Self-defense course to teach safety tips to female-identifying BW community members

With campus safety is on many people’s mind after the Feb. 13 Michigan State University mass shooting, faculty and students at BW have brought back self-defense programming for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic.


Simon Skoutas

The Center for Innovation and Growth is a co-sponsor for tomorrow’s event aimed at teaching female-identifying students and community members important self-defense tactics.

On Feb. 26 from 6-8 p.m. in the Center for Innovation and Growth, BW Safety and Security, the Berea Police Department and martial arts instructor Michael Cunningham will be teaching female and female-identifying students, faculty and staff vital self-defense techniques.

The event will be split up into two workshops. Half of the attendees will listen to a safety talk by Safety and Security Supervisor Timothy Washington, Berea Police Lieutenant Aaron Krouse and Berea Police Patrolman Nick Huskins. The other half will participate in a hands-on self-defense lesson by Cunningham, known on campus as “Master Mike.” At around halfway through the event, those groups will switch and attend the other workshop.

“I’m the hands-on guy. I’m the one who’s teaching how … to defend against someone who’s attacking you from different scenarios,” Cunningham said. “As you know, from any kind of martial arts, you’ve got to practice, practice, practice. But it’ll be basic skills that are just quick and easy to learn for defense and to get out of a [dangerous] situation.”

Cunningham said that after years of teaching self-defense classes, he has come up with an agenda that works. He goes to the classes with some content prepared, but the rest of the time he opens it up to questions from the attendees. This is what he plans to do on Sunday, Cunningham said.

Some of the things Cunningham plans to cover include how to get out of common holds by an assailant and how to defend against a weapon. Cunningham said one of his favorite weapons other than his hands and feet is a pen.

“If you don’t click the pen, it’s just an object of pressing on pressure points. … If you had a weapon, I would click the pen and now it’s a sharp object. … It could cause more damage and injury to that person if it was life or death,” Cunningham said.

Washington plans to go over some safety techniques like not opening doors to the dorms for people you do not know or using situational awareness. Krouse and Huskins have prepared a slideshow to supplement the information Washington’s talk will provide.

Timothy Washington, supervisor for Safety and Security, has worked as an BW Safety and Security officer for 32 years and said he is very passionate about his job. (Courtesy of Tim Washington)

The addition of BPD to this type of event is new. In the past, Washington and Cunningham organized these classes alone. Washington said that the University benefits from having such a close relationship with BPD, adding that some BPD officers are also employed by the University on its Safety and Security force.

Krouse said that the good relationship between the BPD and the University “starts from the top” with the chief of police and the upper administration of the University.

Kerry Mullen, director of residential life and housing, was the woman who started this whole process. In an email to the Exponent, Mullen explained how she learned of the Birdie safety devices when she attended a conference.

A Birdie personal safety alarm is a small device about the size of a keychain pepper spray that consists of a loud alarm and flashing strobe light. It is a product created by women, for women.

Mullen wanted to bring Birdies to campus but needed a way to cover the cost of $29.95 per device.

Mullen filled out a proposal for the Women for BW grant and reached out to campus security, BPD and Cunningham.

After presenting her idea to the Women of BW, Mullen received the grant and collaborated with Safety and Security, BPD, Cunningham, Associate Sociology Professor Julie Newcamp and the Sociology/Criminal Justice/Forensic Science Club, also known as the Crime Society, to host the first self-defense program on campus since the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Actually, me and [Cunningham] used to do a program years ago. And it was really getting a lot of popularity, where I would talk about safety items and he would do self-defense. Then Covid sort of stopped that,” Washington said.

Sidney Durkin, senior criminal justice major and president of the Crime Society, was one of the few students that worked on this event. Her main focus was to help advertise to students.

“Because it [the grant] was given to us by the Woman for BW, we decided to have an event that was for female and female identifying students in hopes that the event will be a success and that we can open it up to the rest of campus and all of the BW community,” Durkin said.

Currently, Cunningham and Washington are in talks with BPD to organize more self-defense classes for the Berea community. They also plan on hosting more classes for BW students and staff in the future.

Sunday’s event can accommodate up to 100 students and some spots are still available. Individuals can register on the SignUpGenius found under the Events tab in Jacket Connect and receive a free Birdie at the end of the event.