Photo of Deidre Dumas Labat
Deidre Dumas Labat (NC ’66, G *69)
A trailblazer in every sense of the word, Deidre Dumas Labat is not only the first Black graduate of Newcomb College, but also a celebrated scholar and administrator in higher education.
Labat’s experience as a student at Newcomb College is a reflection of the contemptible racism and prejudice of the Jim Crow South. In the fall of 1963, Labat was a first-year student at Xavier University of Louisiana, a prominent Historically Black University in New Orleans, when she learned that Tulane University, and subsequently Newcomb College, had integrated, creating an opportunity for her to enroll. Her undergraduate experience was marred not by only racism and hostility within the Tulane academic community, but also by the institutional and social challenges she faced. As Labat recounted during Tulane’s Conversations in Color event in 2019, she took an English class during her second year at Newcomb, and her professor consistently graded her work lower than the rest of the class. When Labat asked her professor how she could improve her grade, she was met with scorn.
“She said, ‘You knew before you came here that you couldn’t compete,’” Labat recalled. “‘You knew you couldn’t handle these girls here.’”
Despite constant ostracization and demoralization, Labat graduated from Newcomb College in 1966, earning a Bachelor of Science in biology. She went on to graduate from Tulane again in 1969 with a Master of Science degree in biology. Labat also holds a Ph. D. from the Louisiana State University Medical Center.
Labat’s story does not end with the harsh experiences she faced during her time at Newcomb College. She went on to become a celebrated faculty member in the biology department at Xavier University, eventually being appointed Senior Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs of the institution before her retirement.
In 2019, Labat, alongside Mr. Reynold T. Décou (A&S ’67, *79), was honored by Tulane as a Tulane Trailblazer, and as a result, Décou-Labat Residences were named and dedicated for the pair as the first African-American undergraduates to earn degrees from Newcomb College and Tulane University