UT professor inspires students despite turbulent undergraduate beginnings

Reya Mosby, Life and Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the October 1 flipbook.

For Black men on campus, Ryan Sutton provides a safe space. 

As the director of the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males at the Longhorn Center for Academic Equity, Sutton encourages Black male students to find their place at UT and express their emotions relating to race and influential life experiences. The prominent campus figure only gained this wisdom through his own personal challenges.

As a young Sutton trekked toward the administrative building one day while he attended Howard University, tears threatened to spill down his face. 

He had prepared to drop out of graduate school after his psychological assessment professor told him he thought Sutton was in the wrong field.

Then, he called his mother for reassurance. Her advice grounded and comforted him.

“Boy, what are you doing?” Sutton’s mother said. “Turn around and keep grinding.”

At that moment, he decided he would not fail because of those who doubted him, but succeed in spite of them. This daunting choice ultimately led to Sutton’s success, not only at the Center for Black Males, but as a graduate psychology assistant professor of practice.

As an undergraduate student at Xavier University, Sutton struggled with schoolwork and faced expulsion for his 1.5 GPA. Nevertheless, his professors continued to push him to be better.  

“It’s important for professors to lean in and connect with students and realize that this is a human being in front of you that has all this potential, and you play a role in that,” Sutton said. 

After being reinstated on academic probation, he had a renewed sense of hope, motivation and confidence that allowed him to persist through his master’s and Ph.D. programs at Howard University. 

“Realizing my value in this space and knowing I have strength to give got me to a place where I was good with where I’m operating,” Sutton said. 

Now part of Heman Sweatt, an organization of African American professors, administrators and students, Sutton carefully curates a safe space for young Black men to have serious and insightful conversations.

“We talk about our experiences, how we feel, how society perceives us (and) how society wants us to feel,” electrical engineering sophomore Bryce Harris said. “These conversations don’t happen in our neighborhoods at home. Being able to come into a space and talk about these things has been very impactful.”

Undecided freshman Donye Crawford joined Heman Sweatt after listening to Sutton speak on a Zoom call and attending the Black Male Orientation offered by the center. 

“He has a lot of energy and he’s extremely positive,” Crawford said. “I started to realize that he genuinely gets pleasure out of helping people.”

This environment creates a safe space for African American men to build community, and Harris, who is in Heman Sweatt for a second year, felt this community helped with the isolation he felt as a Black man at UT.

“(Sutton’s) number one statement is, ‘You’re not in this alone,’” Harris said. “That was a really powerful thing to hear, especially being someone who’s definitely an underrepresented minority at the University.”

Crawford and Harris said they and other Black students trust and look up to Sutton. 

“Sutton has been instrumental for a lot of people at the University, building them up and allowing them to be the best person they can be,” Harris said.

Like the professors who pushed him at Xavier, Sutton makes sure to help every student he can, whether through a conversation about their mental health or putting them in contact with someone who could help further their career. 

“I’m in a position to say stuff to people’s daughters and sons that they can’t say to them now because they’re millions of miles away,” Sutton said. “Yes, I see you as a student. More than that, you are a person. You are a soul, and I’m here.”