An annual fundraiser hosted by Columbia’s Alpha Chi Omega sorority chapter to raise money and awareness for intimate partner violence will not take place again following complaints of insensitivity and transphobia.
The event, called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” is an international march that Alpha Chi Omega hosts locally at Columbia. The sorority invites teams of students—including men and women—to wear high heels and traverse college walk, and sends proceeds from the event to charities for survivors of domestic violence in New York. This is the third-consecutive year that the sorority has hosted the walk.
But following this year’s iteration of the event on Sunday, some students, including survivors of sexual violence, criticized the walk as callous, given that it raises awareness of a serious issue in a comedic light. Others argued that the fundraiser frames the crossing of traditional gender boundaries—performed by a largely cisgender group of students—as a spectacle, and implies that only women are targets of gender-based violence.
Criticism following the event on Sunday led the sorority to pull a video of the event from its official Facebook page and, later in the day, post a status apologizing to those "hurt" by the event and announcing that it will not host the walk again in the future. The post also mentioned that the group had implemented training for its members and participants of the event to avoid insensitivity.
Alpha Chi Omega leaders were not made available for an interview, but a sorority spokesperson said in an email to Spectator that the sorority "recognize[s]" that the event had the potential to be insensitive and promote transphobia from the start, and that the sensitivity training had not been sufficient. According to the email, however, the sorority had heard no negative feedback prior to Sunday. Members of the anti-sexual assault activism group No Red Tape first approached the sorority with complaints after the walk on Sunday afternoon.
Members of No Red Tape declined to be interviewed for this story. The group posted a statement on Facebook Sunday night criticizing the walk and calling for a more gender-inclusive understanding of gender-based violence.
Sofia Gouin, CC ’19, said she thinks the fundraiser was inconsiderate toward survivors of assault, citing the levity of the event.
“Walking for a little bit in high heels in a very public way is a gross understatement of what survivors go through,” Gouin said. “You're making something trivialized, but it's also glamorized—something you can post on your Instagram.”
The walk raised approximately $2,000, according to Alpha Chi Omega. While Gouin said she is pleased that charities would benefit from the event, she is glad “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” will not be held again.
“Just because something is done for the right reasons doesn't mean it's being done the right way. Supporting survivors is a noble cause, but you have to think about the way you're coming into that space,” Gouin said. “Is it about the sisters, or is it about survivors?”