Students strike back against sexual violence with self-defense class

By: Sarah Madden, Senior Writer

Just before April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Tae Kwon Do Club and Residence Life partnered to host a free self-defense class led by Dr. Jeremy Henkel, assistant professor of philosophy and 6th degree black belt, and other members of the Tae Kwon Do Club.

According to Henkel, the primary benefit of these kinds of workshops is more psychological than physical, but the resulting confidence itself can reduce the chance of having to use the skills learned in the workshop.

“A one-hour workshop cannot make one an expert in self-defense any more than one hour of practice can make one an expert pianist. Expertise, in any field, requires regular, sustained practice,” he says. “But the self-confidence that can come from knowing even a little bit—that you can get free if someone grabs you by the wrist, or in a bearhug—can do a lot to ensure that you never have to use the physical skills. With knowledge comes confidence, which manifests itself in physical behavior.”

Resident Assistant and attendee K.J. Atwood ’17 says that access to these kinds of events is important for Wofford students and can “spread awareness, spark interest and prepare people for dangers that are real and present in their lives.

“Residence Life wants the safest possible environment for the students here on campus, these are our friends, the people we live day-to-day with. A self-defense class is a small, enjoyable way that we can get involved in equipping people to play a role in protecting themselves,” he says.

Henkel says, “A lot of the credit for the success of the event goes to the Residence Life staff, who did a great job of advertising and getting people excited about it. Special credit goes to Meg Berlin ’18, who originally approached me with the idea of a self-defense workshop.”

One of the primary topics of discussion at the event was sexual assault, and the workshop focused on how to break free from various kinds of grabs even if an assailant is much bigger or stronger than the victim.

“It’s difficult to get concrete numbers regarding how many women experience sexual violence in college, in large part because of the systemic mechanisms in place that discourage women from reporting their experiences. Nevertheless, studies have indicated that as many as 27% of undergraduate women in the United States experience some form of sexual violence while in school,” Henkel says. “Everyone has a right to feel safe and comfortable; living in the shadow of a one-in-four chance of experiencing sexual violence is a clear and direct violation of that right. If a self-defense class can reduce that number even a little bit, then we have a moral obligation to provide that resource to anyone who wants to take advantage of it.”

Henkel says that in addition to improving safety on campus practically, these events have other benefits, too. “Self-defense workshops also improve safety simply by increasing awareness: awareness that sexual violence is more prevalent than we like to think it is, which can help us to remember to look out for each other as well as ourselves; and awareness that you have the right and the ability to fight back if someone attempts to assault you,” he says.

That’s the beauty of these events, says Atwood: that the impact keeps going beyond the event itself. “That’s what’s great about it,” he says. “One friend shows another, and then another, and all of a sudden your best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s third-cousin has been saved from a crisis. If nothing else, it gave everyone who attended a little confidence, and confidence can go a long way in a high-pressure situation.”

Both Residence Life and the Tae Kwon Do Club are working to put on similar events in the future, but anyone who is interested in learning more about Tae Kwon Do or requesting self-defense workshops can contact Henkel at “Sam Alford, current club president, and Rachel Ann Gresko, next year’s president, are also good people to contact with questions,” he says. The Tae Kwon Do Club meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30 p.m. and Fridays from 3:00-4:00 p.m. as part of the Fitness Classes. Everyone is welcome to join.

Sarah Madden

Sarah is a Wofford College student studying English and environmental studies. She is a Senior Writer for the Old Gold & Black newspaper and also an intern with the Wofford Office of Marketing and Communications. Sarah is a PATH Int'l Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor at HALTER in Spartanburg, SC. She is also on the Wofford College Equestrian Team and in her spare time, enjoys playing with and riding her horse, Dancer.

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