Students practice empowerment and self defense

By Fiona O'Brien | November 23, 2019 3:36pm

Instructor Anika Sproull holds a punching bag for students to practice a palm heel strike.

Media Credit: Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote near the end of the story to Kaitlin Bourne. This quote was actually said by course instructor Anika Sproull.

Beauchamp Recreation Center is introducing a new self-defense course geared at empowerment and building a community around safety. Two classes have already been taught this semester with one remaining on Nov. 24. Starting in Feb. 2020, there will be weekly classes. Anika Sproull, who instructs the course, is enthusiastic about teaching these classes to bring awareness to self-defense methods to campus. 

In each class, Sproull focuses on boundary-setting in situations with other people, verbal assertiveness, bystander intervention, and physical defense strategy for both strangers and acquaintances. Sproull hopes the class will also help prepare people for the future through discussions and prevention strategies.

Class participants sit in a circle at the beginning of class.

by Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

“In a nutshell, it’s a class built for empowerment and it’s a class that anyone can find a connection to, no matter age or physical ability,” Sproull said. “My hope is that a lot of people take this course or another self-defense course. Even if you can fight, run fast, and yell, I think that there’s a lot of strength in community and having a conversation of safety and keeping ourselves safe in our culture that is just as important.”

The class is a mix of discussion and physical practice. To warm everyone up, Sproull has the class repeatedly scream their loudest “NO!” Participants learn and practice techniques like eye strikes, heel-palm strikes, and knee strikes. 

Sproull first got into self-defense teaching through her mom, who is a certified self-defense instructor. Sproull has been teaching (or assisting her mom with) self-defense since high school, and now teaches all around Portland. 

Public Safety has offered self-defense courses in the past. According to Kaitlin Bourne, the Recreations Operations Program Manager at Beauchamp, however, they were not consistent. Bourne wants people to treat the new self-defense course as a normal and weekly fitness course to create a community and continue the conversation of safety. Bourne and Sproull hope that the people in the course will get comfortable and encourage each other. 

Class participants practice breaking free from a wrist grab.

by Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

“When we talk about things that make us uncomfortable or are scary, it’s not easy. But when we don’t talk about them, it’s worse,” Bourne said. “The repercussions from not talking about something like this is so much worse than sitting in a room being uncomfortable for a few minutes. That’s why we want it to be a regular class, so it’s something we can get used to talking about, and create empowerment in our community”

This course comes to campus at a relevant time. The recent crime and fire report released by Pubic Safety shows an increase in reports of sexual assault at UP. This course aims to help students feel safe and confident in their abilities during situations in which an assault could occur. 

The course is offered and encouraged to all genders and ages. However, Sproull wants to encourage women especially to come to her class. She begins the class with the statistic that one in three women will be assaulted in their lifetimes. Sproull believes that it’s important the course is taught by a woman for other women to know they are capable of self-defense. 

“I feel like it’s important for women-identifying folks to have a community of empowerment. That isn’t to say that men aren’t targeted and attacked, and not to say that women aren’t perpetrators as well,” Sproull said. “But statistically, women-identifying and LGBT folks are the ones that need to support each other most.”

Freshman Colleen Cushing has been to the first two classes after wanting to take a self-defense course for a while and is excited for the final class of the semester. 

Instructor Anika Sproull holds a punching bag for students to practice a kick aimed at knee height.

by Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

“I felt very empowered and definitely felt like I could use what I learned in any situation. And just mentally and physically stronger, knowing that I have that,” Cushing said. “I feel like I would use the verbal strategies more on campus, and the physical strategies off campus.”

UP community members and students will be able to register online for the final class occurring Nov. 24 and as soon as it resumes in the spring. Classes will be posted on the regular fitness class schedule in the spring. 

Sproull hopes to teach her lessons all over campus and to create as much awareness as possible.

“My ultimate dream for this campus is that I not only offer classes in this center (Beauchamp), but if there are women’s groups on campus, or women’s sports teams, or women’s studies department I would love to teach a course for them and be as accessible as possible,” Sproull said. 

Fiona O’Brien is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at