By Sydney Tomlinson & Emily Gardner
This past Saturday, UHS’s new Gender Equality Club hosted a Chalk Walk Against Street Harassment at Indy’s Fountain Square. Chalk Walks like this one were started by Hollaback!, a non-profit aiming to end street harassment around the world. The focus of our event was to cover the sidewalks and streets around the fountain with our words protesting street harassment- and we covered it, even in 30-degree weather. As Emily Gardner said, “Our hands were cold but our hearts on fire.” The awesome University students that attended were passionate and prepared to voice- or rather, chalk- their thoughts and ideas in ways that raise awareness of and fight back against street harassment.
Amelia Eskenazi, who founded Gender Equality Club this fall with Emma Troughton, believes the event was important because, “It’s important to raise awareness about street harassment because it’s something that occurs quite often in the lives of many females. I feel as though this event was not only empowering for the participants, but will impact the downtown Indianapolis community through the messages written.” Based on the responses of the all the participants, it was absolutely an empowering and memorable experience for them, and likely did the same for those who saw the messages. Emma Troughton feels that it was very successful, and sums it up well: “The Chalk Walk, although the weather was painfully cold, was totally rewarding and completely worth it. There were more boys than expected and an admirable amount of freshmen. As a woman, I felt really supported by my community and proud to be a Trailblazer. We covered a lot of ground and most certainly impacted our community. In all four years of my high school experience, the Chalk Walk was definitely one of the best.”
In addition to the UHS students who attended, an impact was definitely made on at least one man. During the Chalk Walk, we were confronted by the owner of a local shop who angrily told us to stop what we were doing. He asked lots of questions, but everyone in our group reacted calmly and promised to contact him further as he had requested. We later learned that he had called the police and falsely reported that we were spray painting. When the police arrived, we were pleased to see that the officer was a woman. After realizing that we were not spray painting, she left us to carry on with our event. While we were relieved to not get in trouble, this encounter helped us realize that what we were doing was important and controversial. As Patrick Naremore said, “I knew we were doing something right when the cops showed up.”
Each one of us had an epiphany similar to this where our eyes were truly opened to the realities of street harassment and the weight of what we were doing.
This experience helped freshman Jack Paganelli recognize the benefits of a public protest like ours: “One of the great things about the Chalk Walk is that it calls attention to street harassment in a way that reaches both the harassers and the people who see harassment happening but don’t do anything. Hopefully it shows them how harmful it really is.” Katherine Ruegger agreed, and said, “The part I love the most about this kind of protest is the fact that people just stumble upon it. They can’t hide from it. The message is there.” For as long as our words stayed on the ground and the walls, everyone walking through Fountain Square would see them. We hope it provoked these people to think more deeply and critically about street harassment and that this plays a part in leading to safer streets for everyone.