Anne Kuzminsky ’81 returned to the Hilltop on April 29 to teach a group of female students and faculty how to defend themselves from gender-based violence.
Kuzminsky, a certified self-defense teacher who’s worked with the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation, conducted a three-hour workshop in the Squash Center aimed at helping attendees identify and address risks to themselves and their peers in an empowering, safe, small group environment.
“While we’re waiting for long-term cultural change, we want to equip women and girls with the tools that they need to navigate a world where we’re at an increased risk for violence,” Kuzminsky said. “It’s just that simple.”
Participants learned and practiced how to use their intuition and awareness for safety, assert boundaries for themselves, and basic physical self-defense strategies.
“This was the perfect opportunity for me to learn for my personal benefit, in order to prepare for any instances in the future,” said Beste Engin ’18, who attended the workshop. “I am lucky enough to not have gone through anything traumatic of this magnitude, but I do know anything can happen. Therefore, this workshop was the key to boost my self-esteem and be ready for if anything were to take place. Now, with these tools, I am able to protect myself and hopefully others.”
Kuzminsky said that by the time girls are in high school, they’ve already experienced harassment and sometimes sexual assault, so they’re interested in learning tools they could use for prevention.
“This age from 16 to 24 is the highest risk age for sexual assault, so I want to try and reach kids before,” said Kuzminsky. “As they’re trying to navigate all those tricky social situations, it’s important that they have tools and that they’re aware of ploys and tricks that attackers might use.”
The all-female workshop enabled students to see women teaching and modeling self-defense tactics, which better helps students see themselves doing them, according to Kuzminsky. The workshop also helped provide a framework for understanding different gender-based violence situations from the irritating to life-threatening, so participants can deal with some of the more minor everyday occurrences they might encounter. Kuzminsky noted that people women and girls know and care about can cross their boundaries in ways small and large -- as can strangers -- and that they have a right to stand up for themselves in all of these situations.
“It’s difficult because that’s not how we’re socialized,” Kuzminsky said. “We’re just not taught to value our own safety above the potential discomfort of somebody who we don’t want to offend. So, this offers an opportunity to practice those things in a safe space.”
“Not everything starts off as an unambiguously violent situation. It can start off by somebody testing us, getting in our space, touching us inappropriately, asking inappropriate questions or saying something sexualized in the workplace, on the street, or at a party – wherever it might be,” she added. “Women and girls, we need to be able to learn verbal skills, and assertiveness skills, and using our voices and our bodies to set boundaries. And if that doesn’t work, we also have physical strikes.”
Kuzminsky has worked with teenage girls before, but usually when accompanied by their mothers, so she was glad some faculty attended the workshop as well.
“I was really happy to have a couple of adult faculty members there because I think it gives the girls resources for after the class, adult resources who have experienced the training as well,” she said.
One of her goals for the workshop is to empower women and girls to “carry their strength and confidence out into the world” and understand that gender-based harassment and violence is a widespread social problem and not their fault.“We want to help all people to be more respectful in their relationships, but that hasn’t really proven to work over time yet,” Kuzminsky said. “I certainly am not going to have my daughter wait around until the utopia comes.”