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Elemental course provides classroom and interactive self-defense education

Elemental teaches students basic self-defense skills in the hopes of improving overall safety for individuals and the campus as a whole. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

By Anneliese Stattelman

Walking into the Dibble lounge at 8 p.m. on a Monday night this semester, you would be likely see mattresses stacked on the floor, a table of snacks, a couple of dedicated educators, and students learning self defense through both verbal and physical skills.

Elemental, an interactive self-defense strategy program, is new to the College this semester. Peer educators on campus in addition to Wellness Director Jen Jacobsen, Title IX Coordinator Bailey Asberry and Sexual Respect and Harm Reduction Post-Baccalaureate Emily Howe ‘16 have adapted the program to teach Grinnellians how to handle a multitude of uncomfortable or dangerous situations.

Maisie Lewis ’19, one of the peer educators who brought the Elemental program to fruition, said, “We were really interested in it because it acknowledged the fact that sexual assault is much more common from people that you know and not just from strangers. A lot of other programs are really heavily focused on stranger attack, and we know that that’s not very likely.” The group piloted the workshop this summer, and since then it has been adapted to be more inclusive for Grinnell’s campus.

The hour-long class is broken up into interactive scenarios that teach verbal skills and strategies as well as the practice of hands-on physical skills that can be applied to many different situations. Elemental offers different ways to conceptualize self-defense. In class on Feb. 25, leaders broke up strategies into categories of the elements. For example, a wind strategy highlighted the ways to escape a situation whereas an earth strategy focused on not letting someone invade your space.

Each week of Elemental offers a new theme. Thus far, the classes have covered stranger attack and long-term friends. By the end of the class, students who have attended four classes will receive important self-defense skills as well as a free t-shirt.

“Part of the initial program didn’t focus quite so much on active bystander strategies or thinking about what are the uh-oh moments or moments where you maybe realize that something wasn’t okay. That’s a big part of the program, and thinking about the scenarios is sort of identifying where are points where this could have gone another direction, where other people could have stepped in, where you could sort of head this off before it would come to a physical contact or combative stage,” Lewis said.

Elemental has been running for two weeks now, and its team is hopeful that the class will continue in the future. “I’m happy to see that we’ve had not just female identifying people showing up, so that’s kind of cool to get more of a broad range of people, but we’d definitely like to see more people coming,” Lewis said.

At the heart of the class is empowerment. “I think in some ways it’s a lot more about empowerment than sexual assault protection. I have seen a lot of people posting on the Grinnell Facebook page about wanting self-defense classes, being interested in taking kickboxing and since we don’t offer that in any other capacity I think that it’s a good way to help people contribute to the community of sexual respect on campus and empower themselves as well,” Lewis said.

Elemental teaches students basic self-defense skills in the hopes of improving overall safety for individuals and the campus as a whole. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.
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