‘Fight Night’ at WFU: learning self-defense for class credit

Since November 1993, women at Wake Forest University have been learning the physical and verbal skills needed to protect themselves in case of an attack. Now, they can earn class credit for what they have learned.

Wake Forest’s Rape Aggression Defense program (RAD) is one of six university RAD programs in North Carolina, but the only one that currently offers it for college credit. Wake Forest is also the only private university in North Carolina to offer the program. Students in Wake Forest RAD classes earn one credit hour for the 15 hours they spend in the classroom during the semester. The class combines readings, tests on basic RAD principles and physical lessons that show how and where to hit an aggressor and how to escape from an attack.

“RAD is a life skill and a frame of mind,” said Susan Borwick, a trained RAD instructor and professor of music at Wake Forest. “This course allows women to reclaim their importance.”

RAD is the only self-defense program endorsed by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Most programs are run through college police departments alone, but Wake Forest’s University Police teamed with the women’s studies department last summer to make RAD a for-credit course. Other campus groups, including the Student Government and sororities, also lobbied for the status. It is listed as a women’s studies credit and is offered in two sessions, each lasting half of a semester.

Classes are led by Borwick and Wake Forest Police officers Thomas Slater and Gina Jones. Slater was one of the first instructors trained at Wake Forest and has been teaching the course for almost nine years. University Police Chief Regina Lawson, who brought the program to Wake Forest, asked Slater to become an instructor.

“I didn’t hesitate when Chief Lawson asked me to do the training,” Slater said. “When you’ve seen the eyes of a woman after she’s been assaulted, you don’t want to see that again. This course gives women the skills to escape.”

The first RAD class at Wake Forest had just three students. This spring, 131 women were enrolled in eight different sections. Students from a variety of majors sign up for the class and more seniors take the course than underclassmen. One graduate student and two Japanese exchange students were among the RAD students this semester.

“It is important to me to connect the values we teach in women’s studies classes to these students’ real lives,” said Borwick, former director of the women’s studies program. “That is the best kind of academic course, one that brings what we’re teaching into action.”

Dee Dee Porter, one of three freshmen in the class, said the class makes her feel more confident and independent.

“I now know what I am capable of,” Porter said. “If the situation would ever arise, I know I can fight back and protect myself.”

This week, Slater, Borwick and Jones are getting students ready for “fight night,” the culmination of the course when each student has to escape a staged attack that can include up to three attackers. Three University Police officers in protective body gear play the attackers.

“Fight night really makes the students feel panicky, and that’s a good thing,” Borwick said. “They really prove to themselves they can do this.”

Members of the media are invited to “fight night.” Fight nights will be held on April 29, 30 and May 1, 2 and 3. Contact the News Service to arrange coverage.

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