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‘Prevention is key’ FSU alumna empowers students through self-defense workshop

Melina Bourdeau/THE GATEPOST

By Sara Silvestro


My “attacker” approaches me. She wraps her fingers around my wrist firmly and pulls me toward her.

My stance changes – shoulders square – and immediately, my free hand shoots up and pushes forward, palm out, past her face as I twist my other wrist free. Three steps back, and both hands are up again in a defensive stance.


In theory, my palm would not have shot past my attacker’s face. The heel of my palm would have struck my attacker’s nose, hopefully hurting him or her enough to prevent the assault from being carried out.

My “attacker” is my partner in a self-defense workshop of 10 students, including myself, and two faculty members at Framingham State University on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Instructors Jeanne Donnelly, a fourth-dan black belt in Tai Kwon Do, and Erica Daloia, Donnelly’s daughter, taught the workshop.

Donnelly started practicing martial arts in 1989, when Daloia was six months old. Prior to teaching martial arts, Donnelly said she was a rape crisis counselor, and that is when she 7rst started teaching self-defense classes.

Daloia learned self-defense from her mother starting when she was 7ve years old, later earning a second-dan black belt in Tai Kwon Do.

Donnelly, an FSU alumna, and Daloia co-founded Makoto-Do, which, according to their website, offers classes in martial arts, healing and personal development.

“Even if we can help one person not be a victim, it is worth it,” said Donnelly.

“Anybody could be a victim,” she added.

The self-defense workshop is coordinated by Campus Police’s Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.), a physical defense course designed specifically for women. dents and faculty learned physical preparations, such as stance and distance, how to block attacks from multiple angles, grab releases and vital areas to strike. R.A.D. is taught by certi7ed instructors and encourages women to depend on themselves, and to “ to develop and enhance options of self defense so they may become viable considerations for the woman who is attacked,” according to FSU’s website.

According to Sergeant Karen Nicholas, FSU’s R.A.D. coordinator, there were six campus sex offenses, which occurred in the residence halls and six domestic assault and battery incidents in the residence halls in 2013, which was documented in the 2013 Clery Act handbook. The 2014 statistics will be released soon, she said.

Based on the results of a Bureau of Justice national crime victimization survey distributed to 18-24 year old women, “The rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000). For both college students and nonstudents, the offender was known to the victim in about 80 percent of rape and sexual assault victimizations.

“Most (51 percent) student rape and sexual assault victimizations occurred while the victim was pursuing leisure activities away from home, compared to nonstudents, who were engaged in other activities at home (50 percent) when the victimization occurred. Rape and sexual assault victimizations of students (80 percent) were more likely than nonstudent victimizations (67percent) to go unreported to police,” according to the 2014 survey.

“The importance of self-defense at FSU gives individuals techniques they can deploy in order to escape,” said Nicholas. “Just because someone has been given the tools does not mean that it will be the right thing in the moment.”

For future self-defense classes, the department is working on incorporating safety presentations and Run, Hide, Fight into the workshops. Currently, the department is working on engaging the community to propose ideas to make the campus a safer environment, said Nicholas.

By taking a self-defense class, a person has a higher chance of getting out of the situation, said Donnelly. “Prevention is the key.”

Donnelly called to mind the time she and Daloia attended a workshop with activist Elizabeth Smart in Foxboro. Smart gained national attention in 2003 when she was rescued nine months after being kidnapped at the age of 14.

“One of the things she said that I really remember was when that guy came into her room – she didn’t know what to do,” said Donnelly. “She had no skills and had never taken self defense. Had she had some self-defense, she could have gotten out of that situation.

“Hopefully, that little bit of awareness keeps people safe,” Donnelly added.

Vandana Singh, professor of physics at FSU, attended the class. Previously, she learned martial arts in college.

Singh said she would like to have a series of self-defense classes or martial arts offerings “where the philosophy behind the art was taught as well as the techniques.

“Of course, we also need to work on culture change to decrease the number of attacks and assaults – we shouldn’t lose sight of that,” Singh said.

Singh added, “In some times and places, the world is not safe. We should know how to defend ourselves, both in terms of preventing difficult or dangerous situations, and in terms of knowing how to physically ward off an attacker. For women in particular, the statistics on rape and assault are absolutely horrific.”

Reuel Pereira, a freshman at FSU and a R.A.D. attendee, said Donnelly and Daloia really emphasized the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings. For Pereira, that is what stuck out.

“Growing up in Brazil, you are on the street all the time,” he said. “You come home from school, do your homework and you get out and play outside.”

Pereira said he learned that walking with a certain stance shows awareness and con7dence. Potential attackers are less likely to target someone and “think twice about it after they see you being watchful and aware of your surroundings.”

Donnelly said students are more likely to attend classes in a familiar environment rather than a location that is unfamiliar.

“To an extent, different people come here and have different levels of comfort with it,” said Daloia. “From my experience, by the end, they are usually able to feel comfortable.”

She added, “We do encourage people to come to as many as they can so that it is engrained. ... It can be tough for the first time.”

Carlos Zamora, a sophomore, said having the workshop frequently would bene7t students and suggested meeting every other week. The advantages to meeting more often are muscle memory and learning new techniques, he said.

Zamora had taken classes before with Donnelly in her Tai Chi workshops. He enjoyed the classes so much that he took his father to one of them.

He said this self-defense class was not what he expected.

“I was a little skeptical as a guy,” he said, “because when I first saw the class, I was like, ‘OK, it’s a bunch of girls.’”

Once he began, he had fun and was comfortable, he said.

Rob Alvarez, a senior, said he does feel safe on campus and that there has never been a day or night he feared walking through campus.

“Well the obvious points are that I’ve never been someplace where cameras are literally everywhere, and Campus Police certainly make their presence known driving around.

“I’ve never had to use the call boxes, but they are readily available just about anywhere,” he said.

However, he said he does recognize that others may feel differently.

Christina Hatzopoulos, a junior, is a security desk attendant on campus and frequently works late night- shifts.

“Sometimes, I have to walk around campus at like three in the morning, and I get a little apprehensive, but I do feel safe,” she said.

However, she does not feel comfortable walking by the library or Dwight Hall. She called for more lighting in that area, and during the night for Campus Police to walk around on foot occasionally.

Meghan Hill, a sophomore, said she feels safe because “it’s a small campus.

“I notice how quickly campus police responds to an incident.”

Olivia DiFranco, a sophomore, said standing alone in the parking lots while waiting for the RamTrams makes her nervous because she is petite.

At times, DiFranco has made the decision to walk from Union due to the RamTram not coming for half an hour “because they are changing shifts. I walk and Campus police isn’t there, so it’s scary.”

Khelsea Stewart, a freshman, said that the self-defense class eased her nerves about walking late at night on campus, and that it is important to have a class that can help ensure the safety of students, particularly women.

“You hear on the news more and more about girls getting attacked or raped on college campuses,” she said.

“By the end of the class,” she said, “I felt like a confident, self defense-certified ninja.”

Donnelly said, “The more you do it, it becomes more natural. You become more comfortable with it. And it’s a process of getting out of a difficult situation and becoming empowered and feeling strong and feeling more confident. It takes time and it takes practice.

“It could save your life.”

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