Haley Taylor Schlitz made history as the youngest African American to graduate from Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law at age 19.
In March 2019, the North Texas teen announced that she was going from being home-schooled to a law school at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas. At just 16 at the time, she said she was already on track to graduate with both an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in May.
The Fort Worth teen then used the summer to prepare for law school and attend a six-day program with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington for incoming law students.
Schlitz has a strong edge to shape the public educational system in the United States, especially for students of color. This motivated her to study law hoping to become an elected official in the not-too-distant future to fulfill her aspirations of making public policy in education.
Face2Face Africa interacted with Schlitz:
Thank you Haley for agreeing to speak to me…
Q: To start with, briefly tell me about Haley Taylor Schiltz…
A: I am a 19 year old girl born in Los Angeles and moved to Texas when I was around 8. I was in public school until 5th grade, 10/11 years old. That’s when my mom pulled me out of public school and homeschooled me. I was homeschooled for two more years after that then I graduated highschool at 13. I went to college for a total of three years, one at my local community College and two at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. I was originally a major in Chemistry because I wanted to be a doctor like my mom, but then I switched my major to Education because of my own journey. I decided then that I wanted to go to law school to allow other students to build their path too, like I got the opportunity to. I graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Education when I was 16 in 2019. I started law school at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas, Texas when I was 16. I graduated this year (May, 2022) with my JD and I am now 19. I want to go into Educational Policy and change the way our public system is structured to be more inclusive and aware.
Q: You have such an inspiring story…would you say homeschooling has played a major role in your academic choices?
A: Absolutely. It gave me the freedom to be myself. I was able to go at the pace I needed to go at in order to stay engaged and invest myself. I was able to pour into my strengths and develop my weaknesses in a tailored curriculum. Which is why when I finished a subject, for example Geography, I was able to move on right away and that saved me years of tediously studying material I already knew. It’s like a movie you have already seen but can’t skip, you don’t even see the value in paying attention or even showing up. My journey allowed me to go at my own rate so there was never any rush. And around half way through my undergraduate degree there was a lot of thought and reflection on exactly that, my educational journey.
I thought about how fortunate I was to have parents who didn’t take “No” for an answer and answered for themselves, parents who knew they could do that and had the means to, and I really thrived. But had they not known or been able to I should still be where I am at; a 19 year old lawyer, but we all know I would not be. So I switched my major to Education and changed my beacon to law school to write policies that change the public school system and allow students to thrive in their own ways.
Q: Sounds great, so at what point did you realize that studying law was a thing for you?
A: Around halfway through my undergraduate degree I switched my major to education and decided I wanted to go to law school. I decided I wanted to go to law school because of a lot of reflection on my educational journey. I was very fortunate to have parents who knew of and could create the environment they did for me, the environment I needed, as I learned. But how many students can’t or don’t get that? We all know they can’t thrive to their fullest potential in public school, we all know I wouldn’t be a 19 year old lawyer if I went to public school, especially girls and POC. I realized I wanted to go to law school to write educational policy redoing our public school system to increase diversity, truth, and opportunity for our students to really thrive.
Q: That’s amazing…it must be somewhat difficult for a young black girl to be doing great in a community of white folks. Tell me about your experiences as far as racist comments are concerned.
A: I have faced racism since I was a little girl. I was cast as the “slave girl” in my school play when I was in 5th grade. My parents were so mad the whole play got changed, but still. Other students told me “they would own me” when we studied slavery in 5th grade. Face recognition for proctored testing has failed to work. Scans at the airport and other kids not wanting to play. Teachers are not seeing me as gifted but instead as a student who needs to be held back. A college counselor saying I cant handle as many classes as or the classes I was taking. Law school professors saying I lack the ability to learn or that she will fail me. Another law school professor saying they don’t see hair discrimination as racism.
I have faced a lot as any Black girl will tell you. Dress codes against our hair and body, adultification, hupersecualization, lack of representation in our country, generally, much less quality representation (from STEM to movies this is true), but that is exactly why we need to navigate white spaces and bring our voices to the discussion. Vote in every election. Share and communicate with our villages and communities. Otherwise these microaggressions, this racism, and this ignorance continue. How do you diversify a community of white folks if no person of color enters that space?
Q: You’ve demonstrated a high level of grandeur and that’s the spirit….tell me how you felt when you graduated as the youngest law student of color in the whole of US…you made history
A: When I graduated from law school I felt so much pride and honor. I’ve made my ancestors, my family, my friends, and those who come after me proud. I can’t wait until the day my record is broken by the next generation. Graduating as the youngest woman, as well as the youngest Black person, was never the goal but I am so glad I could blaze my own trail. And hopefully my light reaches others and shows them not only that shooting stars exist, but also how to blaze their own trail too. Not necessarily how to follow my trail but how to be a shooting star in their own way on their own route.
Q: Fantastic, you had nine law schools ready to admit you…what went into your choice for SMU Dedman law school?
A: It was multiple things, first being the incredibly talented faculty. Second being the warm and welcoming student body. Third being the unique classes that they offered. When you have a smart passionate faculty, it helps the students learn. Being so young, I definitely wanted a student body that would include me in study groups and events. The classes they provided were right in line with my interests and passions.
Q: Those are very thoughtful considerations to inform your decision back then…You’ve been on many boards and associations, how have these associations impacted your journey so far?
A: All of the associations I’ve been a part of have helped me in finding my voice, and have been major parts of my village as I’ve made my own path in life.
Q: Where should we see Haley Taylor Schlitz in say the next 5 years?
A: In the next 5 years, I will hopefully be serving as an elected official so I can write education policy to better our education system
Q: What sort of advice would you give to women of color at your age who may want to dump their dreams/ want to give up?
A: I would tell them that it’s more than okay to change your mind and change the direction of your path, but you have to keep building no matter what because you will never “find” yourself.
Q: That’s awesome, I wish you all the best, Haley. Your last words…
A: Thank you so much! Just remember that you want to leave the world better than you found it! Happen to life, don’t let life just happen to you.