CMU Students: When Going To College Self-Defense Can Be A Useful Tool

New students come to colleges every year, and for most, it’s their first time living on their own, but what people are not aware of is that it’s up to the students to learn how to defend themselves against possible dangers.

According to Lt.Cameron D. Wassman, CMU Police Department, the on-campus police focus teaches incoming students how to avoid danger at orientation. During orientation, the on-campus police, rather than teaching self-defense techniques, advises students to avoid dangerous situations.

“In a perfect world, there might be a combined approach of avoidance techniques and self-defense principles,” explained Lt. Wassmen. “Unfortunately,” he added, the university as a whole has not chosen to use that approach.”

Lt. Wassman listed a three step plan for new students. Get out, hide out, or take out. The on-campus police say the best choice is to get out. Be aware of exit points, get out as quickly as possible, and if it can be done safely, help others escape as well.

If getting out is not an option, the next best thing is to hide. When hiding, it is best to lock all doors, be quiet, and have people spread out. If those options are not possible, then the last choice is to take out, which means confronting the threat. If it comes to this, use anything necessary to come out of it alive and to consider not acting out alone if doing so is an option. Although the on-campus police don’t teach specific ways to take out the attacker, the police do bring up taking out the threat if it comes to it.

There were six freshmen who were interviewed and half feel they know how to defend themselves. They learned these techniques not from taking classes on campus, however, from taking classes on their own time.

Sarah Hoekstra, CMU freshmen, has taken kick boxing classes and self-defense classes due to her family who pushed her to learn how to defend herself. In this course, she learned where the pressure points are for men and women along with how to use random objects as weapons if needed.

Hoeksta talked about how freshmen are the most inexperienced because they have been living at home with parents and with regulations and rules, but living on their own they have so much more freedom, which can sometimes be dangerous for freshmen, Hoeksta explained.

“We don’t know how to control and use that freedom,” said Hoeksta. “I think that is how the first semester goes. We need to figure out those boundaries and figure out what is safe and what is not.”

Some college freshmen know ways to defend themselves if need be, but many haven’t been taught the skills at all. Students like Mary Pufahl, CMU freshmen, feel they do not know enough to actually protect themselves and wish they knew more than just instinct.

“I would like to think I knew enough to protect myself, but in reality it’s probably pretty questionable,” explained Pufahl. “I think we all would like to think we would have that instinct to just go, but sometimes things just happen.”

Pufahl wishes to become more knowledgeable in self-defense and staying safe. She explained that when she attended orientation how the on-campus police force did talk about alcohol safety which she found very helpful, but there was nothing about self-defense.


Although CMU police don’t go into self-defense advice at orientation, they do have a website that includes ways for students to stay safe. Also, they have 28 blue light emergency phones in yellow phone boxes that call straight to them and they seem to patrol campus regularly.

When it comes to personal safety and self-defense Lt. Wassman says, “Don’t be afraid to admit that you might not know everything. For someone who is new here, you need to seek out those resources that are available … be aware of your surroundings and know when it’s time to leave.”



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