On Saturday, March 25th, a group of 16 women gathered in the Mansfield Hall cafe in leggings and athletic wear.  Donuts from Dunkin, combined with the promise of punching and kicking out some stress or anger, served as adequate motivation for a morning event – even on the weekend.

As a community (students, fellows, interns, and staff) we went to the South Burlington Police Station to meet Detective Sarah and her colleague, a South Burlington Dispatcher, Jessie, for our private class on personal safety.

First we sat and watched a powerpoint, instructing us on basic safety techniques and methods to protect ourselves from potential attackers, but soon we got up, pushed back the tables and began stretching.  We learned and then practiced blocks, kicks, and punches.  As I scanned this room of newly empowered women screaming “no” and mimicking the movements of our instructors, I saw friends laughing, confidence growing, and both physical and emotional strength developing.  Students who are typically quiet were punching football pads with emphatic zeal, and one student even joyfully kicked a pad that was “out of play” with such force that she surprised her friends and caused the room to erupt in laughter!

Over lunch we reflected on the transformative experience and our own personal experiences as women of the Mansfield Hall community.  Many students shared that the experience helped them feel empowered, respected, and heard.  Others, without prompting, mentioned the dynamic role models they’ve found in the staff at Mansfield Hall.  

“The bonds between the women at Mansfield Hall are really strong.  You can develop yourself as a person, in a safe space.” – Mansfield Hall Student

Working with young women in the context of community means both learning together, and also serving as strong and capable role models.  Mansfield Hall has great fellows and a dynamic staff, with females at every level, including two inspiring women as the Directors of our Burlington, VT, and Madison, WI, locations.  With strong co-ed programming, the women of Mansfield Hall not only engage in our robust offering of activities, but also participate in a Women’s Group, providing targeted support for female students.  We meet regularly as a group to explore specific challenges or topics, and also bring in female speakers and provide unique activities.  For instance, in addition to the self defense class, the Women’s Group is hosting a car maintenance class in the upcoming weeks!  

Through our inclusive co-ed programming we have created a safe place for women to express themselves, and an environment of empowerment and encouragement that inspires the women of Mansfield Hall to both support and push themselves to reach their full potential.  

By Olivia Taylor


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