Sexual assault sparks self-defense workshop series
Following the recent sexual assault on campus and students' increased worries about their safety, Ralf Santiago from Five Point Boxing is hosting a three-workshop series on self-defense for female Lee students.
In response to the assault, Santiago said he reached out to Lee about providing practical tools to help build girls’ confidence in defending themselves. Self-defense, according to Santiago, is less about knowing how to fight and more about knowing how to remove oneself from danger.
“It’s not about fighting somebody. It’s about creating space and time and ability to get away or get help,” Santiago said. “These are simple techniques, using tools people wouldn’t imagine they would be able to use.”
The workshops include what do to in different scenarios, from inside a car to a closed room to lying on the ground. Everyday objects like keys, paper, magazines and water bottles are taught to be used as weapons if necessary.
Santiago draws from more than 28 years of boxing and coaching experience to teach the workshops. He said boxing has been a large aspect of his own self-confidence.
“I grew up getting bullied, and I know what it is to be afraid of people. Boxing built up my confidence,” Santiago said. “The sport and science of boxing is something I’ve fallen in love with.”
Santiago’s mentor and martial arts instructor Shidoshi Nathan Ingram designed the self-defense program specifically for women. The goal, according to Santiago, is to empower women both mentally and physically.
“A lot of our program is about thinking straight, and I want the girls to feel confident and strong,” Santiago said. “I want them to learn to make safe decisions. Physical ability is useful, but don’t underestimate the strength in your mind to do things you don’t expect.”
Senior sociology major Ashley Crass said she joined the workshops to feel better able to protect herself.
“What interested me was learning practical ways to protect myself in any potentially dangerous situation,” Crass said. “I do feel better equipped because it's not about trying to fist-fight with someone twice my size; it's about learning what I can do logically and practically, regardless of my size, in a given situation to help me get away.”
According to Director of Campus Recreation Kevin Hudson, self-defense classes have been offered in the past, but a lack of demand and interest caused them to fizzle out.
However, starting in the fall of 2017, Lee and Five Point Boxing started a relationship with the inception of the Lee Boxing Club. Around 40 students regularly meet at Five Point Gym to learn the art of boxing every week. Hudson said Santiago was able to make the workshops a reality through the connection of the Boxing Club.
“Ralf has a heart for these kind of things, so when [the sexual assault] happened, he immediately wanted to do something for the students, particularly for the females,” Hudson said.
Due to the sensitive nature of the workshops, female Residential Life staff are on-hand to talk if the need arises.
“We have Res Life staff available as liaisons between the university and the students,” Hudson said. “If there are emotions triggered during the workshops, we want them to have an outlet to talk to somebody.”
Crass said the presence of Residential Life representatives is vital for emotional support.
“It is important that these staff members are there, not only to help those who have experienced previous trauma, but to encourage them and build their self-confidence with them,” Crass said.
After the workshops are over, the Recreation Center will send out assessments to those who participated. Hudson said he sees a possibility of self-defense programs becoming a regular part of the semester.
“I could see us partnering with Campus Security and Res Life to do some version of this every semester as part of our program, if the need is there,” Hudson said. “If one female student walks out of this feeling more empowered and in control of how to handle those situations, it’s a success.”
The remaining workshop will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Mayfield Annex from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Registering online through IMLeages is encouraged.