Exploring Democracy's Promise:
From Segregation to Integration
2014-2015 Common Experience Theme Co-Chairs
» Dr. Joanne Smith, Vice President for Student Affairs
» Dr. Dwight Watson, Associate Professor of History
"We the people;" it is a very eloquent beginning. But when the Constitution of the United States was completed on the seventeenth of September 1787, I was not included in the "We the people." I felt for many years that somehow George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake.
The 2014-2015 Common Experience theme is inspired by the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Texas State University, known in 1963 as Southwest Texas State College. In January of 1963 Judge Ben H. Rice ruled that SWT could not deny admission to an African-American student based solely on race. After the ruling, in the fall of 1963, 18-year-old Dana Jean Smith, a graduate of Anderson High School in Austin, Texas, enrolled at SWT. The registrar personally assisted Smith in registering along with four other African American students — Georgia Hoodye, Gloria Odoms, Mabeleen Washington, and Helen Jackson.
This Common Experience theme explores the trials of segregation and the impact of integration, raising the question of how we internalize change in this 50-year celebration of the desegregation of Texas State. A closer exploration of desegregation reveals a long and difficult struggle to achieve one of modern democracy's great promises, equal access to a quality education. Specifically, we use this 50-year anniversary of the desegregation of our institution as an opportunity to examine issues related to equal access to higher education and the role of laws, litigation, and civil rights movements in helping students obtain higher education. This theme also makes a connection to the 2008-2009 Common Experience theme, "Civic Responsibility and the Legacy of LBJ," celebrating our most famous alumnus, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Bringing LBJ into the conversation emphasizes the role he played in making these changes happen and helps build pride in Texas State and its graduates.
In 2014-2015 Americans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of many of LBJ's programs aimed at eliminating extreme poverty and racial injustice. These Great Society initiatives included the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Head Start Program, the War on Poverty, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Higher Education Act — the latter signed by President Johnson on the campus of Texas State.
As we celebrate integration at Texas State and the promise of democracy, we can encourage a cross-disciplinary conversation about differences and experiences of the many who are marginalized, ignored, or forgotten. In addition, we can explore what it means to make a college education accessible to everyone.