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Recap: 35th Annual Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights

By Jason Molin

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“Still Hidden Figures: Black Women in the Workplace” was the theme of our 35th Annual Heman Marion Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, held virtually on Thursday, Nov. 5.

Below are a few highlights from our lineup of speakers. You can watch the full video posted below.

Gloria Akkinibosun, a McCombs School of Business/African and African Diaspora Studies junior and member of the Fearless Leadership Institute (FLI), kicked off the event with a spoken-word, dance performance titled “Prism.”

Leonard N. Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement and George Littlefield Professor of American History, gave a warm welcome to attendees and introduced this year’s recipients of the 2020 Student Legacy Award. Both have been participating in dozens of student organizations on campus and will be graduating from the Moody College of Communication this spring.

Screenshot of video: Brianna and Jalesha accept student legacy awards
Go to https://youtu.be/HTgEbmOd75E?t=444 to watch the student legacy awards.

Kamryn Rudison, a McCombs School of Business sophomore and member of FLI, introduced Akkinibosun’s next spoken word performance titled “Hidden in Plain Sight.

“This next piece shines a light on the first Black person to graduate from McCombs, Mrs. Peggy Drake Holland. Despite being hidden in plain sight, as so many Black women pursuing higher education are, her experiences have paved the way for students like me and Gloria to attend UT today.”

Tiffany Tillis Lewis, associate vice president of the Longhorn Center for Academic Equity, introduced viewers to the panel of speakers—all successful UT Austin alums who participated in FLI, a holistic development program within the DDCE that supports and uplifts Black and Latina women on campus.

Video screenshot of FLI alumni panel discussion
Go to https://youtu.be/HTgEbmOd75E?t=1203 to watch the FLI Alumni panel.

Kiara Ealy (Accounting ’14) discussed her challenges moving up in the field of investment accounting and offered some insight on knowing when it’s time to make a career move—and how to be your best advocate in the workplace!

Vanilla McIntosh (Corporate Communications ’15) discussed the challenges of working in corporate America and offered some career advice: “If I had to give a piece of advice, I would say that one: you are worthy of every room that you step into. And, two: apply for everything.”

LaShaneika Ephraim (McCombs School of Business ’15) shared her experiences working as a producer in the news industry: “I have to deal with the challenges of people judging my outward appearance…I don’t feel I need to hide my personality and assimilate into white people’s perceptions of ‘professionalism.’”

Mickelyn Washington (Sociology/African and African Diaspora Studies ’18) provided some tips on how to enter the workforce with poise and confidence: “You have to work hard. Your work ethic is everything…which is why it’s so important to do what you love because that passion that come with it goes so far.”

The event concluded with a conversation between Moore and Yamiche Alcindor, a prominent White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour and a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. They touched on a number of topics—from reporting on national news amid a global pandemic and civil unrest, to the challenges she faced while moving up in the ranks, to finding a work-life balance.

Video screenshot: Dr. Moore talks with Yamiche Alcindor
Go to https://youtu.be/HTgEbmOd75E?t=2901 to watch Dr. Moore’s conversation with Yamiche Alcindor

“As an African American woman, I know firsthand what Black families in this country have had to deal with. I have friends and family members, along with myself, who know what it’s like to be discriminated against, who know what it’s like to have to teach your child not to respond to the police and to be calm in certain situations and to be overly gracious when you don’t want to be.”

Alcindor closed the conversation with a message to students who are concerned about entering the workforce in a shaky economy.

“You are probably worried about your future.  I’m here to tell you, stick with it. Stick with your friends, lean on your friends and give your friends support, stick with it.  It will work out.”

More about the Heman Sweatt Symposium for Civil Rights

The annual symposium is named for Heman Sweatt, an African American who was denied admission to the UT Austin School of Law in 1946 on the basis of race. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark Sweatt v. PainterSupreme Court ruling which granted Sweatt admission to The University of Texas School of Law. The Sweatt decision helped pave the way for admission of African Americans into segregated colleges and universities.