UT spirit group launches campus-wide drunk driving awareness initiative

Nicole Stuessy

This semester, female spirit group Texas Lassos expanded its program, Lassos Against Drunk Driving, to the entire campus to reach the rest of the student body.

Following the death of one of their members, Vanessa Whitford, in a drunk driving accident in May 2015, Texas Lassos decided to tackle the issue of drunk driving head on.

In 2016, members started Lassos Against Drunk Driving to raise awareness on the victim’s behalf. Now, the program is called Longhorns Against Drunk Driving to target more students.

“This is such a huge issue that doesn’t just affect Lassos but anyone who gets behind the wheel, so we changed it to launch it campus-wide,” English senior Michaela Cappello said.

Later this month, Cappello said they will also begin a series of coffee shop talks with victims and perpetrators of drunk driving accidents as well as lawyers and law enforcement officials.

“Criminal defense lawyers are going to come in and talk about, ‘This is how your life can change with these charges,’” Cappello said. “People who work with EMS and EMT are coming in and talking about their experiences with people who have been in those accidents.”

Program coordinator Rylee Gladych said drunk driving has not been adequately addressed in the past despite UT’s large population.

“I can name more than five people that I personally know who have gotten a DUI or that I know have been drinking and driving,” sports management junior Gladych said. “I know that it’s not rare, and it is an issue.”

Longhorns Against Drunk Driving will hold 6 a.m. Monday morning “detox runs,” host events that don’t involve alcohol and will table on Speedway with fliers containing resources and options for students facing substance abuse issues, Cappello said.

“We are pretty much going to the public and going to students saying, ‘Hey, we exist and we are here for you,’” Cappello said. “Even if they want nothing to do with us, they will have those phone numbers if they ever need anything.”

Poonum Mehta, an English sophomore and member of Lassos, said she believes this program will open up discussions about drunk driving.

“It’s not a common topic that comes up with friends,” Mehta said. “Having an organization that brings that discussion to the table and brings people who have had those experiences with drunk driving to openly talk about it — I think that will be really impactful for UT students.”