WalkTU: a more inclusive effort than past years

The event was formerly called Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and only allowed men to walk.

Students walk past a poster for WalkTU, a more inclusive version of the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event organized by the Wellness Resource Center. BRIANNA SPAUSE | PHOTO EDITOR

Members of Student Activists Against Sexual Assault were planning to protest Temple’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, an international men’s march to raise awareness for sexual assault by walking in red heels.

But instead, SAASA vice president Tyrell Mann-Barnes said the organization was invited by Tom Johnson, the assistant director of the Wellness Resource Center, to help revamp the event and make it more inclusive of other groups.

The former Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event only allowed men to walk. On Wednesday, the new event, WalkTU: Engaging New Voices in Ending Sexual Violence, will ditch the heels and allow anyone to participate.

“Part of what my job is, is doing education around interpersonal violence and sexual assault,” Johnson said. “And when you look at the data, you see that you can’t just look at interpersonal and sexual violence on a gender binary. … We’re committed to ending violence against all members of our community.”

Transgender college students are at higher risk for sexual violence. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer and gender non-conforming students have experienced sexual violence. This is compared to 18 percent of cisgender — people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth — college women, and 4 percent of cisgender college men.

The old event was held on Main Campus for five years and involved male-identifying participants — many of whom were from fraternities or athletic teams — and female-identifying volunteers who cheered them along the way. The event started at Founder’s Garden and included speakers.

“The day will look probably very similar in a lot of ways, except we won’t have people handing in shoes,” Johnson said.

Johnson formed a committee of students and faculty members who planned the event. The committee included four students from SAASA — junior English and biology major Mann-Barnes, SAASA marketing director Amelia Burns, SAASA campus liaison Dinsio Walo-Wright and SAASA events coordinator Kirsten Vagle.

Tim Greene, a senior criminal justice major and a student worker for Campus Safety Services, was also on the committee to help coordinate a safe route for the walk and represent Donna Gray, CSS’s special services coordinator who handles cases of sexual assault.

“[Sexual violence] is an unfortunate reality but it’s prevalent on and off campus, so anything to spread the word is extremely beneficial,” Greene said. “All different departments at Temple and [people from] all different backgrounds are involved in the planning of the event to make it happen.”

In addition to the changes to be more inclusive, junior journalism and political science major Burns said there will be a new focus on art this year so the event remains eye-catching without the red heels. Burns reached out to Take the Time — a group of students from the Tyler School of Art who created on-campus installations to raise awareness of sexual assault — to contribute to the event.

Walo-Wright, a sophomore communication studies major, and Vagle, a junior religion major, will speak on behalf of SAASA at WalkTU. There will also be a speaker from Women Organized Against Rape — a rape crisis center in the city that opened a satellite office on Main Campus last month — and the WRC will hand out cards with information about sexual assault resources on campus.

Johnson said WalkTU is a kick-off to other programming throughout April for National Assault Awareness Month. This month’s theme is “Engaging New Voices,” and all programming has been planned with inclusivity in mind, he added.

“[The planning process] was having those conversations to understand what are the different groups of people that are actually impacted by this more statistically and how to incorporate them in this walk so that it’s more inclusive,” Mann-Barnes said. “And I feel like every conversation is surrounded around that.”

On April 6, the WRC will host a presentation and Q&A with WOAR. Other events for National Sexual Assault Awareness Month include an Owl Talk Tuesday — a monthly discussion for students hosted by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership — about sexual assault on April 11 and the Clothesline Project — an installation that shares survivors’ stories on T-shirts hanging on clotheslines — on April 12 and 13.

SAASA will host a sexual assault resource panel, which Johnson called a “tailgate” to WalkTU, on Tuesday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 200A of the Student Center. The panel will feature Johnson, Title IX Coordinator Andrea Seiss and representatives from WOAR.

The main goal of the changes to the event, Mann-Barnes said, is to include as many people as possible and give everyone a space to share their experiences. The committee aims to connect people with the resources they need to find support on campus, Burns added.

“If people are going to come out and talk about sexual assault, it’s important that they’re getting the right information about it,” Burns said. “Because it’s already not talked about, the last thing we want is having events about that, that aren’t getting anything done.”

“I think we need to create more space where it’s okay to talk about [sexual assault], it’s okay to get the resources that you need to heal and to feel better about it in your own time,” Mann-Barnes said. “And I don’t think that was happening before.”

Erin Moran can be reached at erin.moran@temple.edu or on Twitter @ernmrntweets.

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