.”

“We knew when we hired Sheila that completion of her doctoral work was critical to her and promised to support her in every way possible,” Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel wrote in an email to the Justice. McMahon explained that she stayed through mid-September to work with Assistant Vice President of Health and Wellness Sheryl Sousa '90 to devise a plan for while she is gone.

“Our plan for the fall semester will be to take a team approach, utilizing designated point people for the different areas of responsibility,” Flagel said.

Huang, who was hired by the PCC over the summer, wrote in an email to the Justice that she will be working to get the new Rape Crisis Center started, while also working with the Office of Prevention Services to handle any current issues.

“In the short term, I will be working with students and staff to figure out logistics related to the RCC…and coordinating the hiring and training of student staff members and volunteers to get the RCC up and running,” she wrote.

“In the longer term, I will be providing support and guidance to those working in the RCC and making sure that the resources of the PCC are readily available to meet the needs of students coping with the effects of sexual and intimate partner violence,” she continued.

She added that she will start holding office hours from 9 to 10 a.m., Monday through Thursday, designed to support the helpers who will be working on issues related to sexual assault. Hardej, an academic advisor, has an undergraduate degree in Women and Gender Studies and a master’s degree in counseling and will also cover some of McMahon’s duties. She will hold office hours in the Office of Prevention Services from 4 to 6 p.m. “Students should feel free to reach me directly via email or phone for a confidential conversation about various healing and reporting options,” she wrote in an email to the Justice.

Ferestien will also join the health, wellness and prevention team but will not work in a counseling capacity. She wrote in an email to the Justice: “Specifically, I will be working with others on the development of initiatives and programs to help raise awareness about sexual assault prevention and other health and wellness topics that are important to the Brandeis community.”

“As part of these efforts, I will be meeting with key stakeholders which will include staff faculty and student leaders,” Ferestien continued. McMahon clarified that Ferestien will be working on a part-time basis as a consultant to work on a publicizing and awareness campaign that Prevention Services was planning to get off the ground this semester. “[Ferestien] would have been hired to do that even if I hadn’t been gone because I don’t have any expertise in marketing,” McMahon said.

McMahon also said that Brandon Weintraub ’16 is organizing the bystander training programs on campus, and that this weekend over 40 students went through the training program, allowing many of them to become trainers themselves. McMahon will return to her regular duties beginning on December 15.