After 196 years, Centenary College grants tenure to a Black professor

Louisiana

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Louisiana’s oldest college is celebrating its first lifetime appointment to a Black faculty member, and discussing why this racial milestone took nearly two centuries to accomplish.

“I think that’s the million-dollar question. It’s something I know will be highlighted and discussed” at Centenary College of Louisiana’s event Thursday honoring the now-tenured associate professor Andia Augustin-Billy, college spokeswoman Kate Pedrotty said.

Racism is why this took 196 years, said school archivist Scott Brown. “Structural and institutional and systemic racism has been present ever since the college was founded, largely by enslavers,” he said.

This history is undeniable, but it’s also in the past, said Christopher Holoman, president of the Methodist-affiliated college in Shreveport.

“Any institution that is as old as Centenary, particularly one in the South, must take account of the role that racism played in its history,” Holoman said. “As we move forward, Centenary is committed to full inclusion of all members of our community and working towards a just society.”

Associate professor Andia Augustin-Billy poses with students at the MLK Service Day event on Jan. 20, 2019 in Shreveport, La. (Sherry Heflin/Centenary College of Louisiana via AP)

Augustin-Billy, known on campus as “Dr. A-B,” pronounced “ah-bay,” is an award-winning teacher of French and Francophone Studies who leads Centenary students on trips to Paris and Haiti, where she grew up as the daughter of missionaries.

She also teaches African and Caribbean literature and postcolonial, women, gender and sexuality studies to a student body described as 18% Black or Black and another race. That’s slightly ahead of the national percentage of college-aged Blacks: 16.7% of U.S. residents age 18 through 24 in 2018, according to U.S. Census figures.

Zuri Jenkins, a Black senior majoring in international business, French and English who serves with Brown on the Diversity Committee, said she was both surprised and unsurprised when she was awarded tenure in February.

Surprised because she’s seen the school pushing for diversity — but then there’s Centenary’s history: It was not only built on slavery but admitted only white men for years thereafter, Jenkins said.

Centenary also was among the last in Louisiana to integrate, admitting its first Black students in 1966. Louisiana State University admitted its first black law student in 1950 and its first African American undergraduate in 1953. Louisiana Tech integrated in 1965 and Louisiana College, a small Baptist school, in 1967.

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