One of Indiana State University’s most popular traditions has never been officially sanctioned by the university. As the sun rises on Homecoming game day, more than a thousand Sycamores flood Wabash Avenue to participate in The Walk — a two-mile pub crawl from the university to Memorial Stadium in which students try to stop at as many bars as possible.
This boisterous pep rally brings record traffic to some downtown businesses in Terre Haute. However, several years ago, many bars were expressing frustration with the event.
“The bar owners weren’t happy with the destruction of property that was going on with The Walk,” said Janet Weatherly, associate director of Student Health Promotion.
Although a beloved Homecoming tradition, the threats The Walk presented to participants and property were too large to ignore.
“We needed to find a way to make Homecoming safer, and that way was Designated Walker,” Weatherly said.
The Designated Walker program was born from a massive collaborative effort of the Student Counseling Center, Public Safety, Student Health Promotions, Dean of Students Office, Pepsi and Union Board. Since 2009, the program has trained student volunteers in bystander intervention. These volunteers stay sober during The Walk and ensure that participants safely get to and from the Homecoming game. The volunteers need only attend one 45-minute seminar, but being a Designated Walker demands awareness and quick-thinking.
“I think it is very important to have a sober person with people who will be getting drunk because alcohol impairs people and their mindset changes and logic is out of the window,” said Eric James, a senior management information systems major and designated walker. “People will wander into traffic, fight people, pass out, throw up — all kinds of things.”
While volunteers are trained to spot alcohol poisoning and how to keep themselves and others safe, they are discouraged from getting involved in altercations.
“We don’t want them breaking up fights,” Weatherly said. “If someone is getting in a fist-fight we don’t want students getting involved. They need to know to call 911.”
Fortunately in the case of brawls, many police officers are on site as bouncers during The Walk. Student Health Promotion also funds Sober Ride shuttles, which are contracted buses that take students to and from the game free of charge. In order to keep the volunteers hydrated, Pepsi serves free soda to the designated walkers. These services ensure a safer Homecoming experience without dampening the energy of the event.
Even with safeguards established, volunteering can be difficult. For their efforts, volunteers get free T-shirts, Pepsi products and Commons Cash along with community service hours. The program is a special opportunity for Sycamores to help their community while having fun with their friends.
“I enjoy taking The Walk,” James said. “I make sure my friends have fun and stay safe, and I always like the prizes that come along with being a designated walker. I’d definitely do it again and recommend it to everyone to at least try once.”