Scripps Teaches Self-Defense in Student Workshop Series

Many students at the Claremont Colleges generally have a strong sense of security—walking out at night and attending big parties usually doesn’t feel dangerous or threatening. Even in the Claremont bubble, though, it’s impossible to know when one will face a situation in which self-defense tactics are necessary. 

To increase awareness of such protection skills, Scripps College hosted “Emotions and Self Defense,” a self-defense workshop Nov. 5 at Sallie Tiernan Field House, the first of four classes combining discussion and physical simulations. The series offers many important strategies, including navigating the emotional and intuitive responses to an attack, de-escalating confrontations, setting boundaries and, in the worst-case scenario, fighting an assailant. 

While attendance was low at the first workshop, programs will continue into the second week of November and focus on the following topics: “Put Into Action PARR” (Physical/Workshop Combo Nov. 7), “PARR Model Mugging” (Lecture Nov. 11) and “Preventing Dating Violence, Dating Safety Tips, Ending an Abusive Relationship, Awareness for Crime Prevention, Environment, Technology” (Lecture Nov. 12). Model Mugging is a self-defense training program designed specifically for women. Sign-ups are available at the front desk. 

While Scripps’ “PE 0028: Self-Defense” has been offered since 1992, the first introductory workshop was held last year. It previously consisted of sessions with mock assailants in which
participants learned to ‘de-escalate’ a
conversation or overcome a physical attack. High numbers in attendance led to demand for further discussion. 

Field House Director Tamsen Burke has worked with It Ends Here, a
Scripps organization dedicated to raising awareness about sexual assault. 

“Some
of the things we’re seeing in terms of reports need to
be addressed by being able to give students the skills they need should they
happen to be in a dangerous situation, so they don’t have to be in a
reactive mode,” Burke said. “We want to take a proactive step for students should they ever
find themselves in such a situation.”

Mark Vinci, the president of Model Mugging and the self-defense
instructor, added the discussion sessions to the series. 

“Last
year, we focused more on the physical side,” Vinci said. “This year, there’s
more of an integration of the academic and emotional side in conjunction with
the physical combination. Emotions are a big
part of the experience, and it’s difficult to know how to manage
those emotions and navigate those conversations when considering these real
situations.”

According to the National Institute of Justice, about 85 to 90
percent of attacks and sexual assaults reported by college students are by a
known perpetrator, and about 50 percent occur on a date. Knowing one’s assailant
adds yet another dimension to the emotional and mental affects accompanying an attack. The workshops, in conjunction with the PE class, cover the entire
spectrum of dealing with assault, from determining when to use force, the legalities of using force and
coping with one’s own fears. 

“If you’re a survivor, many
survivors find the whole process therapeutic,” Vinci said. “In therapy, you may deal with the
emotions, but when can you really deal with it physically? That assault that
occurred to them was a physical event. Learning techniques to combat an
attacker, now that’s a rewarding, successful and
ultimately empowering experience.” 

Although the workshops focus specifically on male-to-female
violence, the classes recognize and address the fact that any gender can provoke violence in any relationship. 

“It’s
not necessarily about the gender or relationship,” Burke said. “No matter what those are, it’s about the skills; it’s about de-escalating the
situation and how you’re
going to deal with the physical points.”

Jessica Ellis SC ’96 took the physical education
course and later became a Model Mugging instructor herself.

“Being attacked was always my biggest fear,” she said. “It really held me
back in life because I felt like if anything happened to me, I’d
have no way of predicting it or protecting myself.” 

The Model Mugging strategy is much different from other self-defense
methods in that it is based in scientific research. Matt Thomas, the founder of Model Mugging,
studied attack reports and noticed that the skills
typically taught do not effectively counter the assailant. 

In the first class Thomas taught at Harvard University, he noticed that participants were unable to take
down a mock perpetrator, indicating that a major issue is that many women are averse to inflicting pain. To successfully defend against a realistic assault, he observed, women must break through the cultural socialization that deters them from being aggressive. After addressing these problems by incorporating academic and mental elements into the training, Thomas saw that women knocked
out the mock assailant on the first fight.

Ellis saw the need for more discussion and workshops on this
topic in the Scripps community. Several serious incidents of date rape
were reported, and, as a result, students came together to start escorts on
campus, raised money to have more resources and pressured the school to start
more self-defense classes. 

“I’ve spoken with many
students who have graduated that did experience an attack after taking one of
the self-defense classes or workshops,” Ellis said. “Almost every single one, save the two
attacks that involved guns, were successfully deterred due to the skills they’d
learned.”

Regardless of whether it is ever needed, self-defense is a beneficial skill to learn for both mental and situational reasons. Course participants acquire the confidence that they can safely go wherever they need or want, giving them a sense of freedom and independence. 

“At the end of it, it is a journey worth traveling,” Vinci said. “Most
women have stated its probably one of the best classes they’ve
had at school because they say they use the techniques, or parts of the
techniques, almost every day as they navigate for their safety wherever they go
or travel.”

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