Rowan self-defense class empowers women on campus

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The first question police Sgt. Carrie Rathof will ask is, “Who here feels comfortable defending themselves?”

Most women in her class will not raise their hands, but by the end of the first day every hand is raised, Rathof said.

The first day of class is focused on teaching techniques. Rathof and the other instructors will teach upper and lower body defense, alongside multiple kinds of punches and kicks that will help the women defend themselves in different situations. They also show how to get out of varying types of holds, both upright and on the ground.

This is a part of one of Rowan University’s amenities: the Rape Aggression Defense System (RAD) class, a free self-defense course for members of the Rowan community run by a few people on Rowan’s police force. Once a semester, it’s held over a two-day period for about six hours each day.

“The best part about this class is it’s completely free, it’s all about the students and it’s here on campus, which is easily accessible for them,” Rathof said. “I love teaching women to defend themselves. I love seeing the look on their face, the power when they learn something they’ve never learned before and they’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even think of that.’ It’s just so great, to see the personalities and the excitement.”

Rathof has been sergeant of the Rowan Police Department for the past 12 years, and has worked in the department for 21 years. She has also been one of the original instructors for the RAD program since its introduction to Rowan in 2000 by a past directer. Since then, they’ve run the class almost every semester for the last 19 years.

“We went through the same exact class as we teach our participants,” Rathof said.

Rathof thinks that the course is not only important for a campus, but important for society. The class is based around the element of surprise, because people never know when they are going to be attacked.

This semester’s classes, held April 6 and 7, had eight people sign up, but only four came: two employees and their daughters.

“I’m not going to turn anybody down. You want to learn self-defense, I’m gonna teach you,” Rathof said. “We usually try to have five to 10, 12, whatever sign up. If two sign up, we’re gonna teach you. We’re not turning you down.”

Lynne Hentschke, the managing administrative assistant for the vice president of Academic Affairs for the last seven years, went to the RAD class with her 15-year-old daughter.

“There were some hands-on things that were actually kind of fun and a little stress-busting,” Hentschke said. “For what it was, it was actually fun and empowering.”

Hentschke and her daughter’s favorite part were the series of self-defense scenarios they participated in during the second day. These involved instructors in full-body padding acting out scenes where the women, who wore arm, knee and head padding, were being “attacked.” This way, Hentschke could use all the techniques she learned to defend herself without being worried about getting hurt or hurting the instructors.

“We felt like we were learning how to defend ourselves and they weren’t coddling us, because we had protection on and they had protection on, and we could actually hit them,” she said.

Hentschke’s biggest takeaway from the RAD class was “use your voice.” In the class, the women were told that with every movement, whether it be a kick, punch or something else, they have to shout “no” to deter anyone who may try to hurt them and to draw attention to the situation.

Rathof said that since the program started, instructors are always learning something new from their students, as well as better teaching methods. One time Rathof taught a girl in a wheelchair, and now she feels better suited to help more women with the same situation.

“It’s emotional sometimes, but it’s a good emotional. It’s one of the best parts of my job,” Rathof said.

Hentschke, who is hoping to have a RAD class for her choir group, said she would recommend this class to every woman on campus, as well as to every woman she knows. She feels that every woman should know how to defend herself.

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