California State University, Long Beach
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RAD Program In Good Hands With Rzasa, Jesse Heading It Up

Published: September 1, 2011

Just know that if you ever get on an elevator with Ami Rzasa or Pamela Jesse, they’ll be the ones pushing the buttons. It’s all part of what they teach—taking control of a situation.

“If we look at official statistics, they tell us that one out of every six American women will be the survivor of an attempted or completed rape during her lifetime,” said Rzasa, a corporal with CSULB’s Police Department who also heads up the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program on campus. “This is only one of many examples of why a self-defense program like RAD is so important on a university campus.”

RAD is an international program of self-defense tactics and techniques for women of all ages and abilities. It is a comprehensive course that begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, while progressing to the basics of hands-on defense training. Also, graduates of RAD can return to class at no charge anywhere the program is taught.

Led on campus by Rzasa and Jesse, university liaison for special events, the CSULB RAD team has been responsible for training more than 1,000 individuals during the past decade or so.

“Our primary focus is the students, but it’s definitely open to staff and faculty,” said Jesse. “It leads to a different dynamic when you have younger adults partnered with those who have more life experience, and it becomes a really neat mesh of information sharing and empowerment for each other.”

The 12-hour, four-week program is offered at least twice a year. It begins with a course introduction and lecture, followed by three sessions of training, learning all the techniques and putting those into motion.

“RAD focuses on the tools you have with you every day—your voice, your hands and your feet. It doesn’t rely on pepper spray or a whistle or holding your keys in a certain fashion while you are walking out to your car,” said Rzasa. “We go over safety, start out slow, controlled and deliberate; then we focus on good technique.”

On the last day of the program, a full simulation takes place where participants actually implement what they have learned against a real live aggressor, police officers dressed head-to-toe in padded outfits to play the part. It’s the one aspect of the program at CSULB that differentiates it from other self defense programs around the nation—real-life scenarios, bad guys included.

“Scenarios are actually not a requirement of RAD, but Pam and I believe they are a powerful tool for empowerment and provide an important element of experience for women,” said Rzasa. “We decided we were not going to schedule a class that did not include scenarios. The reason why is because women are rarely provided the opportunity in life to hit and kick somebody else as hard as they possibly can, but we give them that opportunity.”

“In 13 years of doing this, I’ve learned it takes a certain drive and special perspective for a male instructor to go into a class and know he’s going to get hit,” added Jesse, “but they know that these women are here to use what they have learned in a safe environment and to discover their physical abilities and inner strengths.”

Jesse, who volunteers her time, also knows the importance of it, although she was a bit hesitant when first approached to participate in 1998 when the CSULB Police Department invited her to attend the training. “At first I said, ‘No thank you,’ but after about a day of thinking about it, I thought there was something for me to learn, there’s something that I can contribute.”

Women’s Safety Main Focus of RAD Program
Pam Jesse (l) and Ami Rzasa

Jesse has become such a dedicated teacher that she has traveled throughout the region to provide instruction, logging thousands of miles over the past decade to assist with RAD programs at UC Irvine, Biola, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Northridge and San Diego State, just to name a few.

RAD Poster

“Pam is certainly one of the best instructors in California and probably one of the best in the nation,” said Rzasa. “We are lucky to have such an experienced and dedicated instructor at CSULB.”

Along with Rzasa and Jesse, the course is taught by Anna Nazarian-Peters, coordinator for Student Life and Development and Linda Pena, health educator from Student Health Services. Both Pena and Nazarian-Peters have taken the same instructor training and are qualified to teach the course.

“I am proud to be a RAD Instructor and volunteer my time because personal safety is imperative for everyone on campus, but in particular all women,” said Nazarian-Peters. “The energy I feel during the training sessions renews my faith in the power of women.”

“It’s a privilege for me to work with women and witness their empowerment,” Pena said about her RAD experience.

And, as far as the elevator scenario, well, it also doubles as a life lesson according to Rzasa.

“What we teach them about being in an elevator is just an overall philosophy about life,” she said. “We tell students to get in and take control of that elevator, situate yourself so you control the buttons and the panel and do the same for what’s going on in your personal life.”

Next RAD Course Begins Oct. 3

The next Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program course will be held on consecutive Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m., on Oct. 3, 10, 17 and 24, in the Barrett Athletic Administration Center.

To register for the 12-hour certificate program, e-mail with your name and contact information. There is a $10 free payable at the first class meeting, although fee waivers are available.
For addition information about RAD or self defense classes on campus, send requests to