Centenary College of Louisiana — the state’s oldest college — has finally granted a Black faculty member tenure in an effort to uphold its commitment to move past its racist history and work towards diversity.
The Shreveport-based institution awarded tenure to Andia Augustin-Billy, a celebrated French and Francophone Studies associate professor. However, with the announcement comes the question: why only now?
“I think that’s the million-dollar question. It’s something I know will be highlighted and discussed,” college’s spokesperson Kate Pedrotty said Thursday at an event honoring Augustin-Billy.
TIME reported that Augustin-Billy requested the college archivist to check if Centenary had ever awarded tenure to Black faculty before her, hoping to include them in her speech. But there was no one.
“I’m hoping this story will spark very needed dialogue about having Black scholars in academia. There has to be. There has to be,” Augustin-Billy said.
The Burden of Racism
Archivist Chris Brown reasoned that “structural and institutional and systemic racism” has been behind the lack of tenure awarded to faculty of color at Centenary. This is because the college was founded largely by slave owners.
While true, President Christopher Holoman said that the school does not agree nor identify with the culture of racism prevalent in its past.
“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. As we move forward, Centenary is committed to full inclusion of all members of our community and working towards a just society,” Holoman said.
According to Brown, the school’s first Black professor, Fred Bonner II, testified to Centenary’s efforts to unburden itself of its racist roots and effect positive change for its community. But he said that increased support for Black faculty is needed.
“From my own experience and the writing I’ve read and edited, for faculty of color one of the most important things is support” both on and off a predominantly white campus, “because you feel so isolated,” he said.