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Growing up in an underserved neighborhood on the southside of Dallas, Lawrence Robinson was accustomed to hearing the sounds of gunshots and sirens on a daily basis. When he received his acceptance letter to UT Austin, his mother told him it was his “golden ticket” out of that neighborhood and into the American Dream.
“Many people often attributed my ‘golden ticket’ to my parent’s love and hard work in keeping me on the right path,” said Robinson, who is the first in his family to attend college. “This is very true, but my experience is a departure from the horrifying reality faced by many African Americans who are victims of the system we live in.”
Now a junior majoring in public health, Robinson doesn’t take any of his privileges for granted. He often think of his high school classmates who would love to attend a UT football game, live in Jester West or even have a high school diploma.
“The only thing that stops them is their zip code and the generational trauma of racism being passed down their family tree,” Robinson says. “Echoing the words of Kerry Washington, ‘I didn’t make good choices; I had good choices.’”
Robinson is also well aware that he is among the 5% of Black students attending a predominately white university. The current statistics, he notes, indicate that more work needs to be done to make a world-class education accessible for African American students.
“There’s no harm in realizing we have privilege in a system that is also harmful to us,” Robinson says. “What we must realize in order to combat systematic racism, UT —and college in general— shouldn’t be considered a ‘golden opportunity’ for a few people. This needs to be a choice for everyone no matter your zip code, race or circumstances you are born into.”
While studying public health in the College of Natural Sciences, Robinson discovered his interest in bridging accessibility gaps in other public services that shouldn’t have to warrant a “golden ticket.”
“I will use my degree in public health to one day build affordable community clinics/outreach centers for families facing financial difficulties,” Robinson says. “My hope is to create a space that gives children the care they need and, more importantly, a choice they otherwise wouldn’t have been afforded. This is the bare minimum that we must do to create the future we want for our children.”
Looking toward the future of education equity, Robinson hopes to see more Black professors on college campuses, especially at UT Austin, where they comprise just 4.4% of full-time faculty positions.
“The removal of statues and renaming of buildings are good first steps, but in order to achieve true diversity and inclusion, UT needs to reimagine its recruitment and retention measures,” he says. “We need more Black faculty and staff on campus because they show us that if they can make it here, we can too.”
During this time of national reflection, Robinson urges more non-Black allies to learn about Black history and listen to what others have to say before speaking out.
“Education is the key to everything,” Robinson says. “People need to reflect on themselves and really think about how they can do better before taking a stand on an issue. It’s about checking your tone and lifting Black voices.”