Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

On-campus self-defense class packs a punch

A woman walks home after a night out, striding down a poorly lit side street without trepidation. She’s heard the oft-repeated statistic that one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, but her confidence in the precautions she has taken — carrying pepper spray and chatting with a friend on the phone, a measure intended to ensure she returns home safely — assuages any instinctual unease.

Preoccupied, she doesn’t notice the approaching stranger. As she gropes for the pepper spray in her purse, her hands coming up empty. The stranger makes his move. The call ends and her friend, although disturbed by the abrupt goodbye, can only guess at the reason and her friend’s location.

This sort of scenario concerns DU Campus Safety Sergeant Jason McKelvy and his fellow officers who regularly see students ambling across campus, distracted by their cell phones and oblivious to their surroundings.

So, each quarter, Campus Safety offers a basic physical defense course through RAD, the largest self-defense training network in the country.

Being cognizant of possible threats, and putting away the cell phone, can make a world of difference.

“Ninety-percent of self-defense education is awareness,” says RAD instructor Kelly Raeburn. “By educating participants about what makes women more vulnerable to attacks, we hope women will have a heightened awareness of their surroundings and avoid a confrontation.”

Open to students, employees and members of the public, RAD also teaches women how to use their personal weapons — voice, hands, feet, elbows, etc. — to survive dangerous situations like the stranger-on-the-sidewalk scenario.

A woman’s voice, instructors emphasize, is her most valuable weapon because predators don’t want to fight or attract attention. Consequently, assertive verbal commands like “stay back” and “no,” as opposed to screaming, can help prevent an altercation.

Participants spend most of the three-day, four-hour-long course, learning and practicing a comprehensive array of combative methods for blocking advances, striking back and, above all, escaping physical confrontations.

“When in an altercation, the adrenaline kicks in and humans have a tendency to revert to what they feel most comfortable with and what feels natural to them so these skills are simple to learn and retain,” says McKelvy.

By the final class, participants have learned how to favorably alter the possible outcomes of the stranger-on-the-sidewalk scenario.

So a woman, having completed RAD training, knows to be aware of her surroundings and gets a good look at the stranger’s face as he approaches. “Stay back,” she would shout with authority, shifting her right-foot back into a balanced stance, bringing the left-arm up to block and securing a fist with her right-hand.

She knows to aim her strike at vulnerable areas such as the nose or throat, to anticipate the direction of her attacker’s counterstrike by watching his shoulders and to continue voicing assertive commands so as to attract attention. She knows to steady her breathing and prevent panic from freezing her. She knows how to survive and believes she can.

Empowerment and confidence is the end goal of the course, says Raeburn.

“The most important thing I hope women walk away from the basic physical fefense course with is that no matter their age or physical ability, they are not powerless if confronted by an attacker.”

“I thought it was a good class for us,” says Denver resident Monique Cameron, who took the class with her 12-year-old daughter. “Jazmyn is not confrontational like her mother. I’ve always felt I could defend myself, but now I am more confident that Jazz can.”

Women interested in taking a RAD class can e-mail Tyrone Mills at or The course costs $25. Courses can be scheduled upon request.

Comments are closed.