Walking quietly to speak loudly
Silently, amidst the soft glow of flashlights and street lamps, students walked by the hundreds Tuesday.
From the grassy hill of Sanford Mall, past the bricks of the library, through the graffitied tunnel and around the Duck Pond, they trekked peacefully, quietly. Cars flashed their lights as they passed. Passersby paused. The silence was contagious. Soon, it become deafening.
"For over two decades," keynote speaker and Pinehurst poet Malaika King Albrecht said, "you have walked quietly to speak loudly, and, in this way, we will overcome violence with peace ... alone we are but one. Together we are strong ... We can say it together, loudly and clearly. No more."
The Walk for Awareness, an annual event at Appalachian State University, promotes awareness of sexual violence, a sobering reminder that even in the close knit Boone community, rape happens.
This year's Walk for Awareness served an additional purpose. Along with creating awareness for sexual assault on campus, organizers took advantage of the event's 21st birthday to tackle the issue of alcohol.
Meet Cidney Tiggett. She's like any other college student, or at least she was until spring 2009.
Just over a year ago, a party to Tiggett meant quality time with friends, hanging with her sorority sisters and talking about the future.
Everything changed on April 25, 2009.
"I went to a party at ETSU last year and there wasn't even drinking yet," she said, "and I just started to cry."
Parties. Friends. Alcohol.
They serve as sobering reminders that a close friend is no longer at Appalachian State University.
"She was a great person, one of my really close friends," she said.
Her friend, for whom Tiggett requested anonymity, slipped into a coma at a party after a week of drinking alcohol.
"She just overdosed," Tiggett said.
That Friday, Tiggett was supposed to have lunch with her friend. Tiggett was going to confront her about her drinking problem and force her to get help. Instead, she had to hear from another friend that it was too late, and her lunch partner was already dead.
"I am by no means telling people don't drink," Tiggett said.
Even though she took a hiatus after April, she still drinks alcohol. The difference? She knows her limits. And drinking continues to be part of Tiggett's culture.
"I'm not saying don't drink. That's not the point," she said. "The point is be a responsible adult ... don't turn them over on their side and just roll the dice and hope your friend will be all right."
With Tiggett's friend, there were obvious warning signs.
"The Monday before I helped carry her to class because she had sprained her ankle drinking," Tiggett said. "She was still drunk."
The day Tiggett found out her friend was dead, she had hoped to confront her.
"I was planning on talking to her about her drinking habits," Tiggett said.
And it wouldn't have been the first time.
"The first thing I thought when I found out was ... how we all used to tell her she was going to die," Tiggett said.
The message just didn't translate. It's something that brings Tiggett to tears, even a year later.
"I don't care how many people say it's not my fault," she said. "It's my fault. It's the university's fault. It's her friend's fault. It's her parents' fault ... it's everyone's fault."
And the death haunts her, whether it comes out when she's taking care of yet another drunk friend ("I just cried," she said) or trying to forget her troubles at a party. Her friend's death didn't just affect her friend and her friend's family.
"It really affects all of us," she said.
The junior double major (global studies, anthropology) spoke at the 21st Walk for Awareness not to advocate for sobriety, but to advocate awareness.
"People need to be aware and be responsible," she said.
Because otherwise, if the unthinkable happens, the guilt is not something you'll want to live with, she said.
Appalachian State University Chancellor Kenneth Peacock understands. After all, from alcohol poisonings to rapes, he's one of the first people notified when tragedy strikes.
Each phone call brings out the same thought process.
"What could we have done to prevent that?" he asks himself. "This person was here, in our midst ... What could I have done? What could fellow students have done? What could we have done?"
To Peacock, the walk brings two things. The first, aptly enough, is promoting awareness.
"It reminds us that we are not immune to this type of violence on our campus," he said. "Things like [assault] do happen everywhere."
The second? The walk serves to remind both Peacock and the students he serves that Appalachian State is not just a school. It's a community. "We all have to take responsibility," he said.
In a brief speech, Peacock issued a challenge to that community.
"Say something," he said, reciting the slogan for the 2010 Red Flag awareness campaign. "Let's be mature enough. Responsibility brings with it a lot of stress and pressures ... when you feel these things, you know them first ... be mature enough and strong enough to say, 'I need help.'"
And it doesn't stop with you.
"You are all over this campus," he said. "I can't be ... you will see others with needs ... come to us ... please speak up and come and say, 'I have a friend ... that needs some assistance.'"
The Walk for Awareness is organized annually by the ASU Women's Center and always happens the Tuesday after Labor Day.