In 1946, Heman Marion Sweatt was an African-American denied admission into the UT School of Law on the basis of race. This case was the first time the Supreme Court found that diversity, including racial diversity was a compelling component of higher education and would be referenced again in the University of California Regents v. Bakke and Grutter v. Bollinger at the University of Michigan.
Former University president Theophilus Painter wrote a letter to the Texas Attorney General that Sweatt was a citizen of Texas “duly qualified for admission to the Law School at the University of Texas, save and except for the fact that he is a negro.”
Once again, the University’s admission practices are in the spotlight. The Supreme Court will hear the Fisher v. University of Texas for the second time addressing the legality of affirmative action.
After UT filed a response on Oct. 26 to the brief Abigail Fisher filed in September, the family of Heman Marion Sweatt filed the first brief in support of the University.
Hemella Sweatt-Duplechan, the daughter of Sweatt and a dermatological pathologist, said the family filed a brief when Fisher v. UT was heard in 2013. Sweatt-Duplechan said the family has been invested in admissions equality dating back to her father’s case that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education but said race and education is more than just an issue UT has to address.
“It has been important that we find not only a great institution but one that has diversity, not just ethnic diversity but social and economic diversity,” Sweatt-Duplechan said. “I think all of those factors are important, especially today as the world becomes more global, so that is why it is important for universities to have a diverse population.”
Sweatt-Duplechan said aside from the issue of race in admissions, figuring out how to educate low-income minority students is crucial.
“It is important to not only acknowledge but begin to change that experience prior to getting to college,” Sweatt-Duplechan said. “That is really our next step in my mind. I feel like getting students more prepared for college, especially from lower economic families despite ethnicities is important because as a country we don’t value it as much as other countries and we are paying the price.”
Edmund Gordon, chair of the department of African and African diaspora studies at UT, said the University’s low African-American representation in the student and faculty population, which is less than 5 percent, is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“Black faculty in particular are very much in favor of affirmative action, that we recognize its importance in creating this university,” Gordon said. “And the great majority of us would think this university should do more in its use of affirmative action to make sure the student population, graduate student population and faculty population is as diverse.”
Student government president Rohit Mandalapu said with UT’s initiative for diversity, having the Sweatt family is an important step.
“Heman Sweatt is the face of diversity and battling through diversity here at UT,” Mandalapu said. “The fact that his descendants are now in support of UT’s use of race as one of its factors in the admissions process speaks volumes about how racial issues are prevalent in society even today.”