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A class for empowerment and a lifetime of change

RAD program teaches self-defense to members of campus community
MIT Police Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer and Detective Willard Boulter demonstrate various strikes and stances during the RAD course.
MIT Police Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer and Detective Willard Boulter demonstrate various strikes and stances during the RAD course.
Photo: Holly Hinman

The Rape Aggression Defense Systems program (RAD) has become increasingly popular on MIT’s campus. Last fall alone, more than 50 women in the MIT community — from undergraduate students to staff and spouses — received self-defense training in the program. In the last year, more than 100 women inquired about the initiative and how they can better protect themselves.

Last month, seven two-hour sessions were held in the McCormick Hall dance studio. MIT Police Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer and Detective Willard “Billy” Boulter demonstrated strikes, blocks and emphasized the importance of being aware of surroundings.

“As women, we seem to think ‘It won’t happen to me,’ but unfortunately, we all need to be aware of our own strength and be able to defend ourselves,” Vossmer said. “There are resources to utilize on and off campus and, until we can eliminate sexual assault, domestic violence and street crimes of violence, there will always be a need for self-defense.”

“This program is offered free of charge to any woman at MIT,” she added. “The only commitment is your time, the time that will make a lifetime of change.“

Vossmer, who has been with the RAD program since its creation, worked with Boulter to teach proper RAD techniques to the women to help them execute their moves in a realistic manner. “Simulation,” the final portion of the program, tested the women’s reactions in a simulated attack setting. MIT Police provided protective gear including helmets and kneepads, and the “aggressors” in the simulation were heavily padded as well. The participants, armed with new techniques, understanding and knowledge, demonstrated what they learned and received feedback. This simulation was highly praised by participants as a way to help them understand what it felt like to apply their lessons and physically test themselves in a controlled setting.

Everyone who completes the course is welcome to participate in a refresher course at any RAD program across the country. This “Lifetime Return and Practice” policy is not the only benefit that the course provides.

“Students were able to utilize this program for Physical Education requirements and we found them to be the biggest demographic involved,” said Lauren Piontkoski, area director for McCormick Hall. Piontkoski partnered with Vossmer and MIT Police to run the program and was also a participant. “What has made this endeavor so successful has been the partnership between MIT Police and Residential Life & Dining, allowing this program to be held within the residence halls.”

RAD program participants during the IAP session submitted their feedback at the conclusion of the course. The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, and some said, “I feel way more confident after this class,” “I’m definitely more empowered than ever,” and “I highly recommend this class to anyone. The instructors and simulation were fantastic — I thought they added an additional layer to the class which enhanced my participation.”

MIT Police and Residential Life & Dining have not released dates for the next RAD course, but there are plans to schedule another session in the spring semester. For more information about the RAD Program, contact Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer at:

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