If you're a woman who's ever questioned your ability to protect yourself from physical attack, you may want to look into a self-defense course taught by the Campus Police. The course, Rape Aggression Defense (RAD), is a standardized course offered on campuses and in communities throughout the United States and Canada.
RAD students learn practical skills for becoming aware of, and avoiding, potentially dangerous situations, as well as more aggressive skills for defending themselves if they are attacked.
Certified RAD instructors receive 30 hours of intensive training and must pass written and practical exams to insure that the techniques and philosophy remain true to the RAD system. This consistency makes it possible for course graduates to take refresher courses wherever the course is offered, without additional charge.
At MIT, the course is taught by two Campus Police officers, usually a man and woman, who add liberal doses of good humor to keep the class relatively light-hearted, despite the serious nature of the material.
One of the first things RAD students learn is the fine art of yelling aggressively at an attacker, rather than reacting with the high-pitched scream--or worse, voicelessness--that may be a woman's first response to assault. This simple concept can prove difficult for some women to master.
"I'm real quiet, so I'm not very good at yelling. When I heard Cheryl [deJong Vossmer] yell, I thought 'God, I wish I could yell like that,'" said Joan Walker, a PhD student in civil and environmental engineering who took a RAD course last fall.
Sgt. Vossmer of the Campus Police Crime Prevention Unit coordinates RAD instruction on campus. She's well-known among RAD graduates for her ability to turn yelling into a tour de force and for making the class fun. She and the other RAD instructors manage to strike a balance between pushing students out of their personal comfort zone and making sure they feel at ease with the process of confronting some of the darker aspects of life.
During the final class meeting, students must participate in an attack simulation, defending themselves against male attackers--actually trained CPs who are certified RAD instructors--wearing protective padding.
The $20 course is open to all women faculty, staff and students, who take it for a variety of reasons.
"I had never had a self-defense course before. Living in a city, I figured it was not a bad thing to do, although I hope I never have to use it," said Sabrina Greenberg, an administrative assistant in the Campus Activities Complex who took the course in September 1997.
"I thought it would be a good idea to be prepared," said Barbara Balkwill, an administrative assistant in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences who is currently taking a RAD course. "It makes you a lot more aware and alert, and teaches confidence and independence. You feel like you can handle yourself."
"I was dragged into it by a friend who was getting threatening phone calls," said Ms. Walker. "I hated it for the first 15 minutes and loved it after that. It was empowering, but also just fun and good exercise."
The next course begins Tuesday, Oct. 13 and meets from 6-8pm on Tuesday and Thursday evenings through November 3. People can register from the web page at <http://web.mit.edu/cp/> or by contacting Sgt. Vossmer at x3-9755.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 7, 1998.