Laughter is peppered with shouts of “NO!” and swift kicks to the groin in Kinesiology 0101, more commonly known as Women’s Self Defense.

Their laughter doesn’t mean University Police Chief Ken Kennedy doesn’t hold their attention. He’s taught women’s self-defense using the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program since 2005, with this semester marking his 50th class. He is well-versed in keeping the atmosphere light while using repetition to commit the defense movements to memory.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. RAD training provides students not only basic self-defense skills in the event they become one of those women, but the knowledge needed to help make the decision to resist or not in those situations.

“I really like the class. I think it helps with confidence,” said freshman Julia Dennis, who is taking the class this fall. “And my mom really wanted me to take it since I’m away from home.”

As they take turns practicing wrist grabs and rising palm strikes, students speak candidly about the blueberry muffins they had for breakfast, upcoming tests they’re worried about and the lack of sleep they had the previous night —normal things.

They might be laughing one moment, while the next sees them making eye contact with their “attacker” (who is wearing a police uniform and holding a thick protective pad), saying a loud, firm “NO!” and taking Kennedy’s advice to keep their toe pointed when their shoelaces make contact with the groin during their snap kick. Then they make their way to the back of the line to wait their turn to do it all over again.

However, the RAD program isn’t all blocks, punches and kicks. The first half of the semester – along with practicing basic self-defense skills – there’s a lecture component with class discussion. Students learn about their various options in confrontation, and how and why to make the decision to resist. Eventually, they build on the basic skills to expand their options should those basic tactics fail.

In their reflection papers, Kennedy’s students share the impact the class has had:

“I’ve already found comfort and confidence within the first week of the Women’s Self Defense class,” reads one.

“I’d like to feel more confident going on runs by myself,” another student shares, explaining why she signed up to take the class.

“Women’s Self Defense class has been enjoyable, therapeutic and educational and has become a part of my day that I genuinely look forward to, and not just because I get to punch things,” offers another.

The sobering subject matter is no match for Kennedy’s instruction. Year after year, his students tell him how much they enjoy his class, and about the empowerment and personal growth they gain from it, as well as the bonds made.

“They develop lifelong friendships here. When you’re punching each other twice a week all of class time, a close bond develops,” he said. “Ten years down the road they’re still talking, still friends. This is the best part of my day. I really enjoy it.”