Louisiana’s oldest college has offered tenure to its first Black professor after nearly two centuries since its founding. On Monday, Centenary College celebrated the lifetime appointment of associate professor Dr. Andia Augustin-Billy in a ceremony that acknowledged the school’s long racist history while making a commitment to change, Time magazine reports.
“Structural and institutional and systemic racism has been present ever since the college was founded, largely by enslavers,” school archivist Chris Brown said.
Augustin-Billy is a French and Francophone Studies professor at the college who also teaches African and Caribbean literature and postcolonial, women, gender and sexuality studies. She’s led students on multiple trips to Haiti and Paris and grew up in the latter of the two.
Centenary College president Christopher Holoman recognizes that “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.” He adds that the university is at a place where it’s looking to create a new legacy that reflects diversity and racial tolerance.
“As we move forward, Centenary is committed to full inclusion of all members of our community and working towards a just society,” he said.
According to Time Magazine, 18% of the school’s student body is made up of Black students, which is slightly higher than the national average of college-aged Black students.
“Centenary and other predominantly white institutions need to reckon with their statements of diversity,” Augustin-Billy said in her speech, per the Atlanta Black Star.
“We were not going to pretend we’ve tenured Black folks before, we are not going to pretend this is a normal occurrence like what happens for my white colleagues. We’re going to pause, we’re going to reflect, we’re going to interrogate, we’re going to be uncomfortable,” Augustin-Billy continued saying of her promotion.
“I came from a culture where you acknowledge the people who have gone before you. When I got tenure, the next day I called the archivist and asked them, will you please tell me how many have been before me because I want to acknowledge them and thank them for paving the way, except that I didn’t know I paved my own damn way,” she said.
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