‘Walk a Mile’ jolts dialogue on sexual assault

Participants of the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser walk toward the hill to start their march on April 5, 2016. Many of the participants were men from fraternities and different organizations around campus that came out to help bring attention to sexual assault prevention. Kathryn Ziesig/HERALD

Andrew Henderson


Distinct sounds of clicking, clacking and screeching on the pavements surrounding the outer parameter of WKU echoed on Tuesday as the annual Walk a Mile event began.

A sea of red shoes took to the sidewalks of WKU as men started at Centennial Mall, rounded Helm Library and crossed in front of Cherry Hall before traveling back down the Hill and returning to Centennial Mall.

“You all need to move it along a little faster,” President Gary Ransdell said from the front porch of the Craig Administrative Center as participants passed by.

WKU’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month Planning Committee and the Interfraternity Council partnered to host the event. Proceeds from the event went to Hope Harbor, a nonprofit crisis counseling center offering services to survivors of sexual assault and their families. Proceeds to Hope Harbor totaled $1,575.

Alexandria Kennedy, Greek Affairs coordinator, spoke to the crowd of roughly 50 participants before the event started. Kennedy herself is a survivor of sexual assault at college. She said after the assault, she began to live in fear.

“I was afraid to say a thing,” Kennedy said.

She said we often think perpetrators of sexual assault are strangers, but her assailant was a man she knew. It wasn’t until a friend of hers reached out with concern that she began seeking help.

Kennedy said if, by her speaking to the crowd on Tuesday, people were able to put a face to the crimes of sexual assault, then the experience was worth it. She also spoke about the Greek community and fraternity men in particular to address the “elephant in the room.”

“Many sexual violence crimes are perpetrated by fraternity men … our fraternities could be doing a far better job to be proactively preventing sexual violence and not just reacting to it when something happens,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said having conversations about sexual assault can be difficult, but Walk a Mile can be the starting point for the conversation.

“If you know three women, you likely know one who is a survivor of sexual assault. Walk for her today,” Kennedy said.

Elizabeth Madariaga, sexual assault services coordinator, spoke after Kennedy. She said sexual violence affects, shames, defeats, scares and alienates all of us.

“Sexual violence does not have to win; perpetrators do not have to win,” Madriaga said.

She called upon the greater WKU community to start conversations about these topics because we’re all part of the community here and are all responsible. She said it’s on us to put on high heels, tennis shoes and boots to open up lines of communication to talk about sexual violence.

“We have no problems talking about that awesome, last-second shot that won the entire NCAA tournament last night or all of the new emojis that are on Facebook … we talk about all of that, so start a conversation today about this event, about Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” Madariaga said.

After Madariaga finished, the participants began their climb up the Hill. Some were noticeably struggling more than others. Father Mike Williams of St. Thomas Aquinas church, however, had developed his own strategy for walking in heels after participating in the event for the last two years.

He said he hasn’t gotten used to wearing heels but has gotten smarter. He opts for walking off the sidewalk and in the grass when he can.

“Then you can bury your heel in the ground and it takes the pressure off,” Williams said.

As the men walked their way up the Hill, they were met with support and outstretched hands holding phones from bystanders.

“Yeah, I’m in a lot of pain,” one participant said as he made his way up the Hill in front of Helm Library.

“I’m not sure how graceful I actually feel,” another one said.

“Oh God, stairs,” a participant said as he was confronted with stairs going down the Hill in front of Van Meter Hall.

Aurora, Illinois, junior Shalane Payne said she wasn’t surprised to see a sea of men wearing high heels pass her by on Tuesday since she knew what Walk a Mile was. She said she believes the event helps start a dialogue and said it was important then men specifically were participating.

“I feel like they usually take a step back, and it’s usually women talking about it even though they are involved and they can also help like to stop it,” Payne said.

Louisville junior Hunter Heath, IFC activities chairman, was one of the organizers for this year’s Walk a Mile. He said this was his first time walking in the event.

“At first it’s like, ‘I can’t believe I got myself into this.’ Shortly after, it’s followed by, ‘Wow, that’s going to be a lot farther than I thought.’ And then right after that, it kind of sets in — the reasons why you’re here — and that one didn’t take much longer to get to,” Heath said.

Heath said people might push the subject of sexual assault away, and Walk a Mile can help create an environment where it’s okay to talk about the subject and help other members of the WKU community to take part in the conversation as well.

“We want to rid our campus as a whole of gender violence, sexual assault and rape,” Heath said.