The UMKC Women’s Center held the eighth Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event on campus Sept. 17. The national movement started in 2001 and has since grown to a global scale. Its purpose is to raise awareness about sexual assault and gender violence and calls on men to symbolically walk a mile in women’s shoes to better understand women’s experiences and improve gender relationships.
Men and women from UMKC sports teams, fraternities and sororities filled the white tables on the concrete of the University Playhouse. Others lined the rock wall, fanning away the lingering heat of the day. The crowd spilled over onto the lawn of Miller Nichols Library, while volunteers and sponsors dotted the walkway in front of Swinney.
Some young men tottered precariously in their heels, leaning on their more grounded friends. Frat brothers from SAE Josh Jett and Gavin Bettcher wore strappy wedges and classic Mary Janes. They posed Rockette-style.
Dean of Students, Eric Grospitch, participated at the first Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event and has every year since. He posed proudly for a photo with his teenage son, Dylan. His sparkly, Barbie pink pumps fit him remarkably well.
“I reached the point where I needed to invest in my own,” he said.
Funds from the event went to benefit the UMKC violence prevention program and the UMKC Women’s Center. Green Dot, a program focused on bystander intervention training, will begin at UMKC in October.
“[It is] a program that teaches students the tools they need to stop sexual assault,” said Kacie Otto, UMKC Women’s Center’s Violence Prevention Coordinator. “A lot of campaigns tell students to stop sexual assault but don’t give them the tools or the resources. So we’ll teach them how to stop it.”
Attendance to this year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes was higher than previous years, Otto said.
“[The walk] does help to build more awareness of the issues on campus, something that really people haven’t thought about in this way,” said Scott Curtis, librarian at Miller Nichols. “And if you have to walk a little while in these things, believe me, you don’t really want to do that anymore.”
Curtis, a tall man, towered confidently over much of the crowd, the legs of his pants rolled into neat cuffs to display his pointed, patent red heels that closely resembled the event t-shirt. Cemal Gungor, a UMKC alumni, sported bright pink soccer cleats and tall white socks in honor of women’s soccer. Both Curtis and Gungor are co-chairs on the Women’s Center board and led the mile walk with the event banner.
The walk began ambitiously with the stairs behind Miller Nichols Library, continuing west on 51st towards the Student Union down the steep Cherry Street Hill, turning in front of the Olson Performance Arts Center and Atterbury Student Success Center, and finishing down the center walkway.
Chiluba Musonda, UMKC’s international student advisor, posed for the camera with a sign that said, “I walk for my mom Winnie Musonda!” His black leather ankle booties had a more modest heel than others at the event, a smart choice by Musonda.
“I come from a culture where it is acceptable to physically abuse women,” Musonda said. “Zambia is one of those countries that there’s a big cultural clash between holding onto our traditions, which are very male-dominated, versus what we call modern life, where a woman has an equal place in the household.”
Musonda grew up accepting that although his mother worked a more difficult job and brought in more money, she was still the one supposed to cook for everyone at the end of the day, while his father came home to read the newspaper.
“I do come from that culture, and my mom has sisters, and cousins, and nieces who have been abused. So when I say I’m walking for my mom, I’m really walking for my country.”
His perspective about gender changed when he got married.
“[I was] seeing my own flaws and faults with my wife,” Musonda said. “I would see some of the tendencies Dad had with Mom, where my expectations were my wife needs to run the apartment, my wife needs to clean. No, I have a part to play. She’s an equal human being like me, she’s tired, too, and she has emotions, too. So it was just coming to the realization of what it really means to be a good husband and having a supportive wife and reflecting back on what I went through that was not acceptable. And that’s why I’m walking today.”
The cultural value that women have certain roles revolving around domestic duties and childcare may seem harmless to some, but it creates a dynamic of hierarchy between genders. This hierarchy of gender expectations often works in often subtle ways, contributing to the objectification of women and much of the sexualized violence against them. Events like Walk a Mile help open up the dialogue about gender and violence that can lead to progress and change.
“Today’s walk is about changing our perspective and reflecting on the role we can play in stopping sexual violence right here in Kansas City and at UMKC,” said Robert Greim, UMKC Athletics’ Director of Compliance, at the opening of the evening. “But in order for that to happen, we need to change some of our behaviors. First, if any woman shares with us that she has been assaulted, we do not ask if she was drinking, we do not ask what she was wearing, we do not ask why she was hanging out with that guy in the first place. That is victim blaming, and that is not ever legitimate. It can impact a survivor’s willingness to report the crime and receive support. “
Being a good friend, Greim continued, often means confronting someone about to make a poor decision. And victimization is not defined by the actor’s intent, but by the victim’s experience.
“The survivor’s perception is what defines the crime,” Greim said.
“By participating tonight, I hope that’s saying that we’re willing to have the difficult conversations, we’re going to be good friends to each other, and we’re going to do the right thing to end sexual assault,” Greim said. “Because judging by the outstanding number of women here to support us, there are a lot of people counting on us to do the right thing. Remember, tonight is about walking and reflecting, so please don’t run. Make it worthwhile, and think about how we can make an impact individually as men and collectively to improve our campus and our community.”
To learn more about Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, visit www.walkamileinhershoes.org.
To learn more about the Green Dot, visit www.livethegreendot.coml.
To learn more about the UMKC Women’s Center, visit info.umkc.edu/womenc.