ARKADELPHIA — A group of several dozen men — students, faculty and administrators — marched together through the Henderson State University campus on the evening of Sept. 25. The march might have been at a noticeably slower cadence than usual because most of the men were wearing women’s shoes.
The evening march was an effort to raise awareness of violence against women, a subject gaining more attention in American society in recent weeks. These men in women’s shoes, most with moderate heels but some with stiletto heels and pointed toes, climbed the hill from the university fountain to the Quad.
One of the men, wearing gray heels that matched his suit, was Shawn Jones, HSU’s athletic director.
“I was proud to wear them in the march and happy to be out of them,” he said. “This is an important cause, and the athletic department strongly supports it.”
Wearing the women’s shoes was a display of solidarity with female students and others on campus. The march and rally were in conjunction with Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: The International Men’s March to Stop Rape, Sexual Assault and Gender Violence.
After the march was completed and the men had changed their shoes, the women’s shoes were displayed near the podium where several speakers addressed the gathering of men and women from around campus, including sorority members and those from other women’s groups.
Welcoming the group of around 100 students and others on campus, HSU President Glen Jones said the university is happy to do its part in raising awareness about sexual violence against women and in protecting women on campus. Most of all, he said, the students gathered on the Quad could work to create a “change of attitude and change in hearts and minds” to end violence throughout society.
Speaking to the women of the group, Jones said no incident of violence or any threat of violence should go unnoticed.
“If you wonder how to respond, it is to let someone know,” Jones said. “Call the police or tell a friend. If nothing else, you come to to me or any other of the leaders of the university and say, ‘I need to talk to somebody.’ You are part of the Henderson family.”
Another to address the gathering was Brittney Humphrey, the current Miss HSU. She called on all women to “break the silence” about abuse by reporting incidents and being able to speak about them without shame.
Humphrey told the audience that she had been sexually abused by a teacher when she was 8 years old.
She said as she grew older, she learned to use her experience as a way to talk to others not only about taking action against their attackers, but about seeking help and treatment.
Also speaking to the group was Angela McGraw, executive director of Women and Children First, Arkansas’ largest domestic-violence shelter.
McGraw, whose daughter attends Henderson, said her dedication to providing help for the women and children endangered by domestic violence came because she and her daughters were in a dangerous relationship earlier in her life.
“At that time, I didn’t know help was available,” she said. “The only shelters I knew about were dog shelters.”
McGraw said young women should learn the signs that they are in an unhealthy relationship, then take action to get away from it.
“Domestic violence [perpetrated by an intimate partner] happens primarily to people ages 18 to 24,” she said. “Yes, the age of all of you out here tonight.”
Following the presentations, the students — men and women — held candles honoring the victims of sexual and domestic abuse.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.