The women's voices cry out in rhythm as they strike out at imaginary attackers. Maureen Morrison of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) walks along the row of women lined up in defensive position. "Don't hold back. What would you rather do, break a finger or become a victim?" she warns.
The seven women are participants in the HUPD's new self-defense course, Rape Aggression Defense Systems (RAD). RAD is a six-year old program whose presence has skyrocketed on college campuses nation-wide in recent years. Its popularity stems from its low price of $20, classes limited to 15 students and a focus on crime prevention strategies as well as physical self-defense techniques.
"It's wildly popular. We do six programs a year and we have waiting lists. It's a big success story," said Anne P. Glavin, chief of police at MIT, where the RAD program is in its second year.
HUPD began offering the class so that members of the Harvard community could have access to a reasonably priced self-defense course. "We are very aware of the concern of university about safety," said HUPD Chief Paul E. Johnson.
"It's been a course that has been needed for a long time," Morrison said.
Other self-defense options in the past have included Model Mugging, which is run by an independent agency at a cost of over $400 per participant. "I know very few people who have gone through it. For people our age, the cost is prohibitive," said Asya M. Muchnick '96, co-director of Response, Harvard's rape crisis hotline.
And whereas Harvard had to work to accommodate Model Mugging's calendar in the past, another advantage of RADis that it will be based on the HUPD's ownschedule. The instructors are specially trainedHarvard police officers, and the materials andequipment are all Harvard-owned.
"The Harvard police are really accommodating.They are really concerned about personalsecurity," said Elizabeth M. Haynes '98, who is onthe waiting list for RAD right now. "They arewilling to hold as many sessions as they need toaccommodate," she said.
"Right now there is a waiting list of sevenpeople. When we get up to 15, we will run anothersession," said Sergeant Lawrence J. Fennelly,coordinator of the RAD program at Harvard. Thedepartment hopes to increase the number ofRAD-trained officers from two to four.
The RAD program is made up of four sessions offour hours each, spread over a two week period.The 16 hours of class include lectures,discussion, videos and self-defense techniques.
RAD is particularly well-suited for collegecampuses, proponents said. "One of the biggestproblems in college communities and also one ofthe most underreported crimes is acquaintancerape. RAD really has an application in thisenvironment," said Glavin.
"RAD emphasizes very easy basic techniqueswhich are very easy to learn. Any average womancan go through the program. It's not martial artsbased. There isn't any phenomenal skill that isneeded," said Sheri L. lachetti, co-founder ofRAD.
Since RAD's inception in 1989, over 30,000women have gone through the program in 37 statesand in Canada. The program is present on 150campuses and has 650 trained instructors. RAD isalso offered at Wellesley, Tufts and Northeastern,as well as University of Massachusetts at Boston.
The programs have elicited a remarkableresponse from students. "We have real goodsuccess. People have called us back to tell usabout where they applied what they learned andhelped them out of a difficult situation," saidGlavin.
"Harvard is in the middle of the city ofCambridge. It is not exempt from violent crimes,"said HUPD RAD instructor Robert T. Sweetland.
One student said she have concerns about theirpersonal safety.
"I want to take the course so that I can bemore comfortable when I am walking at night,whether by myself or in a group," said Haynes.
Other students said they took the course inresponse to prior attack experiences.
"I don't think there is a class that goes bywithout at least one person who was a victim.There is always at least someone who tells us thiswhether or not they tell the entire class orreveal it to us in private," said Glavin.
"I've been physically assaulted twice, and Ifinally feel like I'm getting out my aggression.I've never learned to strike out before. I feelempowered," said Caroline A. Cuningham, a RADparticipant from the Kennedy School of Government.
Cuningham feels that the course teaches basicskills that she might have been able to apply inher previous assaults. "The first time I wasafraid that he had a gun. I didn't know what todo, so I cried out to a passing car. That was theworst thing to do because he just socked me,"Cuningham said.
"I presented the scenario to Maureen[Morrison], and she said what I should have doneis complied and when I was digging in my purse Icould have kicked him in his shins," she added.
The program's biggest flaw seems to be its lackof advertisement, according to participants.Although small red and blue signs were posted lastweek describing the class and faxes were sent toall the houses, many students feel that thereisn't enough awareness about the program.
"It wasn't very well advertised. More peoplecertainly would have come if it had been,"second-year law student Njeri Mathis