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Michigan State’s self defense program gets modern revamp

Offering courses in self-defense has been a staple of MSU’s community education. An update of the program has made it more inclusive and introspective.

This academic year, Michigan State’s on-campus community partners are collaborating to renew what was once a traditional self defense, physical skills workshop.

Instead of the typical self defense workshop, the empowerment series now includes 3 components. The first part is physical skills. The second part is a virtual safety session which informs participants about being safe online. The last part is an internal empowerment and risk reduction session. Extensive research aided POE experts to transform the common societal perspective of self defense.

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For over 30 years, the MSU Rec Sports Department promoted a Self Defense Program that served thousands of students and organizations. The program primarily targeted the safety needs of women, with an open invitation to men.

Angela Michael, club sports director of Recreational Sports and Fitness Services, took over the self defense program in 2007. In addition to being associate director, she became facility manager and then realized she couldn’t nurture this program to its greatest potential. In 2018, Michael seeked the opportunity to reach out continuously to the only prevention worker. She saw the campus effort in two programs to do a lot more prevention work. “It's been a really exciting shift because they are the professionals,” said Michael. “I am a rec sports person, I am. I don't have all the training.”

Prevention Outreach and Education (P.O.E.) experts took over the program during the pandemic and began transforming the traditional program into what is now a modern “empowerment series.”

“What we decided is that we wanted to kind of revamp the program and really look at it from an empowerment perspective, because oftentimes when people say self defense those programs could be perceived as like victim blaming, particularly when it comes to RVSM.

so we really didn't want to look at it,” said Matea Caluk, an assistant director of POE.

Once POE had the desired information, they assembled a group of MSU campus partners in RVSM and presented the collected research. There was a different approach to what the empowerment program would provide.

“We really want to make sure that this is a Survivor Center then trauma informed so it's not a victim blaming program,” said Caluk. “It's not a program that says you must do this in order to prevent assault. It is in no way that kind of a program, so we kind of talked to them with this research that we had gathered, and then this is kind of how this series came about.”

Lt. Dan Munford of the Michigan State University Police and Public Safety, is an instructor for the empower series physical skills session. He is offering a different perspective outside of physical skills with law enforcement information.

“As a former defensive tactics instructor with our department, I felt that having the opportunity to educate some people in regards to the proper way to strike some targeting areas on things like that are easily obtainable but yet effective,” said Munford. “ It's just a great opportunity.”

The first pilot program of physical skills launched in March. The sessions are being kept at a max of 25 participants to give participants a personal experience.

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“A lot of people have never thrown a punch, thrown a kick, know what it feels like, and in our pilot program it was,” said Munford. “It was kind of funny because the first couple of strikes that were thrown, it was just kind of like ‘I'm not really sure about this.’ And then by the end of it, they're like ‘this is awesome.’”

There is a holistic feeling of empowerment from instructors and participants through this revival of a traditional program.

“From the feedback that they gave, they really enjoyed the workshop. They liked having that opportunity to be able to engage in that type of programming and in the workshop,” said Caluk.

Since the self defense program has transitioned over to POE, both organizations are still working together to inform and train the community. The next physical skills session being held in April will be located at IM West.

“For the past couple of years, one of the biggest things that we want to do is just encourage people to take care of each other,” said Munford. “Just watching the confidence grow was incredible. And that's what I'm looking forward to.”

If you are interested in registering for the empowerment series, follow @msupoe on IG or visit their website poe.msu.edu.

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