UT students won’t be able to attend next year’s SXSW. That hurts

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

For years, South by Southwest has offered the rarest of opportunities: professional experience and unabashed revelry — often at the same time. A lowly student without a badge can wait in line and get free drinks at a bar without paying cover, courtesy of a giant brand.

During my freshman and sophomore years, I volunteered over 40 hours during spring break to earn a badge so I could see the CEO of Lyft speak, got business cards from technology reporters and saw some forgettable movie premieres. This spring, I teared up watching a documentary about the educational TV host Mr. Rogers at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Doing these events required a sizable amount of time waiting in line and volunteering — and I would do it all over again.

But students won’t be able to access these opportunities anymore next year. The dates for UT’s spring break and SXSW no longer align.

“Looking forward, the University has been talking to SXSW after this and trying to work as well together as possible,” UT spokesman J.B. Bird said. “We really regret the two spring breaks didn’t line up this time.”

Revelers will miss out on the complimentary drinks and the opportunity to see undercover acts play at late nights at the festival — unless they skip class.

More importantly, students studying radio-television-film or other creative media will be hurt even more because they won’t be able to take part in one of biggest conferences in their field. Ten days of exposure to industry leaders can help them make headway in careers that depend on connections.

“If I wasn’t doing SXSW, then there’s not any real incentive to be developing myself as a filmmaker,” said Will Haughey, radio-television-film sophomore and aspiring commercial photographer. “Now what am I going to do?”

The overlap in dates is not the fault of students like Haughey. Instead, responsibility lies with the University Calendar Academic Committee. The committee has scheduled spring break, for decades, to take place during the third week of March. However, breaking with precedent, the committee scheduled 2019 spring break to take place during the fourth week of March.

SXSW spokeswoman Elizabeth Derczo said they planned the 2019 dates a decade in advance based on that established precedent. The University committee should have got together with festival representatives during the planning stages of the academic calendar, which took place two years in advance of the 2018-2019 year.

If the University had included SXSW in the early planning of the academic calendar, both institutions could have aligned their dates.

In a statement, the University said that 2019’s spring break dates are grounded in the “educational needs of our students.” However, when faculty include SXSW in their curriculum planning and students use the festival to put their classroom knowledge to practice, it’s hard to imagine how students will benefit from missing a world-class festival that brings industry leaders from “Star Wars” producers to headliners like Chance the Rapper.

“It’s a fun thing to do with your friends. It feels like you’re part of something bigger,” said Shalave Cawley, a radio-television-film junior. “I hope they realize how big of a deal this is to students.”

Wong is a government and Plan II senior from McKinney. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @calebawong.