The story of Tulane University would not be complete without the contributions of the many important people from diverse backgrounds who have made a substantial and lasting impact on our campus.
In April 2019, President Mike Fitts announced an exciting new initiative to honor these Tulanians who led the way to the university becoming a more inclusive, diverse and welcoming community.
Gloria Bryant Banks (MSW ’64), Pearlie Hardin Elloie (MSW ’65) and Marilyn Piper (MSW ’64) were the first Black graduate students to earn degrees from the Tulane School of Social Work and among the first Black students to graduate from Tulane.
The School of Social Work commissioned New Orleans artist Terrance Osborne to paint a bold, large-scale artwork that tells the story of the first Black graduate students to earn degrees from their school. Osborne’s installation and a documentary film highlighting the women will be permanently housed in the School of Social Work.
Carolyn Barber-Pierre was honored as a campus pioneer for her three decades of dedication to the Tulane community. She has been instrumental in the university’s movement toward greater inclusion.
In 2019, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity, and the Office of Religious Life – as well as their new space in the renovated Richardson Building – were named the Carolyn Barber-Pierre Center for Intercultural Life.
Stephen Martin Sr. (A&S ’68, B ’73) became the first Black person to play a varsity sport in the Southeastern Conference when he took the field for the Tulane baseball team in 1966. Tulane Athletics established the Stephen Martin Scholars to honor his legacy. The annual award recognizes two Green Wave student-athletes who represent the highest level of character and leadership skills while being academically driven and civic-minded.
Recent School of Professional Advancement graduate Lilian Maldonado-Garcia is the first recipient of the Dr. Gisela Spieker Prize, presented annually to an outstanding first-generation college graduate.
Gisela Spieker, PhD (UC ’61), was a first-generation college graduate whose family immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of World War II.
Lisa Jackson (E ’83) is vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives for Apple. Previously she served as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama. This year, the Tulane Alumni Association recognized Jackson by naming its highest award for professional achievement in her honor.
The Lisa Jackson Professional Achievement Award will be given annually to alumni who have distinguished themselves through their professional accomplishments, and whose contributions honor the legacy of excellence at Tulane University.
Wayne Lee, a 1974 graduate and current member of the Board of Tulane, was the first Black president of the Louisiana State Bar Association. For his lifetime commitment to diversity in the law profession and to his peers, the law school has named a scholarship in honor of Lee and commissioned a portrait to hang in John Giffen Weinmann Hall.
Janice Foster (L ’70) was the first Black woman to graduate with a law degree from Tulane, two years after Michael Starks became the first Black student to earn his Juris Doctor. She was only the second Black law graduate. A full 50 years later, with a career that has been spent at Jones Walker practicing estate planning, estate administration and tax law, Foster’s legacy includes membership in the 2020 Class of the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame.
Michael Starks (L ’68), who broke barriers in 1968 to become Tulane Law’s first Black graduate, lived a remarkable life full of firsts, including becoming the first Black lawyer in the New Orleans City Attorney’s Office. To honor his life and contributions to the legal community in New Orleans, Tulane Law honored Starks with a portrait that hangs in the law school and launched the inaugural Black Law Alumni Reunion to celebrate the 50 years of Black law achievement since his graduation.
In 2019, the Board of Tulane approved naming Willow Residences, currently designated for the street on which they sit, in honor of the first Black undergraduates to earn degrees from Newcomb and Tulane, respectively: Deidre Dumas Labat (NC ’66, G ’69) and Reynold T. Décou (A&S ’67, ’79).
The university celebrated these new designations with special ceremonies and celebrations while recognizing many other great Tulanians, including Bobby Yan (TC ’95), a six-time Emmy Award winner and the founder of Tulane’s Asian American Student Union, for whom the Bobby Yan Lecture in Media and Social Change was named; and Luis Guillermo Solís (G ’81), for whom a professorship was named.
When Tulane began integrating in 1963, among the first students recruited by the university was Reynold T. Décou, Sr. (A&S ’67, A&S ’79).
A two-time graduate from Tulane’s School of Arts and Sciences, Décou earned his bachelor of science degree in 1967 and a bachelor’s degree in earth sciences in 1979. After graduation, he enjoyed a 40-year career as a petroleum geologist.
A portrait of Décou by artist Carl Joe Williams now resides on the sixth floor of the Boggs Center for Energy and Biotechnology, home of the School of Science and Engineering.
Dr. Deidre Dumas Labat (NC ’66, G ’69) was a first-year student at Xavier University when she learned that Tulane had integrated, creating an opportunity for her to enroll as the first Black student at Newcomb College in fall 1963. She majored in biology and eventually graduated with the Biology Prize.
Labat is professor emeritus, former senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs at Xavier University of Louisiana.
Tulane graduate and former President of Costa Rica Luis Guillermo Solís (G ’81) had a professorship named in his honor.
The Bobby Yan Lecture in Media and Social Change was named after the six-time Emmy Award winner and founder of Tulane’s Asian American Student Union. To date, the lectureship has featured award-winning filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo and film producer Christine Vachon.