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Interest in Self-Defense Classes Up

By Eva Moy
News Editor

Enrollment and interest in MIT and Campus Police self-defense and personal safety classes has risen, perhaps in response to what has so far been an unusually violent semester.

About 20 people registered for a self-defense physical education class last night, twice the number that completed the class last spring, according to physical education staff. This is the second time the class has been offered for PE credit.

The self-defense class is designed to make students aware of their environment and to provide hands-on training. Students actually know "what it's going to feel like" to be confronted in a dangerous situation, said class organizers.

In part of the class, the instructor dons a padded, full-body "Red Man" suit and teaches students how to fight and hit an opponent. The teacher acts as an assailant and the students learn how to escape safely from an attack situation.

Campus Police officers advise that a person confronted by a possible assailant should first try to avoid the situation. "If you see somebody coming at you, go the other way," said Sergeant Steven Daley, who teaches self-defense to police officers.

Otherwise, the person should be "the best witness possible" by judging the attacker's height and noting what he or she is wearing, said Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer.

"The Campus Police recommend that you cooperate" rather than resist an assailant, Daley added.

Other disciplines, especially the martial arts, emphasize fighting back. For example, Tae Kwon Do teaches offensive and defensive techniques, according to Daley. However, these techniques should be used according to a person's skill, confidence, and experience in fighting.

Self-defense classes, on the other hand, teach people skills that they can master immediately, Daley said.

The increased awareness about personal safety is heartening, Daley said. "This is our community. I personally don't like to see people become victims," Daley said.

People interested in self-defense can take advantage of a variety of safety programs offered by the Campus Police and other organizations around Boston and Cambridge.

Streetwise and Safe

Daley and Vossmer are also bringing the safety message to students through a Campus Police presentation called "Streetwise and Safe." Through primarily a lecture format, it touches on defensive striking and confrontation techniques. However, these techniques usually cannot be practiced during the presentation because of the large audience size, Vossmer said.

"I don't care if there are five people or 55 people in the audience," she said. "Hopefully I have made a difference in one person's life" by speaking to many groups.

Daley said the classes teach students "to be very aware" and to build self-confidence. He added that to be as safe as possible, people should be very familiar with their environment, the campus, and alternate routes to their destination.

"Visualize in your mind what you're going to do in a situation" before anything happens, Daley emphasized. He likened this process to studying for an academic test, when students anticipate the types of questions they are likely to see. "Here's your exam on survival," Daley said.

Vossmer said people could protect themselves against "crimes of opportunity" with their body language. Criminals will watch whether a potential victim is paying attention, listening to a personal stereo, or looking at the ground while walking. "Awareness and body language should be synonymous," she said.

Vossmer warned against carrying incapacitating weapons, such as mace. She said that in Massachusetts, students need to obtain special training and a firearms identification card from a city police department in order to carry such devices.

Instead, she suggested carrying whistles, noisemakers, or shrill alarms instead and practicing their use.