Each year since 1986, The University of Texas at Austin has held the Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights to explore civil rights issues impacting historically underserved communities in the United States. This year’s event, held on Nov. 10 at the LBJ Auditorium, focused on one of the most important issues of our time: health equity.
Dr. LaToya Smith, vice president for diversity and community engagement, opened the event with a historical look back at the impact and legacy of Heman Marion Sweatt, the first Black student admitted to the School of Law at UT after the prolonged court case Sweatt v. Painter.
“We owe Heman Sweatt a great deal for having the tenacity to carry through with the law suit and to attend UT.”—Dr. LaToya Smith
Dr. Octavio Martinez, associate vice president and executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, discussed racial disparities in health care—emphasizing the fact that health equity is a civil right.
“In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed with the intent to end discrimination based on race, color, religion or natural origin. As important and as grand as the Civil Rights Act is, we as a nation continue to struggle in many aspects of our lives including in healthcare.”—Dr. Octavio Martinez
Guests were treated to a live performance by UT’s dance troupe Front N’ Center.
Dr. Ryan Sutton, director of the Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males and mental health specialist, moderated a powerful discussion with two City of Austin health experts: Stephanie Hayden-Howard assistant city manager for Health & Environment and Culture & Lifelong Learning; and Dr. Desmar Walkes, medical director for Austin Public Health and Health Authority for Austin and Travis County.
“In social work, you’re exposed to social justice; you’re exposed to empowering people. And that is the fabric of who I am.”—Stephanie Hayden-Howard (pictured in the center)
Advice for undergraduates: “I would ask that you take that opportunity to show people who you are as this is the time when a lot of people will be seeing people who look like us, and we see people who look like them, so the ability to see humanity in one another is so important…and if you can take that with you going forward, you will know about equity.” —Dr. Desmar Walkes (pictured on the left)
Several nonprofits and organizations—all valued community partners of the DDCE—shared their good work in bridging public health disparities via video presentations. Presenters included El Been Samaritano, Colony Park and Austin Asian Complete Count Committee. Go to the Sweatt Symposium website to watch the videos as well as a spoken word performance titled “Place Matters” by Clint Smith (pictured above).
The evening concluded with the annual Student Legacy Awards.
“I feel so privileged to be recognized, but this award is not just for me. It’s something that represents the hard work of everyone around me, those who have uplifted me since the start.”—Dionicia Berrones, Government/MALS senior. Read her Q&A.
“As a proud graduate of TSU and as a student at Texas Law, this award reminds me that I stand on the shoulders of juggernauts and that people put their lives on the line to pave the way for me. I can never pay them back. Therefore, I must pay it forward, press for progress, and continue the struggle for equity and liberation. This award is bigger than me.” —Anthony Collier, Texas Law 3L student. Read his Q&A.
“It means a great deal to be honored at this symposium! As graduate students, and specifically as Black graduate students, we are often left out of the conversation when it comes to what happens on campus for various reasons. Understanding this, as BGSA presidents, we took it upon ourselves to make sure that this is no longer the case and that the voices and experiences of Black graduate students at UT are not only recognized but celebrated and validated.”—BGSA leaders Shaina Hall, Lorraine Scott, André Fuqua. Read their Q&A.
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.