NVU-J campus holds third-annual self defense class


Patrick Bell

Michele Whitmore

The R.A.D. women’s self-defense program is running on the Johnson campus for the third consecutive year starting on Oct. 24. The Rape Aggression Defense system is a four-week course meeting once a week that seeks to teach young women realistic self-defense techniques to create a safer future for themselves.

The program is being offered to Johnson through the Lamoille County Sheriff’s office. There are three instructors teaching the course, two Lamoille county officers and one R.A.D-certified instructor.

According to Associate Dean of Students Michele Whitmore, the course’s biggest benefit is security in knowing one has the capability to get away from a situation should it turn dangerous.

“It provides confidence, confidence in the ability to defend if need be,” said Whitmore. “Part of the initial sessions talk about the awareness of place and time of day and the environment in which you are in and the people you are surrounded by or that are in the area.”

Participants cite multiple reasons for the taking the course. “I took the program hoping to learn how to not only defend myself but help to learn how not to be a bystander regarding sexual assault,” said Mackenzie Murdoch, an NVU student who attended the program in the fall of 2017.

The program is not without some criticism. At the start of the class, students are given a manual, which depicts some of the defensive moves women in the course will learn while also giving alternative advice on avoiding aggression. This advice focuses on making lifestyle changes, which may seem to some like victim blaming.

“I think the program was very geared towards women changing what they do to prevent sexual assault and didn’t acknowledge how to change rape culture in general,” said Murdoch. “I remember there was a specific section about like wearing your hair down so it can’t be pulled, cutting the bushes outside your house so you can see if someone is standing in your window, just expecting people who are more likely to be assaulted to change their day-to-day life in order to not get assaulted.”

The instructors have made necessary changes to best suit the needs of the participants. One of the changes is a new location. In years past, the program was held in the SHAPE Center, but this year it is being held in McClelland.

Another change is increased concern for participant’s emotional well-being.  

“This year I’ve asked the instructors to make sure our participants are really prepared and know that this can feel intense. It’s certainly challenge by choice, so if the participant doesn’t feel comfortable or ready to go into a simulation, she can choose not to and that’s completely okay,” said Whitmore. “Also to remind participants that there are resources on campus should the experience feel triggering in any way or should the participant need additional support, making sure they’re either contacting the Wellness Center if they’re open or contacting Public Safety or contacting the hall advisor on duty, so that there is someone available to help them further should they need it.”

The R.A.D program hopes to run at least once a semester, scheduling and attendance permitting.

Space is limited to 24 women and is free to attend. R.A.D offers a free lifetime return and practice policy, so one can go to a R.A.D program outside of Johnson and practice with them for no additional cost.

“I encourage anyone interested to go and take the course and know that you are welcome to participate as much as you’re comfortable participating,” Whitmore said. “Even if it’s as an observer in each of the four classes, you’re still learning something, the education piece or the awareness piece. Observing techniques whether you participate in those or not, is still valuable. Take advantage of the opportunity, participate as far as you feel comfortable and spread the word because we all have a responsibility here within this community to keep ourselves and each other safe and have a good experience, so this is one way we can do our part. ”