By Erica Quinones
Music resonated from Martha Washington Square at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 15 as the sisters of Alpha Chi Omega Beta Pi chapter (AXO) bustled to check in and dress up Walk-A-Mile participants.
Walk-A-Mile is an annual philanthropic event held every April by the sisters of AXO. The walk is held in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and raises money in support of For All Seasons, a local non-profit behavioral health and rape crisis center, and Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence, a local non-profit domestic violence shelter that provides lodgings, counseling, services, and advocacy for survivors. This is the first time it has been held in-person since 2019.
AXO originally sought to raise $2,500 for the organizations. They surpassed that goal, sitting at $3,259 raised as of April 18.
As the name suggests, Walk-a-Mile asks Washington College community members to walk a mile to support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Participants gather in front of the Casey Academic Center where they listen to speakers share their experiences with abuse before beginning their trek. The path takes them to Goldstein Hall, past the John S. Toll Science Center, north on Washington Avenue, and then down the Cater Walk back into Martha Washington Square.
Participants are asked to wear heels to acknowledge that most survivors of sexual assault are assigned female at birth, although junior Emma Russell Vice President of Philanthropy said the chapter recognizes that anyone can be a survivor of sexual assault.
“We still keep those heels because, I think some people think it is fun, and it’s a challenge for some of the guys,” Russell said. “Walking in heels is also still something that can be seen as painful or a struggle, which can be akin to what survivors have to go with daily.”
Clad in their purple Walk-a-Mile shirts, which featured an “Abbey Road”-inspired decal and the words, “Walk with Survivors,” AXO sisters matched participants with bright red heels. Some ill-fitting shoes were taped and rubber-banded into place.
“I just love to see the support, like this atmosphere where everyone is coming together and talking to each other,” AXO Sister junior Rosemary Onyema said.
Trying out their new heels, many male-identifying participants attempted test walks around Martha Washington Square to prepare for the mile.
“Watching [the guys] practice is terrifying, frankly. They’re all really tall right now and that’s spooky,” junior Emily Dunsmore said.
Other participants placed their raffle tickets or procured refreshments while waiting for introductory speeches to begin.
Members of the women’s volleyball team were notable in their matching T-shirts, attending the walk together because, as junior Courtney Maxwell said, “As a women’s sport…It’s really important for us to come out and support women and sexual assault awareness and domestic violence awareness.”
Around 3:30 p.m., Russell opened the event, introducing representatives from For All Seasons and Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence: Director of Victim Services Kristy Mirando,and Kent County Case Manager C.J. Jenkins, respectively.
The non-profit representatives were followed by two community speakers who shared their experiences with domestic violence or sexual assault; Director of Student Engagement Antoine Jordan ’12 and senior Alison Buckwalter.
“There are so many women and men out there who aren’t that lucky, who have no way of escape or outlet for help. That’s why I put these red pumps on today to talk to honor them. Every person, every woman, every man, whether it be in an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, to love freely, and to not have to live in fear,” Jordan said.
After sharing their stories, the sisters of AXO led participants on their mile.
Some participants struggled to walk in their heels, taking them off partway through the mile. Others suffered entire blow-outs, heels breaking or bottoms falling off.
Sophomore Rodger Ecker was one such student, the bottom of his borrowed shoe coming completely undone during the walk. However, he refused to remove the haggard heel.
“I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it,” Ecker said. “I really wanted to be fully adamant about walking a mile. I didn’t think it’d do them justice to take it off.”
As the final participants streamed down the chalked Cater Walk and into Martha Washington Square, the sisters of AXO celebrated by taking a group photo. They wrapped up the event by pulling their raffles and handing out baskets filled with items donated by local Chestertown businesses.
With the event over, the weight of its core message remained with the words chalked on the Cater Walk.
“There has been a problem on campus lately with making light of sexual assault,” Russell said. “A lot of students don’t realize how serious it is and how many students on this campus have experience with sexual assault, whether it be being sexually assaulted or knowing someone who was. It’s really scary and you don’t know what to do and you keep it to yourself. And when you’re in college, it can become a really serious problem.”
Photos by Jon Kelly
Featured Photo Caption: The sisters of Alpha Chi Omega encouraged others on campus to don their heels and join them for their annual “Walk-A-Mile” to raise money to support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.