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Students volunteer at self-defense program

Girls LEAP group photo

Students from Emerson College, Boston University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Simmons College and Northeastern University are seen here holding certificates after completing a course with Girls' LEAP in Boston, which allows them to train girls between ages 8 and 18 in self defense. (Courtesy photo)

Volunteers from Scholar-in-Residence Claudia Castañeda’s Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies class are teaching young girls how to break noses—in the name of self-defense.

In choosing the option of participating in service learning as part of a course requirement, students Kate Rosenzweig ’15 and Hailey Chavez ’15 are volunteering at a Dorchester self-defense program aimed at girls aged 8 to 18. The nonprofit program is called Girls’ LEAP (Lifetime Empowerment and Awareness Program).

“I had been looking to get involved in volunteering for a while, and I wanted something I actually cared about,” said Rosenzweig, a Visual and Media Arts major. “Once I heard about LEAP, I knew that it fit with what I was looking for.”

On President’s Day weekend, Chavez and Rosenzweig attended a training that condensed an entire 10-week curriculum of physical and emotional self-defense skills into one intensive 20-hour seminar.

They joined the 35 new staff members being trained in the Girls’ LEAP curriculum as participants: from discussing conflict resolution and boundary setting to walking with confidence and entering a “long walk,” in which participants walk from one end of the room to the other and are attacked by four to six Girls’ LEAP staff members.

They also learned how to position their bodies and hold kick shields to safely absorb full-force hits to vulnerable parts of the body.

A teaching team meets with a group of girls once a week for 10 weeks. Each session is two hours. The first hour is dedicated to physical self-defense skills: escaping from chokes and grabs, and learning how to fight from the floor. The second hour is dedicated to what LEAP calls “reflective” self-defense, which consists of discussing identity development, conflict resolution, healthy and unhealthy relationships, boundary setting, and courage.

Girls LEAP 2

Kate Rosenzweig ’15 and Hailey Chavez ’15. (Courtesy photo)

“My training weekend experience was genuinely positive. I wasn't sure what I was getting into, and after the first night I still had trepidation,” Rosenzweig said. “Once the second day came around though, it became so positive and awesome. It was really tough and my muscles still aren’t functioning, but it was an awesome and empowering weekend.”

Chavez and Rosenzweig will join three other Emerson women actively teaching girls in Roslindale, Roxbury, and Cambridge community centers during after-school programming.

“Girls’ LEAP is very new to me, yet it’s already become something important. The ability to teach young girls to protect themselves is so important,” Rosenzweig said. “There are few things I care about more than female empowerment, and Girls’ LEAP is doing an amazing job giving girls the tools to be powerful.”

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Two Northeastern volunteers working with the kick shields, the tool that allows girls to learn to strike as hard as they can without hurting staff members. (Courtesy photo)


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