Sweatt Center receives gift to promote success for Black male students

Joelle DiPaolo, News Reporter

This article first appeared in the Feb. 18, 2022 flipbook.

The Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males received a $750,000 donation this semester to help advance initiatives that promote success for Black male students at UT. 

Darren Kelly, deputy to the vice president for the Sweatt Center, said the center is planning on using the money to expand current initiatives, such as the experiential learning trips to places like New York and South Africa. Kelly said they also intend to create new opportunities for Black male students, such as providing financial support for students pursuing internships. 

“I’m looking forward (utilizing) this gift so that it can go directly towards empowering students to achieve their own personal and professional goals,” Kelly said. 

The Sweatt Center is a faculty-led program with initiatives such as weekly meetings, internships and trips to help build community and professional development opportunities for Black male students, said Kelly.

The gift comes from donor Martin Taylor, a member of the UT President’s Austin Innovation Board.

Sweatt Center director Ryan Sutton said the center provides resources that are not always easily accessible to Black students.

“Access isn’t reaching all the way back into certain communities within this campus,” Sutton said. “It’s just a matter of connecting (Black male students) to existing resources, providing new resources and making sure that the barriers to access them are minimized.” 

Sutton said there are about 140 students participating in Sweatt Center initiatives currently. He said his favorite part of his role at the center is interacting with students and watching them gain self-confidence.

“I get so amped when I get into gear with the students, whether it’s one-on-one or small group,” Sutton said. “Seeing them flourish in new spaces or seeing their eyes just pop open with new experiences and new exposures, I live for that as well.”

Sociology sophomore Mason Porter said because of his time at the Sweatt Center, he has learned to explore opportunities on campus outside of his classes. He said having the Sweatt Center allows Black males to be comfortable and build a community at UT. 

“It’s a safe space for Black men on campus,” Porter said. “It just helps us be more comfortable and get more acclimated to UT. (Because) obviously, there’s not a lot of people that look like us on campus.” 

Graduate assistant Jaylen Wright said being around so many successful Black men who support him has helped him grow as an individual and student. 

“There’s something incredibly powerful about … just being in a space where you’re around educated Black men and they are there to support and mentor you,” said Wright, a health behavior and health education doctoral candidate. “I’m almost done with … my PhD, and I came in not knowing what I even wanted to do. Being around and being in that space molded me into what I am right now.”

Wright said he hopes this gift acts as a catalyst for more universities to put money and effort into similar programs on their own campuses. 

“Hopefully this is not just the beginning, but just pushing this advancement of what it means to be a visible Black student on these campuses,” Wright said.