Rocky Mountain College made history last month by hosting their first Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event. Frank Baird founded the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes non-profit organization in 2001. What began as a dare between friends turned into a worldwide phenomenon. The mission of the organization is to “create a unique and powerful public experience that educates individuals and communities about the causes of men’s sexualized violence against women.”
Over 400 people, a combination of spectators and participants, congregated into the Fortin Education Center to learn about sexual violence against women. Before the actual walk took place, several guests spoke out about the significance the event. Among the speakers were Miss Montana Teen USA Elle Cook, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, and Rocky’s President Bob Wilmouth.
Tim Fox gave a moving and informative speech about such a monumental event taking place on Rocky’s campus. In his speech, Fox stated, “We don’t want to be a part of the problem, we want to a part of the solution.” In Montana alone, the rate of sexual assault has increased. In 2014, the number of forcible rapes reported were 396, while in 2015 that number jumped to 431 (disastercenter.com/crime/mtcrimn).
On college campuses, women between the ages of 18-24 are three times more likely to be a victim of sexual violence (rainn.org). In a study conducted by the Association of American Universities, they found that out of the 27 schools and 150,072 students that participated in the study, 11.7% of students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled at their university. According to rainn.org, only 20% of college female victims, ages 18-24, report the crime to law enforcement.
These types of crimes are taking place and can even happen at schools of Rocky’s size. As President Wilmouth emphasized, “Sexual violence can’t be cured. It needs to be prevented…tonight is a united gender movement.” By hosting such a sensitive yet necessary event, the institution has taken a step in the right direction and showed that they will not tolerate such heinous acts.
Once the speakers nished, those participating in the walk made their way to the designated shoe table and slapped on a pair of high-heels. Among the participants were numerous Rocky athletes. Laughter filled the air as the men tried to catch their balance after adding another three to five inches to their height. After breaking in their new pairs of shoes the best they could, the participants headed outside and lined up directly across from the Tech Hall parking lot, waiting in anticipation for the ready, set, go to be yelled.
Coordinator for the event, senior Laura Boulay, gave the signal and the men were on their way. The click-clack of the heels briefly canceled out any surrounding noise. Some men were brave enough to race each other and turned their high-heels into running shoes. Those that wanted to not break an ankle walked at a brisk pace.
To complete the full mile the participants went down the main walkway to Widenhouse Hall, came back up the walkway, went around Jorgenson Hall, and finished off the mile by taking one lap around the indoor track. During the mile, women lined the walkway and cheered on their friends and encouraged them to keep walking even though their feet were beginning to hurt. The participants were rewarded with a free T-shirt and pizza.
“I was surprised,” commented senior football player and participant Jordan Haynes, on the amount of male students that participated. “Especially at the amount of football players that did it, and not only that, but I was also surprised at the number of people that showed up.” Haynes also mentioned how the event impacted him. He jokingly said, “It definitely impacted my calves.” Haynes went on to say that this type of event “really does give guys an understanding of what it’s like to be a female and live up to the female standard.”
Another student who walked the mile was sophomore and R.A Rick Hibbs. He is aware that sexual assault does happen which, was one of his motivations to participate. As Hibbs stated, “Putting the topic [of sexual assault] in a lighter mood made it easier for people to talk about and acknowledge it. [By participating] I was able to set an example of yes it is okay to do this and talk about this because it is important.” Hibbs added that this event “has made me a little more vocal about [the issue]. By walking in heels, it was something I was able to do indirectly to take a step in the right direction.”
The event was a complete success, but the success did not come easy. Samantha O’Neil, an area coordinator, and Laura Boulay began planning this event back in the spring of this year. They had to contact multiple colleges that had already hosted an event like this to receive tips on how to make it run smoothly, contacted different facilities to obtain shoes big enough to fit mens feet, and contacted the media to spread the word to the Billings community. Surprisingly, getting people to participate was not the hardest part of the event.
Samantha O’Neil and Laura Boulay had the same reasons for holding such a specific program. The goal was to educate students about sexual assault. O’Neil stated that, “We need to have a voice of prevention, rather than reaction. This educational program was a way to bring people together in a positive setting to have a hard conversation about the reality of college campus culture.”
O’Neil believes that such a program impacted Rocky for the better and stated that “President Wilmouth’s speech showed that this event put us in the prevention mindset. It shows that students of RMC are willing to unite for their peers and make an impact beyond their own responsibilities.”
Boulay also gave her input on the event and added, “[A program like this] does hold significance. People at Rocky think we’re too small [of a campus] for it to happen here. I hope having this event brought light to the reality that it can..”