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  • Alexa Wardwell

CofC literally fighting back against sexual assault

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

by Alexa Wardwell

Maggie McGuigan has been practicing the art of Jiu JitSu for 22 years.

She initially shrugged off the martial art when her now-husband Pat persuaded her to try.

Now she has integrated this as a big part of her lifestyle and being.

This martial art has brought McGuigan a new skill set and awareness that has boosted her confidence.

And she is taking this awareness and spreading it with others by teaching a women’s self defense course at the College of Charleston.

McGuigan has seen students with all different backgrounds go through her class and learn to connect and build confidence.

Many have been sexual assault victims who needed to overcome the fear of something happening again.

“A lot of students took it because they were fearful and scared that it would happen to them and wanted to feel more prepared,” McGuigan said. “We have come across all types of stories. It is a sad reality that as women we have to think about sexual assault happening to us.”

McGuigan's classes focus on various Jiu JitSu moves that are intended to help prevent women from getting attacked and sexually assaulted.

These tools are a combination of verbal and physical actions depending on the situation.

The students practice and reenact real life scenarios, such as a man getting too close to a woman’s personal space, and learning the best ways to react.

“A lot of women are not taught how to set their own boundaries and that is something we try to affect people equally in their hearts and in their minds,” said Marissa Haynes, a teacher’s assistant for McGuigan. “As much as we teach them some physical stuff that is helpful we try to avoid a fight before it even happens.”

Haynes began her journey with Jiu JitSu by taking this class as a freshman for her First Year Experience curriculum.

The lessons and confidence she gained from this class were something she lacked in her life prior to coming to College of Charleston.

“I really needed it. I liked the community especially because as a first semester freshman I liked being able to put myself in an uncomfortable situation and in a weird way seek comfort from it,” Haynes said. “There's something empowering about that.”

Haynes added that she also liked the “feminist” aspect of the class.

“I learned a little bit about feminism in high school, but I was raised pretty conservatively so this was my opportunity to explore different parts of my identity,” she said.

Haynes’ love for this class inspired her to pursue Jiu JitSu further and spread her knowledge to other students by becoming a teacher's assistant.

Growing up in a house full of boys, Haynes was surrounded by rough play, yet never learned how to throw a punch or defend herself which is something common among young girls.

This course was an opportunity for her and other young women to feel more empowered as they interact in the real world.

“Oh my gosh it just changed the way that I present myself, the way that I walk and I talk,” she said. “I mean, I'm only 5-foot-2 and that can be really intimidating to just be walking in a crowd and just being so small. But after that first semester of taking Jiu JitSu, I would be walking on the street with my friends and if I saw someone that looked sus, I would be like, ‘walk on the other side of me,’ like’ I got this.’ I would be on the front lines and I'm happy to do that, you know.”

This boost of confidence has been passed on to the many students who have come in and out of the class over the years.

Charlotte Jones, a senior at the College of Charleston, has similar feelings of empowerment after taking this class.

She notes how important this skillset is to women all over the globe and its lasting impacts.

“I think the world is not prepared or comfortable with the idea of a bunch of women being equipped with this kind of skill set and badass mentality,” Jones said. “We would be unstoppable. The world is afraid of that.”

Jones has found Haynes to be a supportive teacher while taking women's self defense and admires her spirit.

Haynes feels compelled to continue to be a source of empowerment for young women and spread the feeling of confidence that Jiu JitSu is all about.

“The world is scared of women who want to take up space and who are willing to vocalize that and that is what I love to inspire in this room,” she said. “Like I want people to feel empowered and I think that every person deserves to feel power in their body but also in their minds and feel like their walk is worth living.”

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