When Dennis Beale Jr. began attending UW-Eau Claire, he looked around and rarely found someone who looked like him. If he did, they barely spoke to him or made eye contact, let alone understood what it was like to grow up in inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago.
“When I first started, it was maybe me and one other African-American male,” Beale said. “I didn’t see a lot of diversity around campus.”
But he was determined to change that. Beale went on to graduate from UW-Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2012, then a master’s in higher education professional development in May 2015.
Now, Beale serves as assistant director of the university’s Blugold Beginnings, a program that works to educate underrepresented, low-income or first generation students. He’s mentored hundreds of students and launched the university’s Black Male Empowerment student group on campus.
And on Friday, Beale will be honored for that work as one of three recipients of the UW System Board of Regents’ 2019 Diversity Awards.
“I always told myself that when I could get into a position to make a change, that I would,” Beale said. “It’s like I’m finally seeing the fruits of my labor from working here. ... It feels real good. I’m thankful every day working on campus and watching how with each year that goes by, UW-Eau Claire becomes more diverse, and getting to work with those students.”
According to a UW System news release, recipients of the award were selected based on the following criteria: Their contribution to equity and diversity and leading to positive institutional change; accountability demonstrated through routine assessment and feedback to promote progress in equity and diversity goals; intersections across multiple dimensions of diversity; and collaborations with other units and departments, as well as the community outside of the university.
Jodi Thesing-Ritter, executive director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the university and director of Blugold Beginnings, called Beale a “perfect candidate” for the award.
As a graduate student, Beale worked with student athletes of color, helping them develop their talents on the field and ensuring they had a strong community off the field. Beale also assisted with recruiting efforts at high schools in major cities, like his hometown of Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities area, to bring students of color to campus, then supported their success by creating mentoring programs and fostering their leadership skills.
Beale continued to contribute to the university after graduating, starting his career as student services coordinator, and now assistant director of Blugold Beginnings.
“Dennis does anything in his power to make his students successful,” Thesing-Ritter said. “He’s been instrumental to helping us build a strong program for our students of color at UW-Eau Claire, and to enhance our retention and recruitment efforts as a campus. ... Even as a young employee who hasn’t worked here long, he’s made a significant impact.”
For Beale, what he’s most proud of is the work he’s done with Black Male Empowerment, a student group he started in February 2017. The group offers community and connection with fellow black men on campus, as well as opportunities for professional and leadership development.
“In society, African-American males can be labeled with these negative statistics. And for me, I didn’t want these men to experience that coming to Eau Claire,” Beale said. “I’m using my experiences to help them understand the opportunities they should take advantage of.”
Even more exciting, Beale said, was when he was able to take 15 students from the group to England and France, where they participated in faculty-student research and were able to get the study abroad experience.
“As a student of color, you don’t always get to look forward to studying abroad,” Beale said. “So giving these men opportunities like this ... that’s something that I felt was very important and makes this experience everything to me.”
Lewis Balom, a senior at UW-Eau Claire who serves as a social media representative with the Black Male Empowerment group, said Beale’s award doesn’t come as a surprise to him.
Balom first met Beale when he started at UW-Eau Claire and joined the football team. Since then, he’s found Beale to be a mentor who he and other students of color can always turn to.
“We never feel like we’re pestering him or putting too much stuff on him. It’s not like a job (to him); it’s a family,” said Balom, who hails from Chicago. “A lot of us, we never had a legit male to look up to. Dennis has the biggest impact in my life because he’s giving me the guidelines to become a man. ... He gives you everything without expecting anything from you.”