Family of UT trailblazer hope policy continues

Heman Sweatt
CBS News

(CBS News) Heman Sweatt's great-uncle, the man he was named after, was the first African-American to attend the University of Texas' all-white law school in 1950.

"In order to go for a master's or any other degree, to become a doctor or an attorney, you had to leave the state of Texas," said Sweatt.

Now, 62 years later, the Sweatt family has filed a brief in the Fisher case, urging the Supreme Court to allow the University of Texas to continue to consider race as one factor in their admissions process.

University President Bill Powers claims he needs to consider race for the sake of diversity.

"They're looking at, what did this person achieve, given their entire background, taking into account that we want an ethnically diverse class," said Powers. "And is this person going to add, more than another person, given that totality of circumstances, to the kind of educational atmosphere we want in our classrooms and on our campus."

Journalism student, Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman was accepted into the University of Texas through that process and says that race is an important determining factor.

"UT has I think about 4.5 percent African-Americans with race considered," said Matthews-Hoffman. "That's a really small portion of students here. And it is kind of alienating when you don't have a lot of students on campus that look like you."

Senior Angus McLeod says considering race in admissions is understandable.

"I've been in a lot of classes that are overwhelmingly white, or white and Asian, and when you're taking a class in black literature and there's not a single black student in the class," said McLeod. "It can be kind of a depressing experience, you lose an interpretation of what you're reading, what you're studying, that would be really helpful otherwise."

But senior Katelyn Williams believes using race as a factor is unfair.

"It would crush me to know that I had the same qualifications and I didn't get into graduate school just because of my skin color," said Williams.

Twenty-seven years after Heman Sweatt's case went to court, his great-nephew graduated from UT.

"Hopefully one day there is a point in time where there is no need for affirmative action," said Sweatt. "However, I don't think we're there yet."

The Sweatt family will be waiting to hear whether the Supreme Court agrees.