There is an old saying that you can never really understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. And that’s the premise behind the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® campaign that asks men to literally walk one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes in order to garner empathy for what females experience and get the community talking.
Spanish teacher Rodrigo Castro, advisor for the Interact Club at New Paltz High, led the teens in hosting a “Walk In Her Shoes” event at the school on Tuesday, November 3. Choosing the high visibility Election Day on purpose, ten male teachers walked a mile or so around the bus loop wearing women’s shoes in order to spark conversation about why they were doing so. Many of the “Walk” events that have been held in other places have centered on raising awareness of sexualized violence against women, but the service club in New Paltz enlisted the male teachers to walk in support of early diagnosis of female cancers.
Spanish teacher Eli Espinosa said he was there because he has several women in his family who have been affected by cancer. His grandmother passed away from cervical cancer and he says that he and his wife had “a bit of a cancer scare” a couple of years ago. “And when you have someone that you love in that situation, it’s a very helpless feeling. You don’t know what to do.”
Participating in events like this, he said, “is really not about us. This is all about awareness. I just want to get involved and do my part.” Walking in women’s shoes puts the men at a “slight discomfort,” Espinosa added, “but I’m a father now; I have a little girl. And I coach girls’ lacrosse. So there’s a lot of girls and women in my life that potentially are just one physical away from a bad diagnosis. If it takes putting these shoes on to bring awareness to women’s health, I don’t mind being silly. We’ll do it.”
The guys received a great deal of advice from the female teachers at the school (and from their wives, of course) about what kind of shoes to buy for the event. Castro and English teacher Joe Dolan went shoe-shopping at The Salvation Army. “You should have seen the looks we got trying the shoes on!” said Castro.
Some of the men played it safer than others, wearing low-heeled ankle boots or wider stacked heels, but a few really went for it. Castro’s black-and-white striped platform cork wedges were chosen due to advice he got about the wedge being more supportive, he insisted; not the fashion statement they made. Perhaps the bravest, though, was physics teacher Joe Foti, who brought his knowledge of matter and its motion through space and time to his ability to balance on glittery gold stilettos, even (impressively) breaking into a run with them on during the walk.
In addition to raising awareness, the event raised $240 to benefit cancer research. Funds collected over the course of several weeks by the Interact Club were donated to the American Cancer Society. The students created collection cans labeled with the names of the participating teachers for the student body to donate in according to which teacher they most wanted to see walking in women’s heels. The teacher who received the most support was world languages teacher Marc Knittel, whose can contained $61 by the time the event happened.
Interact Club Vice-President Patrick Varuzza said he thought it was fun to see senior class advisor Joe Dolan do the walk — since as treasurer for the senior class they work together — and also his AP calculus teacher Matthew Paley. “It definitely gets people excited to see their teachers that they see every day do something like this,” Varuzza said. “And I think it’s very kind of them to sacrifice themselves for the day.”
Isabella Mauceri, president of the club and like Varuzza, a senior at New Paltz High, said she was biased toward supporting Joel Neden — advisor to the school newspaper of which she’s a part — as well as Joe Dolan. “They’re probably my favorite teachers out of this bunch, but I love them all. Mr. Castro… Mr. [Albert] Cook… everyone loves Mr. Cook, even if you haven’t had a class with him. He has a very good reputation.”
The Interact Club in New Paltz has at least 20 members, she said; a pretty large service club by the standards of most schools. “And we’re really active; I’m proud of that.”
“We usually do two events a month; one inside the school and one out in the community,” added Varuzza. “It’s a good way to help out. I joined because I saw it as a way to give back and get involved with events.”
The other teachers who participated in “Walk” were earth science teacher Chad Foti and math teacher Thomas Shanley. Social studies teacher Jim Gill participated in the fundraising but was not able to attend the walk.
Many of these teachers were involved last year at this time in the “Movember” cause, raising money for men’s cancer awareness by growing their facial hair, sparking comment and starting the conversation. (The “M” is for mustache, the “ovember” for the month the event is held. October is associated with breast cancer awareness for women, so the idea is to give November to the guys.) The Interact Club — which is a junior version of Rotary Club — raised awareness and funds in the same way last year as with this current event for women’s health, to encourage men to have physical checkups, something men notoriously shy away from. Castro says the group will probably participate in that event again later this month. Another version of the movement is called “No-Shave November,” which the New Paltz Police Department participated in last year and has organized again for this year.