After weeks of shouting, kicking, and punching, Micayla Williams says she’s prepared to protect herself.

That’s because she practiced self-defense tactics for a month as part of the Virginia Tech Police Department’s Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) System course.

“It’s always useful,” Williams said. “Even if it [sexual assault] might not ever happen to you, it’s always useful to know how to defend yourself if you need to.”

Williams, an intern for the police department and a senior majoring in criminology and sociology, explained that as a college student, her age group is at high risk for sexual assault. The statistics rise when gender is factored into the equation.

The free courses are offered for men and women, whether Virginia Tech students, employees, or Blacksburg community members. Courses teach participants basic self-defense, but the content varies depending on the class’ gender. The men's class is called Resisting Aggression with Defense System.

“The women’s program is geared toward becoming aggressive and fighting off an attacker who is moving to abduct them or to assault in some way,” said Sgt. Micah Pasquarell, lead instructor of the RAD for Men program at Virginia Tech. “The men’s program is geared specifically to help a student — or whoever’s in the class — focus on de-escalation and removing oneself from the situation.”

In the fall, the university formed a Sexual Violence Culture and Climate Work Group with the goal of enhancing preventative programming and ending sexual violence.

“Both of our self-defense programs touch on not just the immediacy of protecting yourself from a specific person at a specific time, but also talk about how we’re being a force for positive change in terms of looking out for and protecting people and respecting the dignity of others,” Pasquarell said.

Instructors begin the four-week courses with a presentation, then progress through tactical training, and conclude the training with dynamic simulations, or what Cpl. John Tarter, coordinator of the women’s program, refers to as “Fight Night.”

An officer wears RedMan gear — protective padding used in defensive training tactics — and students fight back, demonstrating the techniques they’ve learned in class. Through this exercise, students practically apply content from informational sessions and, most importantly, gain confidence in their abilities to legitimately defend themselves.

“The most important part is to empower people,” Tarter said. “There are people that will come back to me, and they'll say, ‘I didn’t know I could yell, No!' Just by yelling 'no' they felt empowered, and when they punch the bags and they go through the scenario, it’s the same thing.”

Though the first three instructional sessions are mandatory, the fourth is optional.

“They don't have to fight,” Tarter said. “They can just come and watch, or they don't have to come to that part at all.”

The department will offer a RAD for Women session this summer. It will begin May 24 and end June 14. Find more information on the Virginia Tech Police Department website to register.

“I find that usually if you take the class with a friend, you're more apt to complete it all, and you're more apt to have more fun in the class because you have somebody,” Tarter said.

By Savannah Webb '23, intern for Virginia Tech University Relations

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