The Georgetown University Police Department will expand its self-defense class offerings, which have been limited to courses for women, to include a class for LGBTQ individuals and a class open to all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity next semester.
The university has offered self-defense courses for women for about four years and is offering two new courses after receiving criticism for restricting these offerings to female students.
The courses are designed to teach students basic self-defense in case of assault and are offered in four hour standalone sessions open to a maximum of 20 people in Reiss Science Building classrooms.
The classes, taught by a certified self-defense instructor with training in krav maga, a popular self-defense system that blends elements of various fighting styles, will consist of general safety presentations concerning possible risks, as well as a variety of self-defense tactics and lessons on how to handle physical confrontations.
They follow the same general model as previous classes, but techniques taught will differ depending on the gender identity of participants.
The classes were initially only offered to women because they are more likely to face sexual violence. Additionally, some female students indicated that they would feel more comfortable in a class that was tailored to women.
After hearing student complaints about the restrictive nature of these self-defense classes, the Georgetown University Student Association Student Health and Safety cabinet staff sent out a campus-wide survey last week asking students if they would be interested in taking a self-defense class, and if they were, if they would prefer a class limited to their gender, specifically for LGBTQ individuals or with people of all identities.
“Some people were interested in gender specific classes, some were interested in LGBTQ specific classes, and most people were interested in classes available to everyone,” GUSA Student Health and Safety Secretary and Sexual Assault Peer Educator Nora West (SFS ’15) said. “We just wanted to look to see if students outside of women would be interested in these classes and we found out that they were.”
The survey’s results convinced Georgetown University Police Department Chief of Police Jay Gruber to expand beyond women-only self-defense classes.
“It’s a wonderful class, and we got great feedback,” Gruber said. “I’m really excited to offer classes to a different audience this spring semester. I hope the classes are packed.”
Sexual Assault Peer Educators will be present at each course to discuss risk prevention, according to West.
Take Back the Night President Sarah Rabon (COL ’16) said that while the classes are a good first step, they will not solve the problem of sexual assault on college campuses.
“For some people, self-defense classes can be incredibly empowering,” Rabon said. “However, these classes do not address the deeper is
sues of rape culture that play a role in letting perpetrators of sexual assault to continue to do harm.”
Rabon warned against placing the onus on women and using self-defense classes as an excuse to justify victim blaming.
“It is never the responsibility of survivors to engage in attempt to prevent their assault,” Rabon said. “Survivors of assault that did not elect to take a self-defense class made no error and cannot and should not be judged or blamed for that choice.”
Additionally, Rabon emphasized the importance of self-defense classes restricted by gender identity or other factors in creating a comfortable atmosphere for participants.
“For the students that do want to take these classes, I think it is important to make sure they are offered in a format that makes the students feel safe and comfortable,” Rabon said. “That may mean limiting some individual sections to students that identify with certain genders or sexual orientations.”
Self-defense classes have recently seen a growing increase in popularity, particularly among college students.
A national self-defense curriculum called the Rape Aggression Defense Systems program, or RAD, is taught at over 1,200 universities and colleges around the country. At some schools, these classes can be taken for credit.
This class was previously taught at Georgetown in 2009, but the large time commitment of 12 hours of training led the university to abandon the program after three years. In D.C., the RAD program is offered at American University, the Catholic University of America and Howard University.