More than 250 men and women gathered on the Health Center lawn Tuesday night to make a statement. Clad in tennis shoes and running shorts, volunteers crouched in unison to say “Ready, Set, End Sexual Assault Now.”
The Run to Remember was organized by the Cal Poly Women’s Center in order to promote sexual assault awareness and education. The run is the last, and most publicized, event of Remember Week.
In preparation for the race, students, faculty and community members swarmed the small section of grass, which lies just a few hundred feet from the home where sexual assault victim Kristin Smart was last seen in public nearly 10 years ago. Runners were greeted by speakers blaring jubilant music and an arch of sparkling, teal balloons.
As the evening sun set behind Bishop Peak, Women’s Center volunteers passed out orange slices, water bottles and T-shirts, while emcee Morgan Leckie welcomed runners and performed slam poetry.
But we all knew the real reason we were there; to ensure women affected by sexual assault – our mothers, daughters, friends, girlfriends, aunts and maybe even ourselves – are never forgotten.
It’s T-minus three minutes to the race and already I’m about to pee my pants, literally.
“I really have to go to the bathroom,” I tell my friend Brittany. “Do you think I have time to run over to the journalism building?”
“Probably not,” she says. “But don’t worry; it usually just goes away. That’s what used to happen to me when I ran cross country. But I used to see some girls completely lose control and pretty much wet themselves at the end of a race – hopefully you’ll do the former.”
I don’t have much time to fret over my bladder, however, because the race is about to start. I take one last wistful glance at the Graphic Arts building and then I’m off.
Aside from fearing for my life among the herd of enthusiastic volunteers, I am amazed to see the sheer stampede of people running for such a wonderful cause.
In all honesty, I am considerably out of shape. I can’t remember the last time I jumped on the treadmill at the Cal Poly Rec Center, and yoga isn’t exactly a cardio activity.
But regardless of my physical condition, I know I want to run this race. I want to run for the women just like me who can no longer speak out against sexual assault. Women like Kristin Smart, Laci Peterson and Aundria Crawford-
As I begin my slow but steady jog up Perimeter Street, I let my mind wander back to the night Kristin Smart and Paul Flores made their way up to the dorms. The night Kristin was last seen alive.
Amid the smiling faces of runners and cheering volunteers, I think to myself, “What if that young, blonde freshman was me?”
“What if I was the one who disappeared?”
“Would people run to remember me?”
The misty ribbons of an orange and crimson sunset stretching along the darkening sky silence my thoughts. People are passing me on either side, but I don’t really care. I’m not here to win.
It’s while I’m huffing and puffing up the walkway to Trinity dorm that it fully hits me: Sexual assault is not a thing of the past. Nor is it something that only happens in big cities. It is something that happens here, in the dorm that I slept in my freshman year, in the city that I’ve learned to call home for the past three years. I wish I could say it doesn’t exist, but the pains in my legs and chest tell me all too clearly that it does.
Up at the horse unit I remember that, this weekend, hundreds upon thousands of potential Cal Poly students will pour into our school. Their parents will force them to take a dozen tours and parking will be ridiculously scarce.
However, few people will realize that – like every other college campus in the nation and the rest of the world – Cal Poly is not invincible to sexual assault, or any other crime. It is part of society, and therefore held accountable to the problems of society.
I’m nearing the finish line when I experience what I believe to be the goal of the Run to Remember – a feeling of physical, mental and emotional empowerment against sexual assault. Like all the people who ran before me, I realize the Run to Remember is less about physical movement and more about social movement.
However, the race against ending sexual assault and countless other injustices is not something that can be run alone. It requires support and teamwork, no matter how slow moving the battle is.
As I cross the finish line and hear my friends congratulating me, I know in my heart that the steps taken tonight are not steps taken in vain. They are just the beginning of something bigger.