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Issues in Self Defense for Women class canceled fall quarter

STANFORD -- Issues in Self-Defense for Women, a class sponsored by the Program in Feminist Studies, will not be offered this fall after a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights alleged that the class violates Title IX.

According to Iris Brest, university associate general counsel, an unnamed complainant has alleged that because Issues in Self-Defense has been offered in two sections, one restricted to women and the other restricted to men, and because the men's section does not include a physical training component, it is in violation of Title IX, federal legislation designed to eliminate sex discrimination in federally funded programs.

The Stanford athletics department offers several martial arts and self-defense classes, open to both men and women.

Members of the group that teaches the Issues in Self-Defense class met recently to talk about whether to open the women's class to men. They could not agree on how to run the program, so they are taking fall quarter to determine how they can offer a class that is in compliance with Title IX and that meets the needs of the students, Brest said.

"I think it's sensible of [the collective] to take time to reach a decision they're happy with rather than rush to a quick fix," Brest said.

If the class is offered in the future "it will be in a way that is lawful under Title IX," Brest said.

Issues in Self-Defense for Women began 13 years ago under the auspices of SWOPSI (Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues). When SWOPSI was eliminated by budget cuts in 1992, women students held rallies to save the self-defense course, and the Program in Feminist Studies agreed to take over as its sponsor.

The course consists of three parts: readings and discussion, assertiveness training and physical self-defense training, said Alyson Yarus, a member of Women Defending Ourselves, the group that teaches the class. Women Defending Ourselves is a collective, with 15 to 20 active members.

Under SWOPSI, only women were enrolled in the class. With the move to Feminist Studies, a men's section of the class was given spring quarter, but the section did not include physical training.

"The physical training is based on women's bodies," Yarus said. "We know how women should defend themselves."

The class organizers also believe it is important that the discussions take place in single-sex groups. Many of the women who take the self-defense class have experienced sexual abuse or assault and would not be comfortable talking in a mixed group, said anthropology Professor Jane Collier, head of feminist studies.

"Title IX has been very valuable for women and we will do everything in our power that is reasonable and sensible to try to comply," Collier said. "But we don't want to do that at the price of silencing women."



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