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Diversity Has Come a Long Way at the University of Oklahoma Law School
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Sipuel Fisher

Summary: Since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1946 requiring equal access to the University of Oklahoma’s law school, the school is reporting a high rate of diversity among students.

In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court made a controversial yet ground-breaking ruling that affected nonwhite students everywhere. In a 9-0 vote in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, the justices made it clear that the public law school at the OU could not discriminate against applicants because of their race.

  
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The case came about when the school denied admission to Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher because of her skin color in 1946, but she successfully sued the school. Sipuel Fisher was able to begin classes at the law school at OU the summer of 1949 and was able to graduate two years later.

Sipuel Fisher was not only the first black person working towards a law degree from the Oklahoma law school but she was also one of just three women out of 178 students at the law school.

The school looks a lot different now. Roughly 25 percent of the students enrolled in the law school are nonwhites. Of the 509 law school students at OU, just over 42 percent are women. Of the 117 identifying as nonwhite, 26 percent are women and 21 percent are men. There are a number of student organizations and groups at the school, giving support to those nonwhite and female students. These groups include the “American Indian Law Review, Black Law Students Association, Hispanic American Law Student Association, Native American Law Student Association and Organization for the Advancement of Women in the Law,” according to a U.S. News article.

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Sipuel Fisher was born in 1924 in Chickasha. She earned her undergraduate from Langston University, which was the state’s only option for black students wanting to achieve a higher education. At the time, state law required a separation between whites and nonwhite in school.

The NAACP urged her to apply to OU’s law school, challenging the state’s segregation laws. She was 21-years-old at the time. The school denied her application because she was black. The NAACP provided a team of lawyers, led by Thurgood Marshall who went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The lawyers filed a lawsuit that worked its way up the judicial system to the Supreme Court.



When Sipuel Fisher graduated from law school, she began a career as a lawyer in her hometown and a professor at Langston. Nearly 50 years after she sued the OU Board of Regents, Gov. David Walters appointed her to the very same body. The university also awarded her in 1991 as an honorary doctorate of humane letters. A garden on campus was also dedicated in her honor upon her death on October 18, 2015.

Just a couple of months ago, Sipuel Fisher was awarded posthumously by the Oklahoma Hall of Fame as a member of the 2017 class.

Do you think race should be included in applications? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about diversity in law school, read these articles:

Source: U.S. News

Photo: okhistory.org



 

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