WGRC Empowers Students With Self-Defense Class Led By Engineering Professor

The WGRC self-defense class proudly holding their self broken boards of wood. @MC_WGRCONINSTAGRAM / COURTESY

By Angelica Niedermeyer, Features Editor

Manhattan College’s Women and Gender Center (WGRC) held a two day self-defense training class in the Jasper Hall Lounge on March 22nd and 29th. The sessions were led by associate professor of engineering Dr. John Leylegian.  

Leylegian learned tae kwon do in college and now has almost 31 years of martial arts experience. The sessions focused on de-escalation strategies and were open to all members of the campus community.

“I was doing classes for society of women engineers (SWE), but I always wanted to get the word out to a larger audience,” said Leylegian. “So, that’s the reason why last year I reached out to Dr. Scaramella.”

Dr. Evelyn Scaramella is a faculty director for WGRC and an associate professor of Spanish in the department of languages and literature. She shares that the WGRC offers a wide range of support groups, events and programs inspired by the center’s student worker team, also called gender justice advocates. 

“The women and gender resource center was really excited to partner with Dr. Leylegian […] as a way to increase our campus safety and our awareness of safe practices both in terms of self-defense and protection, but also in terms of what it looks like to be a good bystander,” said Scaramella. 

During the sessions, Leylegian emphasized not only physical skills like stomping on the small of an attacker’s foot and using an extended umbrella as a weapon, but also tips for avoiding these types of situations altogether.

“When we talk about protecting yourself, it’s not just about the physical,” said Leylegian. “It’s about keeping it from getting to the physical point. So, if they can know how to not be like a target, that’s the most important thing.”

Leylegian explained that attackers look for long hair, easy to remove clothing and distracted targets. He stressed the importance of being aware of one’s surroundings by not looking down at a phone while walking. Leylegian also gave tips like immediately being loud and even smashing commercial windows, which can attract attention and possibly sound a security alarm for help.  

Sophomore environmental studies major Genevieve Keelen shares her takeaways from the events.

“I am able to defend myself now, rather than feeling like a victim.” Keelen said. “It’s empowering when I go out now. I’m not only going to protect myself, but others as well.”

Other attendees like the senior programmer analyst at the WGRC Tiffany French shared that the only thing getting in their way were mental blocks of not thinking you can do something like the final part of the session: breaking a board of wood.

“… breaking the board of wood– you didn’t think you could do it before you left and it’s just it’s empowering,” said French.

The WGRC hopes to continue events like these to increase awareness in the campus community.

“All it takes is a student interest and communicating with either an intern or me, and we work very hard to try to make those events happen to respond to a community need,” said Scaramella.