Honoring Tulane Trailblazers

October 14, 2019

Dear Tulane Community:

Now is the moment.

We are launching a long-term effort to honor the lasting impact that individuals from diverse backgrounds have made at Tulane. We want Tulane to be an institution reflective of the world we live in and one in which all members of our community feel equally welcomed, supported and at home. Last spring semester, you may recall I announced that Tulane would be naming a residence hall, a lectureship, a center, and its space, and a professorship in honor of several diverse members of our community. As part of our ongoing effort, each of the schools and several departments are also working on this initiative. We are thrilled to announce details on some of the celebrations below. In addition, you will find new recognitions that celebrate the many accomplished Tulane Trailblazers who have made our university a more inclusive and diverse academic community:

Stephen A. Martin Scholars Award

In honor of the first African-American student-athlete to officially compete within the Southeastern Conference – Stephen Martin, Sr. – the Department of Athletics is creating The Stephen Martin Scholars Award. Two Tulane University student-athletes will be selected annually as recipients of the award. Among many other qualities, the student-athletes will exude high character and strong leadership skills while being academically driven and civic-minded. Mr. Martin received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Tulane in 1968 and 1973, respectively. Tulane will honor Mr. Martin and introduce the inaugural awardees at an on-field ceremony with his family at Yulman Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, during the Tulane vs. University of Connecticut football game.

Bobby Yan Lectureship in Media and Social Change

On Nov. 6, the School of Liberal Arts will host the inaugural Bobby Yan Lecture in Media and Social Change at 6 p.m. in the Kendall Cram Room on the second floor of the LBC. Mr. Yan, a 1995 Tulane graduate, is a six-time Emmy Award winner who founded Tulane's Asian American Student Union. The first Bobby Yan Lecture speaker will be Christine Vachon, producer of the film Boys Don't Cry, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Reynold T. Décou and Dr. Deidre Dumas Labat: Décou-Labat Residences

On Saturday, Nov. 16, we will welcome two distinguished graduates back to campus: Dr. Deidre Dumas Labat ('66) and Reynold T. Décou, Sr., ('67), the first African-American undergraduates to earn degrees from Newcomb and Tulane Colleges, respectively. Dr. Labat went on to have a distinguished career in academia at Xavier University of Louisiana; and, Mr. Décou had an illustrious career as a petroleum geologist at a number of leading energy companies. These pioneers’ names will be enshrined on campus as we officially name the former Willow Residences in their honor: "The Décou-Labat Residences." In addition, we have commissioned portraits of Dr. Labat and Mr. Décou that will be installed in the Newcomb Institute and the School of Science and Engineering. Following a ribbon-cutting and portrait unveiling with family, friends and community leaders, we will host a public conversation with Dr. Labat and Mr. Décou at 2 p.m. in the Diboll Gallery on the third floor of The Commons.

The Lisa P. Jackson Professional Achievement Award

At the Tulane Alumni Association Annual Gala on April 4, 2020, the Office of Alumni Affairs will debut a new name for its award for alumni professional achievement: the Lisa P. Jackson Professional Achievement Award. Ms. Jackson, a 1983 graduate of Tulane, is the vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple. She was also the first African-American to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a post she held from 2008 to 2012. Ms. Jackson is a member of the Tulane Board of Administrators as well as the Board of Advisors for the School of Science and Engineering.

Carolyn P. Barber-Pierre Center for Intercultural Life

We did not have to look far to find our next Tulane Trailblazer to honor. The incomparable Carolyn Barber-Pierre has been working at Tulane for the last three decades to advance our efforts toward greater inclusion, equality and justice. Last spring, we renamed the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Religious Life at Tulane, and the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity as The Carolyn Barber-Pierre Center for Intercultural Life. This coming spring, once construction is complete, the center will move into a new and larger facility in the Richardson Building, and that space will also be named in Carolyn's honor.

Dr. Elias Soulieman Hanna

The School of Medicine will establish the Elias S. Hanna Prize for Medicine, which will be awarded to students, residents, faculty or alumni of the School of Medicine for international humanitarian efforts. Dr. Hanna emigrated to the U.S. from Syria to attend college and the Tulane Medical School, graduating in 1963. Now retired, Dr. Hanna served as a world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon and a member of both the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Hanna's humanitarian work is as distinguished as his surgical achievements. Over the course of his career, he made 48 medical trips to 28 countries, including Sri Lanka, China and India, where he taught thoracic surgery techniques. Dr. Hanna is also a former member of the Tulane Board of Administrators.  

Gloria Bryant Banks, Pearlie Hardin Elloie, Marilyn S. Piper (Riley) Mural

The heart and soul of the Tulane School of Social Work is the third floor of 127 Elk Place on Tulane's downtown campus. This beautiful space houses the dean's office, as well as several classrooms and a multipurpose room. It will be named the "Trailblazers Floor" to recognize and celebrate the first African-American graduate students to earn degrees from the School of Social Work and among the first to graduate from Tulane University – Gloria Bryant Banks ('64), Pearlie Hardin Elloie ('65), and Marilyn S. Piper (Riley) ('64). The School of Social Work has commissioned renowned New Orleans artist Terrance Osborne to create an original artwork featuring Banks, Elloie, and Piper. A short documentary film, highlighting their careers in the field of social work, will accompany the painting. The mural and documentary film will be unveiled at a special ceremony in spring 2020.

Wayne J. Lee Scholarship & Portrait and Michael A. Starks & Janice M. Foster Portrait

Last February, the Tulane University Law School unveiled a portrait of the late Michael Starks ('68) and Janice Martin Foster ('70), the first two African-Americans to graduate from the law school. Michael Starks went on to become the first African-American lawyer in the New Orleans City Attorney's office and Janice Foster had a storied career at Jones Walker, LLP, one of New Orleans' most prominent law firms. The law school is also naming a scholarship in honor of alumnus Wayne Lee ('74), who followed closely in their footsteps and went on to become the first African-American president of the Louisiana State Bar Association. Mr. Lee, who joined Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann, L.L.C., after graduating from Tulane Law School, has become one of the most respected trial attorneys in the South. He is a longtime member of the Law School’s Dean's Advisory Board and an emeritus member of the Tulane Board of Administrators. This coming spring, the law school will unveil a portrait of Mr. Lee in Weinmann Hall.  

Luis Guillermo Solís

Born in Costa Rica, Mr. Solís attended Tulane University earning a masters in Latin American Studies in 1981. Upon completion of his studies at Tulane, he joined the National University of Costa Rica as a faculty member. Mr. Solís, who spent most of his career as an academic associated with the National University of Costa Rica and Florida International University, is more widely known as the 47th President of the Republic of Costa Rica, where he served from 2014 - 2018. President Solís will be recognized by the naming of a professorship in his honor.

More to Come

A number of other recognitions are in the planning stages within the School of Architecture, the A.B. Freeman School of Business, the School of Professional Advancement, the School of Science and Engineering and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. We look forward to sharing those details publicly soon.

These and other recognitions are permanent reminders of the debt we owe to the individuals who have inspired Tulane to become the university community it can and should be. These nominations and honors came about through the efforts of many Tulanians from various positions, backgrounds and roles within the university, including the Undergraduate Student Government. Honoring those who have built a better Tulane is also a vital part of the continued efforts of The Presidential Commission on Race and Tulane Values, which was founded in 2015 to make our university a more racially-diverse, inclusive and supportive community.

These naming recognitions would be pointless, however, if we did not rededicate ourselves to turning the legacy of our past into transformative action today. We are continually working to ensure our increasingly inclusive and diverse community honors the courage of these trailblazers and builds a better future.