PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. – While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic limits in-person gatherings, service members were encouraged to write and draw with colorful chalk on the sidewalk outside the Combs Hall dining facility during their lunch break June 17. The Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) and Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) offices partnered to hold this ‘chalk walk’ in recognition of Army Heritage, LGBT Pride and Sexual Assault and Harassment Awareness and Prevention Months. The two hour event allowed participants to engage in a communal event while maintaining social distancing practices.
“We had been holding chalk walks in previous years as part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. This year, it was one of the few activities that we could still hold, albeit in a modified way.” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Gwozdziewycz, Installation Lead Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
Participants in face-masks took turns adding their messages and sketches to the concrete. Themes ranged from inspiring phrases written by DLI students in their target languages to pride symbols and statements about the importance of consent.
“I always have a good time drawing out super elaborate pictures for people to look out when they walk by.” said Airman 1st Class Kylie Kelly who drew a Disney princess saying ‘consent is key’.
“The current national climate is all about people having their voices heard and this was an avenue that could be used to do so,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph R. Benavidez, Installation Equal Opportunity Advisor. “When people can see what others are feeling, they will begin to see the world from a different perspective; perhaps then others can see how the military's strength lies within the diversity we have and how we harness that strength through equity and inclusion.”
As Defense Language Institute classes have moved to virtual instruction and students are told to avoid gathering in groups, community activities like the chalk walk have been rare opportunities to take part in a shared experience. It also allowed the MEO and SHARP offices to have face-to-face contact with the service members they support. However, even with the pandemic-related limitations their important work has continued through the online environment.
Benavidez explained that the MEO office was also welcomed by the schoolhouses to meet with the students online, saying, “Those sessions provided us with an opportunity to engage directly with the students in the virtual format to discuss the command climate and address any EO-related issues that may be occurring.”
Sexual Assault and Harassment Awareness and Prevention Month is traditionally observed in April. But because the pandemic limited events the theme was combined with the chalk walk for the June observances of LGBT Pride Month and Army Heritage Month to make it more accessible to service members. This year’s focus on Army Heritage Month was on the 245th anniversary of the formation of the U.S. Army, which also occurred this week.
“Along with honoring the Equal Opportunity observances to highlight the multitude of contributions made to our nation by the many dedicated and diverse Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Civilians as well as their Families, we also want to celebrate the birthdays of our various service components as these events occur.” said Gwozdziewycz.