Freshman orientation is the first opportunity for incoming Longhorns to learn about UT culture from fellow students and faculty. One required orientation event is “Protecting the Herd,” UT’s premier campus safety play for incoming students. It addresses topics ranging from alcohol poisoning, friendships and protecting your possessions from theft. It also serves as the only opportunity for UT to oversee student sexual assault education. While the play accurately addresses many topics, it fails to portray rape outside of the context of a single example.
“In the play, Izzy is raped by Tristan, her boyfriend,” said Rachel Gonzalez, a psychology sophomore and cast member. “I think one of the messages that this sends to the audience is that rape can occur within the boundaries of a relationship. Just because you are dating someone does not mean that you owe them sex.”
While the play notes an important message, it problematically stops there. UT can and should be doing more to educate new Longhorns on the topic of sexual assault. Rather than portraying a single scenario of rape, UT should explore multiple situations.
“Protecting the Herd” acts as UT’s one chance to send a message to students about sexual assault on campus, and yet the play portrays abusive relationships as the sole explanation for sexual assault. This approach fails to address the complexities of the issue and does not properly prepare students for what they might face in college.
According to Gonzalez, the play should focus on various scenarios. However, time is an issue. Instead of incorporating sexual assault under the umbrella of general campus safety, there should be an entirely separate requirement for students at orientation that focuses solely on all aspects of sexual assault.
The creation of small, targeted discussions — similar to current optional orientation activities — is one way this could work. The discussions would emphasize bystander intervention, what to do if you’re a victim of sexual assault and discussion of what consent looks like — all topics the play generally glosses over.
A freshman who prefers to remain anonymous said the play was blatantly out of touch with what sexual assault on campuses looks like. “I was expecting the issue of sexual assault and rape to be addressed separately from dating violence,” they said.
The source compared their experiences with sexual assault to the main character in the play, which were very different in nature. The source was left feeling alone and disconnected after the assault, while the character moved on fast.
“Although different survivors have different reactions, often victims have a hard time blatantly stating ‘I was raped,’” the source said. “It seemed as though once the main character admitted she was raped, all of her problems went away.”
Students were not educated on the lasting effects of sexual assault, because the play provides a single version of events of what rape looks like. “Protecting the Herd” cannot continue to be the only discussion of sexual assault UT provides to incoming students.
Changing the message and discussion around sexual assault on campus has to be our focus at UT, and the student body holds the power to see this through. With organizations and resources such as Voices Against Violence, the Counseling and Mental Health Center Crisis Line, Student Emergency Services, the Behavior Concerns Advice Line and UTPD, students can advocate to transform the outdated play into an interactive discussion.
“UT is very compromising, and I would say very presentable,” said Andrew Mendoza, an English sophomore and cast member. “They try to facilitate as much change as they can and they give the students a lot of responsibility in that. UT is a campus where students have their voices heard.”
The only clear take away from “Protecting the Herd” is that UT failed to talk about rape on campus. The power is in our hands to advocate for how incoming students are educated about sexual assault.
Cooper is a Plan II and journalism freshman from Austin.