Darya Peterson, 25, teaches people how to stick up for themselves—unless they’re already too good at sticking up for themselves, in which case she teaches them how to cool it. Peterson is a program coordinator and instructor at IMPACT Personal Safety, a violence prevention curriculum that’s been around nationally for three decades, and in Santa Fe for one. Peterson says IMPACT hopes to bring its classes into more local public schools, a goal that’s grown more urgent with the recent wave of teenage shooting deaths.
SFR: What goes through your head when you see headlines about youth violence in Santa Fe?
Frustration. The last shooting at the [Santa Fe Place] mall, the kid said: ‘Yeah, he was talking smack. I didn’t really mean to shoot him. I just got so mad, you know?’ These kids are not sociopaths. They simply don’t have the adrenaline-management skills to calm themselves down and walk away. We can still reach them.
Do more people overreact to hostility or fail to stick up for themselves?
For a long time, the IMPACT curriculum really spoke to people who were socialized to be nice and kind and not speak up. Increasingly, as we develop a bigger presence in schools and teach more teens and boys, we’re finding those two [reactions] are quite balanced. In our experiential courses, we role-play with provocation. A suited instructor might come out and say, ‘What the fuck are you looking at, you fag?’ The student, maybe their first instinct is to step in and say, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ But we coach them to say, ‘Hey, I wasn’t looking at anything; I don’t want any trouble.’
What do students bring up as examples of tense situations they face?
One that comes up a lot is when somebody speaks poorly of the person you’re with—like if one kid says something bad about another kid’s girlfriend. It’s inevitable that something homophobic comes up.
I once saw a guy almost run over an old lady with a cast on her ankle at DeVargas Center, then get out of his car to scream at her. It looked like he might actually shove this woman. I tried to put myself in between them; he finished yelling and drove off. Was I right to step in?
You put yourself at risk. Having said that, I’m really glad that you helped. I can’t tell people that you should get in the middle, because it does increase the likelihood that you’ll get hurt. Another thing you can do is stay where you are, draw attention to [the scene] by yelling, by pointing, by saying ‘I’m calling security.’
What’s more dangerous, the city or the country? Boyz n the Hood or Deliverance?
I don’t think I can answer that question in a politically correct way.
Do Americans live in fear?
I think we carry around a lot of fear, absolutely. There’s a kind of micro-movement to bring the word ‘fear’ back as a good thing, meaning, our instinct that keeps us safe. In that sense, fear isn’t a bad thing. But paranoia, I do think, is destructive. And paranoia spreads, so someone who feels paranoid may very well encourage others to feel paranoid, and limit their lives, too.
Do you wish you had learned self-defense skills earlier?
Growing up, my parents didn’t talk about bad things. When my best friend was 15, she told us she’d been sexually abused by a close relative. This really profoundly changed my own sense of safety, and also my belief that I’d be able to protect the people I loved. I would go back and forth between paranoia and recklessness. What would’ve changed my teenage years the most was someone telling me to trust my intuition. If I had known my intuition was a really great tool, and I didn’t have to get into the cab with the guy who creeped me out, I would’ve been a lot more confident.