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‘I Paved My Own Damn Way’: Black Professor Becomes the First to Earn Tenure at Oldest College In Louisiana

Dr. Andia Augustin-Billy made history on Nov. 4, 2021, when she became the first Black professor to earn tenure at Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“Centenary and other predominantly white institutions need to reckon with their statements of diversity,” Augustin-Billy said.

Dr. Augustin-Billy teaches French and Francophone studies at the small liberal arts college, which has a student population of 523 with 18 percent identifying as Black or multiracial.

Centenary College was founded in 1825 and is the oldest college in Louisiana and the 43rd oldest in the country. In its 196-year history, Augustin-Billy has become the first Black tenured professor at the school, and among the school’s 81 full-time and part-time professors, only three of them identify as Black.

To be eligible for tenure, professors must be at the school for at least six years. Once tenured, professors have more job security and earn more money compared to being an adjunct professor who operates on contract terms and tend to earn less money.

According to a 2018 American Association of University Professors survey, only 6 percent of full-time faculty at colleges and universities in the U.S. are Black.   

“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,” said Dr. Augustin-Billy of her promotion.

Centenary College President Dr. Christopher Holoman says the school is doing more to improve recruitment and retention efforts for professors of color. “I asked the diversity committee to review all of our policies and procedures to make sure there was not implicit bias,” said Holoman, who also praised the recent hire of a new dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Augustin-Billy is not only marking her promotion to press Centenary College leaders to do a better job at diversity and inclusion, but she is also more intentional about adding Black and brown voices to the education curriculum.

She says many of her freshman students are unfamiliar with novelists like James Baldwin and Richard Wright and entertainer and activist Josephine Baker, all of whom ventured to Paris to avoid American racism.

“We asked them, when you guys were in high school, did you read about these narratives and they’re like, never, and you can see how they are transformed,” she said.

“For the Black students, they see sort of a validation, their experiences are being validated, their experiences are coming from the margins to the center. For the white students, they are also grappling with the silence and the erasure and they’re also grappling with the issues Richard Wright was writing about in the 1950s and how it’s still an issue today,” Augustin-Billy said.

During her speech at the ceremony formally recognizing her tenured status, Augustin-Billy says she wanted to pay homage to Black professors who earned tenure before her time.

“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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