New self-defense class promises proactive women

The Rape Aggression Defense Systems (R.A.D.) will be taught for the first time at Williams College this April. Open to 10 female students, faculty and staff, the program is designed “to develop and enhance the options of self-defense, so they may become viable considerations to the woman who is attacked,” according to official R.A.D. publicity. “When a weapon isn’t involved, a woman who has taken this class can stop an attack long enough to escape,” Assistant Director of Security David Boyer said.

Boyer and Director of Security Jean Thorndike-Wilson will teach the class. They received their certification as instructors in basic physical defense by attending a program at the Tidewater Academy of Self Defense. Thorndike-Wilson said, “R.A.D. has become a very popular program at colleges nationwide.” 65,000 women across the country have received R.A.D. training. More than 350 colleges and universities, private, municipal, state and federal agencies offer R.A.D. programs, the only self-defense programs ever endorsed by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Many colleges and universities in Boston offer R.A.D. Systems classes, as do several schools in the Five Colleges consortium.

Both Thorndike-Wilson and Boyer made it clear their decision to teach the class does not mean they feel the Williams campus has become less safe. “This isn’t a reaction to any perceived problem. It’s a service we want to offer,” Boyer said.

“It’s the proactive approach,” added Thorndike-Wilson. “Part of the crime prevention services we’re trying to introduce to the campus.”

Female students interviewed about the R.A.D. class did not express concern about security at Williams, but many said they would probably take the class. “I would be interested in taking [the class],” Kivlina Shepherd ‘00 said. “I don’t think there’s a pressing need to take it because you might get hurt on the Williams campus, but you’re not going to be at Williams forever.”

Lauren Singer ‘00, who has already taken a self defense class offered by the college but expressed an interest in taking the R.A.D. class, said, “It seems like a self defense class is something a woman should have, regardless of whether or not you need it here.”

The 10 members of the R.A.D. Systems class meet for five three-hour sessions and earn one physical education credit. The first session consists of classroom training in assault prevention and training students to recognize and avoid dangerous situations. “We’ll talk about lifestyles, drugs, alcohol,” Boyer said. “The prevention of physical attack is probably 90% awareness.”

Singer found the lack of emphasis on awareness a major shortcoming of the self defense class she took at Williams.

Rebecca Norwick ‘00 also liked the emphasis on making good decisions. “There’s a lot more cases of women not being careful of the choices they make than of men dressed in black jumping out of the bushes,” she said.

The next three sessions teach the basic physical techniques a woman can use if assaulted. Students learn kicks, hand strikes and how to break handholds like bear hugs and choke holds. Students also learn how to throw off an attacker who weighs much more than his victim. At a R.A.D. Systems demonstration he attended, Boyer saw a female instructor throw off two security officers weighing a combined 475 pounds.

In the class’s fifth and final meeting, participants have the option of applying what they have learned to fight off full-speed, full-contact dynamic simulations of assaults. Previous self defense classes taught at Williams did not feature this culmination. “We’ll try to create a situation that will be consistent with what you might find at Williams College,” Boyer said. Possibilities include being alone at an ATM or ambushed by an attacker hiding behind a building or bush. Participants will have the chance to try a variety of situations.

Graduates of the R.A.D. Systems program receive a certificate and have their name entered in a national register entitling them to practice their skills for free at any time at any R.A.D. training facility.

“[R.A.D. Systems] was actually a very fun program,” Boyer said. “I really think it will catch on here. The students who take it will enjoy it and get a sense of empowerment from it.”