Civil Rights Summit venue leaves large audience vying for relatively few seats

Madlin Mekelburg

Although more than 9,000 students applied for tickets to the three-day Civil Rights Summit happening this week, it will be held in an auditorium that seats 967 people.

Tickets to the summit, which will be held in the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium, were distributed to students, guests of UT administrators, participants in each panel, guests invited by the four presidents, current government officials and members of the general public. 

“When we do an event like this, first of all we’re limited by our numbers because the auditorium holds less than 1,000,” LBJ Library spokeswoman Anne Wheeler said. “We knew this was going to be a challenge for us and something we wanted to address early on.”

Wheeler said participants in each panel at the summit will have access to all of the other events and are allowed to bring a guest. There are 46 panelists speaking at the summit, not including presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

According to Wheeler, seating will also be provided for individuals invited by each of the presidents. Wheeler said for security reasons she could not disclose how many guests each president invited.

Wheeler said Gov. Rick Perry was invited to the summit, but will be unable to attend. According to Wheeler, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid were invited to attend. Wheeler said Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were also invited. Wheeler said she was unable to confirm which of these individuals have actually RSVP’d to the summit.

Douglas Garrard, senior associate dean of students, said 9,035 students applied for tickets via the general lottery, which was organized by the Office of the Dean of Students. According to Wheeler, 640 students received tickets through the lottery. 

The LBJ School of Public Affairs distributed 435 tickets through its own lottery system. Wheeler said every student within the school had the possibility of winning a ticket.

Wheeler said tickets were for either one of the president’s speeches or for all of the panels for one day of the summit. She said she was unable to say how many tickets were given out for each of the events.

Social work freshman Addis Gezahegn said she entered her name in the student lottery directly after it opened but did not receive tickets. 

“As a black student, I feel like it’s really frustrating to not be able to go,” Gezahegn said. “I would gladly miss class to be in the same room as the first black president of the United States. The only black person on the UT campus like 50 years ago carried a mop and broom. Now, Barack Obama is going to be here, and it’s really frustrating that I won’t be able to go.”

Correction: This story includes a quotation containing a factually imprecise impression of campus history. The first black students admitted to UT enrolled more than 50 years ago in fall 1956.