Tulane University Honors Its First African American Students

In 1966 and 1967, Deidre Dumas Labat and Reynold T. Décou became the first African American undergraduates to earn degrees from Newcomb College and Tulane University, respectively. Newcomb College is the home of the university’s undergraduate programs. Recently, these alumni were recognized with the naming of the buildings formerly known as Willow Residences in their honor.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony dedicating the Décou-Labat Residences, the two alumni held a panel discussion about their time at Tulane. Labat reported that a professor gave her lower grades than her classmates because of the color of her skin. Décou remembered residents knocking on his dormitory room door and calling him racial slurs and even leaving bags filled with human excrement at his door. After seeing a burning cross outside his room accompanied by a sign telling him to leave, he decided to live off campus.

Labat earned her bachelor’s degree in biology, and in 1969, she earned her master’s degree in biology. She went on to have a successful career in higher education, including serving as the senior vice president for academic affairs at Xavier University of Louisiana. Décou, a two-time graduate from Tulane’s School of Arts and Sciences, earned his bachelor of science degree in 1967 and a bachelor’s degree in earth sciences in 1979. After graduation, Décou enjoyed a 40-year career as a petroleum geologist.

“I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been – and how brave these two heroes were – to enroll in a newly-integrated campus,” Tulane President Mike Fitts said. “Their courage and sacrifice are an inspiration to the entire Tulane community.”

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