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Updated 10:00 AM October 12, 2009

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Spotlight: Mattingly uses self-defense to educate about safety

Katy Mattingly isn't afraid to walk alone at night. The executive secretary in the Division of Student Affairs is a self-defense instructor in her free time, and she knows that, if necessary, she could stop any attacker in his or her tracks.
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Mattingly wasn't always planning to teach self-defense. After being sexually assaulted as a teen, she says she struggled with her own personal safety for years. She came to Ann Arbor as an undergraduate in 1987, and received a Bachelor of Arts in women's studies.

In 1994 her life changed. Adamant about not being hurt again, she decided to take a self-defense course.

"I felt safe in my body for the first time in my life," Mattingly recalls. "I was more confident."

To help empower others, she decided to follow her passion and become a self-defense teacher. "I want everyone to have access to that same feeling of safety."

According to Mattingly, "sexual violence affects everyone." As a self-defense educator, she has led classes at Eastern Michigan University, talked with community groups and taught self-defense to kids, teens, senior citizens, people with disabilities and sexual assault survivors.

She particularly is passionate about educating young women on the dangers of sexual violence during college. "The risk of sexual assault increases dramatically in the first year away from home," she says.

With the recent murder of Annie Le, a Yale University graduate student, Mattingly sees the need for self-defense education more than ever. "I'm receiving a lot more calls about workplace violence and safety on college campuses," she says.

To share self-defense tips at the university, Mattingly speaks to student groups and Greek organizations. She also is the author of "Self-Defense: Steps to Survival," a non-martial arts based guidebook that focuses on self-defense in real life situations.

The book discusses the three different types of self-defense needed to stay safe — physical, psychological and verbal. "Some women are too embarrassed to yell 'no' in public. The barriers to self-defense are powerful and strong and we need help to unlearn them."

Her best advice should an attack occur: "You need to learn to make a scene. The vast majority of attackers back off when they know you'll fight back."

Mattingly is interested in writing another book — one on how large universities educate their student bodies about sexual violence.

"We need to transform how higher education presents these issues," she says. Some ways, she suggests, could be providing self-defense and empowerment courses through the university — what she calls "physical literacy" — and educating students on possible perpetrators, safety tips and signs of dating violence.

When not teaching self-defense, Mattingly is the executive secretary for associate vice presidents Anjali Anturkar and Simone Himbeault Taylor in the Division of Student Affairs.

"DSA oversees diverse units on campus," she explains, "including the University Unions, University Health Service, University Housing, Counseling and Psychological Services and Spectrum, the LGBTQ support and education center. Those are just a few of the over 25 units within the division."

Her typical day is filled with "meetings, meetings, meetings. I manage projects, help my bosses to stay on track with their calendars and to manage their very busy lives."

In her spare time, Mattingly attends a different kind of meeting — dog-training lessons with her newly adopted dog, Happy.

This fall Mattingly will teach self-defense classes on and off the university campus through the Fleming Building Wellness Committee and the Rackham Graduate Student Affairs Office.

"It's more important than ever," she says, "that we work together as a community to provide realistic and effective personal safety education to students, faculty and staff."

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at

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