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McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Weekend

OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference
MARCH 26-28, 2022

McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference

Focusing on college readiness, leadership training and being culturally connected to the African American community at the University of Oklahoma.

The McLaurin and Lewis Leadership Conference is a University of Oklahoma college preview program for African American students, hosted by Diversity Enrichment Programs. Attendees learn key developmental assets, network with other high-achieving students, and develop a strong connection with the OU community. Additionally, OU faculty, staff, and alumni present the benefits of an OU education with sessions on standardized test preparation, admissions, scholarships, financial aid, and campus life.

African American students that have been admitted to OU for Fall 2022 are invited to participate and are introduced to current African American student leaders, faculty, staff, and alumni. Our goals are not only to have these students attend OU but to become actively involved in the African American community at OU.

COVID-19 Updates: The health and safety of our guests, students, and campus community are of the utmost importance to the OU family. Because of this, the University expects masking for all individuals in high-density settings, this is especially important during conference sessions and on the bus traveling to and from the event. In accordance with CDC guidance, the university also strongly encourages full COVID-19 vaccination status for anyone participating in events on OU property. For more information on OU's COVID-19 protocols, please review the OU Together website.


OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference
OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference
OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference

“ Prior to attending, I had already decided to attend OU, but going to the conference definitely confirmed it. The McLaurin and Lewis Leadership Conference helped me in my decision to attend OU because it showed me that there are other people on campus that look like me and share the same experiences as me. While being there, not only did I make a family within the community that I can fall back on, but I also received a scholarship that helped me in some of my expenses. I recommend everyone to attend. ”

- Grace Davis, sophomore human relations major from Oklahoma City, OK

OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference

George McLaurin

George McLaurin & Sylvia A. Lewis Conference

George McLaurin was the first African American student admitted to the University of Oklahoma. In 1948, McLaurin applied for admission to the doctoral program in the College of Education, directly challenging the state’s current segregation laws. McLaurin held a master’s degree in education from the University of Kansas and had taught for 33 years at Langston University before retiring in 1948. By the time of his application to the University of Oklahoma, McLaurin’s three children had each earned a master’s degree.

State segregation laws mandated that African Americans attend Langston University, while whites could go to either the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University). To comply with the provisions requiring equal access to educational programs, the state offered funding for African Americans to attend schools in nearby states for programs not offered at Langston. McLaurin challenged this law and, by court decision, was admitted to the University of Oklahoma.

In order to comply with state laws, President George Lynn Cross arranged for McLaurin’s classes to be held in classroom with an anteroom. By sitting in this side room, away from white students, McLaurin could attend the same classes but still be segregated. Special seating areas were created in the cafeteria and at sporting events, and separate restroom facilities were designated to ensure continued segregation.

McLaurin challenged this continued segregation, taking the case to the United States Supreme Court. In 1950, the Supreme Court, in George W. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education, ruled that segregation "handicapped him in his pursuit of effective graduate instruction." The decision began the process of tearing down official barriers to racial integration in Oklahoma higher education.

George McLaurin ultimately left the university after only two semesters. His case, however, would prove a key precedent in the national fight against segregation, paving the way for the landmark 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which established that separate was inherently unequal in all levels of education.

Sylvia A. Lewis

George McLaurin & Sylvia A. Lewis Conference

Sylvia A. Lewis was the first African American to serve on the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, appointed in 1986 by then-Governor George Nigh. She established a long record of achievements as an educator, administrator, and civic leader.

A graduate of Langston University with a master's degree in education from OU, Lewis was a public school teacher in Ponca City from 1943 to 1953 before joining the Oklahoma City school system. She was twice named Oklahoma City Public Schools Teacher of the Year by her colleagues, in 1963 and 1964.

From 1966 to 1974, Lewis worked with the Opportunities Industrialization Center, Oklahoma City, and OIC International, her service culminating in stints as an education research specialist in Philadelphia and a training adviser in Lagos, Nigeria.

Returning to Langston in 1974 as Associate Dean of Student Affairs, she became dean in 1977 and director of Langston's Urban Center in Oklahoma City in 1981. She retired from the post in 1984.

Her previous awards and honors include the Meritorious Award for Community Service from the Young Women's Christian Association and the Award of Honor from the Indian American Community of Oklahoma City, both in 1967; the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award, Oklahoma Alliance, in 1981; and Langston's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1987.

Lewis, Vice Chairwoman for the Oklahoma State Conference of Women in 1977-78 and delegate-at-large for the 1979 International Women's Year conference in Houston, was listed in Who's Who Among Black Americans and Who's Who Among American Women.

History of the Conference

OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference

In spring 2014, OU's Diversity Enrichment Programs held the first Developing Black Males conference, focusing on African American males due to their low attendance and six-year graduation rate in the U.S. At the time, only 37 percent of Black males that started a bachelor's degree completed the program, according to the NCES. Topics addressed in the conference included the importance of higher education, positive masculinity, mentorships, and positive relationships. The 2015 conference also addressed social issues facing the black community such as the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and the protest movement started in Ferguson, Missouri. 

In response to conversations with students, the conference expanded in year three to include young African American women. These conferences would be held in conjuction and would be renamed to honor African Americans that left a legacy at OU. 

OU McLaurin & Lewis Leadership Conference

The young men’s conference was renamed the George McLaurin Male Leadership Conference after the first African American student admitted to OU, and the young women’s conference was named Sylvia A. Lewis Women’s Leadership Conference after the first African American female to serve on the OU Board of Regents. The 2016 conferences featured Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a noted college professor and scholar, as keynote speaker with over 100 students in attendance.

In the two years since this change, the conference has expanded in size and in scope, including sponsorships from companies such as OneOK, Williams Companies, and Devon Energy. In 2018, an emphasis was placed on students that have been admitted to OU, and the results were reflected in increased attendance numbers. 

We look to continue the positive impact that the George McLaurin/Sylvia A. Lewis conference has garnered in the community.

For more information:

Contact OU's Diversity Enrichment Programs 
Call: 405-325-2151
Text: 405-400-1384