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Solidarity for survivors: 'Walk a Mile in Her Shoes' highlights sexual assault

Published April 19, 2016

MONROE, La. — Draped in teal boas and FemHawks T-shirts, the men wobbled around in stilettos, their calves bulging from the unknown strain of ankle elevation, a pain most women know all too well.

The Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event shut down the Northeast Drive bridge Wednesday as hundreds of men and women walked in unison to raise awareness of sexual assault. The image of ULM administrators, deans, students, faculty, local representatives and law enforcement, all uniting for a common purpose, holding hands as they marched across the bridge was humbling. This moment inspired, evoked emotions, and ultimately, connected survivors.

A Candlelight Vigil for survivors immediately followed the walk, coordinated by The FemHawks, The Wellspring Alliance and supported by the Dean of the College of Arts, Education & Sciences. Speakers included: Lindsey Nadler from Project 41; Dr. Teri O’Neal, Ouachita Parish Coroner; and poems were read from local victims. ULM faculty member and English instructor, Kimberly Roberson, shared her story of abuse and encouraged open communication, awareness, and relying on one’s instinct.

While the invited speakers provided the structure, the students brought the humanity. Their voices hit home for those unaware of how many are impacted by sexual assault and violence. One by one, students approached the microphone stating their names out loud and sharing their testimonies, some for the first time. Others took the opportunity to express their support of survivors both present and silent. The understanding that penetrated Bayou Park was palpable and culminated as the candles were slowly lit and a quartet sang "Until It Happens to You." The audience’s response consisted of tears and applause for the bravery of each victim who spoke his/her truth.

What emerged Wednesday evening was a community within our ULM community. What were once just student faces, now have stories. The strength in numbers, while a sad and unnerving reality, is now a means of healing. Victims know they are not alone here. They know they are supported, that each story matters, that every person counts.

As Warhawks, let us continue to listen to each others’ stories, embrace our diversity, and above all, speak out against violence.

This is the second Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, the first coordinated by Dr. Pamela Saulsberry in 2014.

“No, I’m Not Asking for It: A Panel Discussion on Consent, Our Rights, and Our Responsibilities” will take place Thursday, April 28 at 2PM in Construction 100 to continue the conversation. All faculty and students are encouraged to attend.