Despite campus break-ins and national news stories about crimes against women, the women’s self-defense class at Belmont is empty.
“We offer the class once a month, but there’s a lot of classes that end up not going at all,” said Campus Security officer Renee Ruthven, who teaches the class, formally called Rape Aggression Defense Systems.
A Belmont graduate herself, Ruthven knows how busy college students are, but she believes schedules are not the only reason for such low turnout.
“You feel invincible. Nothing bad’s ever happened to you, so unless something bad happens to you or somebody you know, you just don’t give much thought to your personal safety at this age,” she said.
Had students been more cautious, 83 percent of crimes at Belmont in 2008 and 75 percent of those committed so far in 2009 would have been preventable, said Ruthven.
The R.A.D. class strives to equip women to stay safe through physical training and lectures on self-defense. “I’ll talk about the pros and cons of going for the groin,” said Ruthven.
The three-session class ends with a simulation where women practice their newfound skills on a male volunteer outfitted in big red pads, who Ruthven called “the Michelin Man.” This helps build confidence when participants realize they can fight back in real world scenarios.
Many students mistakenly believe they do not need training to handle such situations, said Ruthven, but do not even know basic safety tips for walking alone at night.
“My roommate is pretty paranoid about that kind of thing,” said Rachel Heintz, a junior who lives in Hillside. “She’ll call me when she’s walking home so she’s on the phone until she gets to the door.”
This may seem like a smart practice, but it is exactly what you should not do, said Ruthven. As she teaches in the R.A.D. classes, an ideal victim is a woman who is on her cell phone looking down.
“Whether I just want to steal your purse or steal you, if you’re not paying attention to me, I can grab you and do whatever I want to you before you know what happens,” she said.
She recommended students who feel uncomfortable on campus call Belmont Security for an escort and look directly at anybody acting suspicious.
Campus Security’s main concern is getting this kind of critical information to students, so Ruthven has enlisted some unexpected allies to promote her crime prevention seminars.
“During move-in day, I like to hang out and talk to parents,” she said with a laugh. “I did overhear one conversation of a girl saying, ‘My mom said I had to come to this.’ Whatever gets them there.”
Ruthven realized she could not rely on Mom and Dad once students were on their own, so she started a “Keep Belmont Safe” Facebook group. The conversation between security officers and students has sparked the creation of a Campus Safety Commission allowing students to give suggestions to Belmont Security.
“The only way we’re going to be able to do anything is by working together instead of them seeing us as the ‘parking meanie,’” said Ruthven. “Most criminals are looking for crimes of opportunity. Take away the opportunity; take away the crime.”
The next R.A.D. class begins Oct. 4. The Campus Safety Commission will begin biweekly meetings on Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. in the Beaman Student Life Center. E-mail email@example.com or call Campus Security at 615-460-6617 to sign up or learn more information.