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Self-Defense Workshop in Honor of Murdered Alum Vanessa Marcotte

Friends and family bring celebrity trainer to campus Sunday

  • A self-defense workshop Sunday will honor Vanessa Marcotte (COM’11) and give women tips on how to protect against attack
  • Marcotte was killed in 2016 while jogging; friends remember her as smart, active, always trying new things
  • Celebrity trainer and hand-to-hand combat expert Avital Zeisler, who has trained with members of the military and law enforcement, will lead class

Friends remember Vanessa Marcotte as a kind, optimistic go-getter who loved being outdoors and learning new things. In August 2016, 27-year-old Marcotte (COM’11) was violently assaulted and killed while jogging near her mother’s home in Princeton, Mass. This Sunday, a self-defense workshop organized by Marcotte’s friends and family will be held in her honor at the George Sherman Union.

“If something like that had happened to one of us, Vanessa would have done the same thing,” says Ashley McNiff, Marcotte’s best friend and cofounder of the Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation, which promotes female empowerment through advocacy and education. “It’s important to us to keep her memory alive.”

The workshop, named STRIKE for Vanessa, will teach the Soteria Method (Soteria is the Greek goddess of safety) of self-defense, fitness, and self-discovery for women developed by celebrity trainer Avital Zeisler, who will lead Sunday’s class. Zeisler is an expert in hand-to-hand combat and has trained with members of the military and law enforcement, and worked with actresses like Keri Russell and Amanda Seyfried and those struggling to overcome trauma. Zeisler will share her personal story of being sexually assaulted at the workshop.

Leah Abrahams (COM’11), Marcotte’s BU roommate, says the Soteria Method challenges women to picture a potential attack and then form their hypothetical reaction. “This practice of visualization helps to create a fake memory, which can be drawn upon in a real-life scenario,” Abrahams says. “It can help prevent the freeze that many women experience during an attack. In doing so, women can develop a survival mind-set to help overpower their personal limitations, no matter their size.”

In an appearance on Good Morning America after Marcotte’s attack and a similar one in New York, Zeisler described the Soteria Method as a two-pronged approach—how to prevent the situation from happening, and if you can’t prevent it, how to physically defend yourself. In addition to listing safety tips, like sticking to a well-trodden path and being aware of your surroundings (no Spotify, in other words), Zeisler demonstrated combative moves such as a kick to the attacker’s groin and a palm strike to the chin or nose.

Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation logo

The Vanessa T. Marcotte Foundation, started in March 2017, advocates for a world where women are safe and free to live boldly.

Marcotte’s case remained cold for eight months, until police ran a DNA analysis of skin found under her fingernails. Her alleged killer is awaiting trial. At the time of her death, Marcotte worked as an account manager at Google in New York City. Marcotte’s cousin Caroline Tocci, foundation cofounder and president, describes Marcotte as “ambitious and so grateful for her friends and family. She took advantage of what each day had to offer.”

Event organizers were hoping for a good number of attendees, but after a story about the workshop ran on Boston.com, registration spiked and close to 300 are now registered. The event, which is sponsored by Reebok and includes a DJ and raffle prizes, starts at 10 a.m.

“I think ultimately our mission is to get to the cause of why women are objectified,” says McNiff, who ran the Boston Marathon last April as a tribute to her friend Marcotte. “We know it’s a long road ahead to change. We want to promote safety.”

STRIKE for Vanessa is Sunday, January 21, at 11 a.m. at the George Sherman Union, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Doors open at 10 a.m. General admission is $40, and student admission is $25. Find more information about STRIKE for Vanessa and register for the event here.

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Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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