Students, faculty walk in high heels on campus

In a united stance against sexual violence, hundreds of male USF students and faculty stood tall in high heels Thursday.

More than 600 students and faculty met at the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater to raise sexual violence awareness at the second annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, said Eileen Dabrowski, president of Necessary Improvements to Transform our Environment (NITE).

Participants walked one-eighth of a mile across the Tampa campus, she said. Members of NITE shouted out sexual violence statistics.

A woman is raped every 90 seconds in the U.S., one member said.

“At least 7.8 million women are raped by an intimate partner at some point in their lives,” another said.

Syerita Morris, a senior majoring in sociology, said she was a victim of sexual harassment. Morris said she thinks it’s great that men are “getting the message out there.”

“It brings awareness to people that it is a real issue,” Morris said. “It does happen to people right next to you, and you’d never even know it.”

Daniel Turk, coordinator for the Relationship Equality and Anti-violence League (REAL), said sexual violence awareness is important during an economic crisis when crime and other offenses increase.

“These men … literally put themselves in (a woman’s) shoes and did something uncomfortable … to show that it’s OK to speak out against sexual battery, domestic violence, relationship violence and gender crimes,” Turk said.

Dabrowski began the event at noon with a speech to participants.

“This important event is inspired by the well-known phrase that you can’t truly understand the experience of others until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” Dabrowski said.

Men who attended the event were encouraged to sign the “REAL Man’s Promise,” a written promise vowing to address sexual violence issues with others, obtain consent for all sexual activity and denounce sexist and dehumanizing jokes, among other things, Dabrowski said.

Steven Montalvo, a junior majoring in history, is president of the Delta Chi fraternity and attended the event to show his fraternity’s support of the fight against women’s violence.

Montalvo and several other males signed the promise at the event.

“(Signing it) shows that they’re guys out there that understand the issues that are going on with women and domestic violence, and we support (them),” he said.

Nelson Cifuentes, a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said he heard about the event from his Lambda Theta Phi fraternity brothers. Approximately half of the fraternity attended the event, he said.

“Something as simple as walking a mile in high heels, it’s only an example of what women go through every day,” Cifuentes said. “It’s for a good cause.”

The heels worn at the event were donated by various organizations on campus. Before the event, groups competed to collect the most shoes.

The Alpha Omicron Pi sorority collected more than 100 pairs of shoes in three weeks and received special recognition from NITE at the event.

After the event, the shoes were cleaned and donated to the Family Justice Center of Hillsborough County to support its mission to “improve the lives of family and violence victims through community collaboration,” Dabrowski said.

The event was hosted by NITE, REAL and the USF Advocacy Program.

In 2008, NITE was the first student organization nationwide to bring “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” to a college campus. There were approximately 125 attendees, Dabrowski said.

She said that this year, there are more than 300 “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” events scheduled in the U.S.

The march was led by Student Government Senate President Pro Tempore Matthew Diaz and Rocky D. Bull, the USF mascot.

Diaz said he was proud of the turnout.

“When I was able to turn around and look back, it just looked like an endless line of men and women marching to raise awareness – it was awesome,” Diaz said.