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Self-defense course lures students

With safety an increasingly prominent issue on campus, last night's "Self-Defense for Women" class took on new relevance.

About 20 women came to Gilbert-Addoms Dormitory to learn "simple, easy, street-oriented" self-defense techniques, said Kathy Hopwood, who taught the class along with Beth Seigler. Hopwood and Seigler, instructors from SafeSkills, Inc., teach the class several times per year, but they and their students said the recent reported sexual assault on East Campus has brought the issue to the forefront.

"It was obvious that the attack situation brought a lot of the women here," Seigler said. "This was a great class.... People were really attentive."

Several workshop participants said the sexual assault made them more likely to attend. "I think I would have viewed it as too large of a time commitment [before], but the event made it a priority," said sophomore Rebekah Osborn.

Sophomore Stacey Clarke agreed that the issue of personal safety on campus has gained importance in recent weeks.

"Clearly this is something that's been on a lot of Duke women's minds," she said. "I feel like people are treating it more seriously."

Since the assault, Hopwood and Seigler have visited several sororities, giving hour-long talks about self-defense and safety.

They have been teaching self-defense classes at Duke since 1982, when sororities and other campus groups sponsored their self-defense workshops as special events. The Women's Center was established in 1989 with the goal of improving the status of women at Duke, and now gives Hopwood and Seigler a chance to teach self-defense classes on campus several times per year.

Hopwood said at least 18 students usually attend the workshops, and interest has steadily increased over the years. "In the last 10 years, we've really seen an increase in women taking self-defense and not wanting to be afraid," she said.

The class typically addresses the psychological elements of self-defense, distinguishing between "sudden impact" and "gradual buildup" attacks. College women are more likely to encounter "gradual buildup" attacks, characteristic of acquaintance or date rape, but the workshop focuses on both forms.

"In light of recent events, both of those sets of skills are probably beneficial," said Jean Leonard, coordinator of sexual assault support services at the Women's Center. "A lot of the programming we do is directed at women's safety and violence prevention, and self-defense is one piece of that. But it's not the only piece."

Hopwood said the content of the course is flexible, but generally focuses on simple kicks and punches that can be used to ward off attackers. "What the group needs is what we answer," she said.

Although last night's workshop provided some basic techniques for self-defense, Leonard acknowledged that not all violence can be avoided. "Some of these skills may or may not have prevented recent events," she said. "There's not a 100-percent guarantee."

Seigler praised the work of the Women's Center, as well as Duke's growing emphasis on student safety. "In the years that I have been coming to Duke, I've seen a big improvement in reacting to students' need for safety," she said. However, she added, it would be helpful if the University offered more workshops to address self-defense and other issues.

Hopwood and Seigler will teach their next self-defense workshop on campus April 2.

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