Students participate in UCSC Women's Self-Defense course at OPERs, sponsored by SHOP and the Health Center. The course is designed to teach both prevention and action against violence. Photo by Sal Ingram

How does one stay safe? A women’s self-defense course at UC Santa Cruz is helping students tackle this question.

Leonie Sherman, instructor of the course, tries to teach to the realities of self-defense, both prevention and action.

“A lot of what I teach is about awareness,” Sherman said. “I try to teach students how to avoid getting in uncomfortable situations in the first place. That’s a lot about paying attention in various situations … and I also encourage students to listen to their intuition, because that is often correct and we are taught to ignore it a lot in our society.”

Senior Recreation Supervisor Kathy Ferraro, who organizes and promotes the course, has seen such support for the class that they now offer a second session of Women’s Self-Defense, which is co-sponsored and funded by Student Health Outreach & Promotion (SHOP) and the Health Center, and hosted by Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS).

“The classes have always been really popular, and they’ve always been free,” Ferraro said. “This year, starting in spring, we are going to charge a $5 fee and the only reason for that is that even though we ask people sign-up and register and even on the first day we lose people because it’s free – there’s not that big of a commitment and they haven’t invested any money so [it’s a] nominal fee to get some kind of buy-in that will also offset some of the costs.”

Caitlin Stinneford, campus sexual violence prevention educator, is a new resource to UCSC, coming to the campus in January. While her position includes handling assaults, Stinneford is passionate about prevention, including personal safety courses like the one UC Santa Cruz offers.

“I wanted to be at a college campus because while I do all the intervention and anything to help anybody who has been assaulted, my passion is really prevention,” Stinneford said.

Stinneford functions as one of only three guaranteed confidential resources on campus to help an assault victim. She provides guidance as to whether the assault should be handled “legally or within the campus judicial system,” and guides them to medical assistance and further help. She also works with prevention, including training peer-educators and bystander intervention.

This includes management of the S.A.F.E. (Sexual Assault Facts and Education) program, which promotes awareness of campus resources that are always available to students seeking to prevent or report incidents of sexual violence.

Although sexual assault remains a large issue, preventative programs are hopefully a step toward spreading global awareness and reducing the number of assaults.

“My position exists because sexual assault is a problem in the world – not just on college campuses, not just here – in the world,” Stinneford said. “There’s a reason resources are available … because it does happen to a lot of people. And [it’s important to] teach ways everybody feels there is something they can do and that everybody is part of the solution.”