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‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’ spreads sexual assault awareness despite frigid temperature

April 22, 2015

The mild weather this spring has been a pleasant surprise for most in Western Wisconsin, but 34 degrees and 20 mph winds on Monday, April 20, wasn’t the what the brave male students had in mind when they signed up for the third annual UW-River Falls “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event.

Over 100 male students not only braved the brisk temperature, but they also accomplished something very few men have ever tried: walking a mile in women’s high heels.

The “Walk a Mile” event on campus helped raise $400 for the St. Croix County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and the Hope Coalition, stationed just over the border in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The UWRF Student Social Work Association (SSWA), a student-led organization that specializes in community involvement and volunteerism, organized the “Walk a Mile” event.

The event itself raised $144 and SSWA donated an additional $256, according to UWRF student and SSWA President Shane Russell. The two organizations will receive $200 each. SSWA chose April because it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“SART is very active and present on our campus and in the community, providing a very important service,” Russell said. “We chose SART to show our support and join them in [the] fight to end sexual assault and raising awareness around this issue.”

SART also has its annual “Take Back the Night” march scheduled for 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, where the organization aims to “empower and support survivors, raise awareness, and let it be known that this violence will not be tolerated in our communities,” according to the SART website. The march will began at Saint Bridget Catholic Church on Division Street in River Falls.

“‘Walk a Mile In Her Shoes’ [was] a great way to warm up for that march,” Russell said.

The Hope Coalition, which used to be the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA), donated 70 pairs of high heels.

“They provide very similar services as SART, so we are all supporting the same cause, and just getting the word out and letting know people what services are available helps the cause,” Russell said.

George Beduhn, a UWRF student and a Theta Chi fraternity member, was one of the brave men who slipped into a pair of high heels on Monday afternoon.

“A bunch of my brothers in Theta Chi are doing it, so they hooked me into it, and I figured it would be good for me,” Beduhn said. “It certainly makes me think a little bit about what girls go through in the day to day.”

According to the UWRF Theta Chi fraternity OrgSync website, the organization “exists to serve a need for young men of character, principles and ideals to associate with each other. Our chapters and colonies are laboratories for leadership.”

Theta Chi wasn’t the only large group that walked the mile as the UWRF football team had approximately 50 student athletes who participated. The football team wore matching gray sweat-suits and provided a lot of energy on the cold afternoon.

“I would like to give a special thanks to the UWRF football team for being such avid supporters of this event,” Russell said. “They have participated in all three ‘Walk A Mile In Her Shoes,’ and they are always a fun group of guys that add a lot of energy to the event.”

About a quarter of a mile into the walk, one football player screamed: “Why do women do this to themselves?”

He was not alone as cries of pain echoed for nearly 40 minutes throughout campus as the large group of men made their way around the one-mile loop that began and ended outside the University Center.

Frank Baird created the event back in 2001, according to the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” website. The event started out with only a handful of men “daring to totter around a park.” In 2007, Baird formed Venture Humanity, a nonprofit corporation that develops peace, violence prevention and community projects, according to the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” website, and the event is now a Venture Humanity project.

“I do think this event has made a lasting mark on the university; it’s a fun way to create dialogue around a hard-to-talk-about issue, and that is what this event is all about,” Russell said. “At the end of the day, it is great to gather collectively around this difficult topic in a fun way. I think it is great that people were willing to come out and show support for this cause. Weather conditions were not ideal, it was a little chilly out there, but we had a good turn out.”

So, how did it feel for a man to walk around in women’s high heels?

“Painful, definitely painful,” Beduhn said. “And we’ve only gone like 100 feet.”