By Kelsen Kitchen
If you were lucky, you might have seen a huge crowd of men on April 12 tottering around campus in high heels. You may have been confused at the crowd — but you were just witnessing the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event in action.
“Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” is an annual fundraiser put on by the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office, in which the fellows of USU are given a pair of women’s high heels and asked to, literally, walk a mile in them. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about sexual violence and rape, and give male students a forum to express their support of the anti-violence cause. Since the event’s inception in 2005, it has grown from a handful of participants to more than one hundred USU men who are proud to don heels and walk a mile to support sexual assault awareness on campus.
“We’ve learned over time that what works best with college students is something that’s different, that’s outside the box, that is kind of, for lack of a better word, creating a spectacle — a chance for them to have fun, and a non-threatening way to stand up,” said Monica Bailey, program coordinator at the USU SAAVI office. “We’re not asking students to have one-on-one confrontations with people that they don’t think are treating others appropriately, but this is a way that they can come, and walk, and be part of the crowd. It’s not as in-your-face as other things, and I feel like they have to stand up to sexual violence.”
This year, the event was held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the USU bookstore, with the main march happening at 12:45 p.m. In a light drizzle, a mob of about 100 high-heel-clad men and women holding signs that declared anti-rape messages marched around the USU campus. The crowd was rowdy and enthusiastic, even though the heels gave some of the male participants a little bit of trouble.
One heeled man sported a megaphone and led the crowd in chanting “No means no!” Several volunteers walked around the edges, carrying jars and accepting donations from passers-by. “You are so good at that!” said one volunteer, pointing at a young man taking small, elegant steps in purple high heels. “He gets plenty of practice,” his friend (wearing red pumps) joked.
Some of the groups represented by the brave young men wearing heels included fraternities, student athletes, and the ROTC.
“[My favorite part] is seeing the guys’ reactions to wearing heels,” said Hilary Webb, a junior who has volunteered at the event for the past three years. “They think it will be easier than it actually is.” Webb says that when more guys step up and participate in “Walk a Mile,” it frees others to do the same, and helps to make USU a better environment for everyone. “An aware campus is a safer campus,” said Webb.
It’s a loud and fun atmosphere, but by the end of the mile, most of the boys are visibly tired of wearing high heels. “That was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” said one man, wincing, as he kicked off his heels at the finish line. The men seemed more than happy to remove their footwear and enjoy some free food. There were also tables set up promoting the Child and Family Support Center, cancer awareness and Center for Pregnancy Choices, among others.
The “Walk a Mile” event isn’t the only activity the SAAVI office puts on. In the fall, the office helps put on RAINN Day (RAINN: Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). This event celebrates male and female survivors of sexual violence.
In February, the office is involved with Healthy Relationships and Sexual Responsibility Week. There are also several other events that happen around the year. According to Bailey, the SAAVI office is always looking for student volunteers.
Why is it important for students to get involved and be informed about sexual assault and violence?
“Because it’s a big deal,” Bailey said bluntly. “Because, in my experience, everybody at some point in their life will be affected by this issue, whether as a sibling, as a parent, as a friend, as a roommate, as a spouse, as a dating partner, sexual violence affects everybody. So, it’s something to learn about so (you) can be a good support for anyone that you love, as well to just stand up for something that really shouldn’t be happening around here.”
If you are interested in volunteering for the SAAVI office, just visit http://www.usu.edu/saavi and click on “Get Involved.” From there, you can volunteer for a variety of different events and activities and help do your part in eradicating sexual assault from USU’s campus and raising awareness against such actions elsewhere.