Montclair State University is offering, once again, a self-defense course in the upcoming spring semester for anyone who identifies as a woman and has had an experience with sexual or physical assault.
The class is taught by defense instructor Karen Chasen followed by a group therapy session with the Referral Coordinator and Case Manager on campus, Lisa Westreich, which will take place Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Westreich is also one of the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) social workers leading the group therapy sessions after the defense class. She is very passionate about giving students a safe place to go on campus. She explained why this course was made.
“The group was started after a therapist, Dr. Weinberg, noted that there was a need for it because of the clients we were seeing at CAPS; so many students were reporting a history of abuse,” Westreich said. “The group modality can be such a healing and supportive place for students to process what they’ve gone through and experience the power and freedom of learning to defend themselves together.”
As of right now, the group is intended for only students who identify as women and have had an encounter with sexual or physical assault at any point in their lives.
“We’re definitely talking about offering this sort of group to male-identified students,” Westreich said. “But we would not be offering a mixed gender group.”
Westreich further explained why she believes this course is so important for students.
“One important reason is so students know that they are not alone,” Westreich said. “Living after trauma can be a lonely and isolating experience and having a community of women who can share in their healing journey is very powerful. Another reason is that women deserve to feel empowered and less vulnerable in the world – learning safe and effective self-defense techniques can help.”
Some women at Montclair State didn’t know this class existed, but recognize the importance of it.
Marlene Fernandez, a senior communication and media arts major, is one of these students. She believes this is an important course to know about.
“I think we should promote this more,” Fernandez said. “I definitely would have taken it if I had known about it.”
Fernandez believes that it is a great opportunity for women to have a safe space to deal with past trauma.
“I like that we’re giving women a safe space to both learn how to defend themselves and talk openly with people who relate to your hardships,” Fernandez said. “I think it’s something a lot of us need at this age.”
Isabella Nieves, a senior family science and human development major, thinks that this is a very different, but great course to have.
“I think that a class that has been created to help women who have been victims is a great idea,” Nieves said. “Having a group therapy session is unique, but great if the women are willing to talk to multiple persons. I know that it could be uncomfortable for others.”
Some students like Carla Aguilar, a sophomore finance major, believe that a self-defense course is important even if women feel safe on campus.
“If a situation where someone was in harm were to happen it better prepares the women in that situation,” Aguilar said. “For me, I feel safe because I come in the morning and the parking garage is right there.”
Chief of University Police, Kieran Barrett, thinks that classes like these help students know the campus is on their side.
“We always advocate that any extra step in the prevention or protection for one’s personal safety is the right move,” Barrett said. “If someone is in a situation where the choice is to use a self-defense tactic, it should be utilized. University Police is hoping to revive our weekly self-defense programs next semester which teaches real-world techniques to keep one safe.”
When the crime report was released for the 2021 academic year, it showed an increase in assault, whether it be sexual or physical, on campus. Although the statistics have not been run yet for 2022, University Police has seen a decrease.
“It appears that the number reported to us will be lower than in ,” Barrett said. “It should not be inferred that this means we are satisfied. Our goal will always be to do all we can to keep our community members as safe as possible.”
University Police highly encourages all students to download the RAVE guardian app.
“The fear of assault is always in our minds when walking alone, when a light is out and when we are fumbling with keys,” Barrett said. “We want our community to know that if this is a concern, that you have options – walk with others, use the shuttle bus, use the University’s RAVE Guardian app for a smart timer escort or an immediate GPS locator that comes into University Police.”