UT’s African American Male Research Initiative recently renamed itself the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males to honor the first black student admitted to the University’s School of Law.
Center director Ryan Sutton said they help black males find opportunities for their future. He said they renamed because they wanted a name that would resonate with students and speak more to the holistic approach they take with black male students.
“We figured, ‘What better way to honor a black male individual that paved the way for where we are today?’” Sutton said.
Before Sweatt was admitted to the School of Law in 1950, he filed a lawsuit against UT President Theophilus Painter for rejecting his application on the basis of race, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Sweatt won the case and paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education four years later, which overturned segregation in public schools, according to the association.
Sweatt did not graduate from the School of Law due to exhaustion from the lawsuit, an appendectomy and a divorce, according to the association. Sutton said there are still stressors that can affect the grades and coursework of black male students on campus today, such as financial issues and relationship problems.
“We provide a space for (black male students) to process and talk and unpack these things, so that they’re not as much of an issue in their lives, allowing them to be more successful in the classrooms on this campus and beyond,” Sutton said.
Emmanuel Williams, a textiles and apparel junior interning at the center, said he did not know about Sweatt before the center was renamed. Williams said the new name will help others hear his story.
“To hear about his story and what he fought for will let people understand the importance and how people really fought for what people have today,” Williams said.
The center also aims to be a support group for black males on campus by providing mentoring, tutoring and advising, Williams said. Biochemistry senior Brandon Okeke said the center helped him study abroad in Beijing, China, and participate in a University-led organic chemistry research program.
“Through that space in this organization, I’m able to kind of find myself and create my own space on campus,” said Okeke, ad hoc for Afrikan American Affairs. “I feel like it allowed me to come into who I am as a person.”