By Scott Procter
Making the campus of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire more diverse has long been a goal of the university. Expecting an influx of multicultural students without the faculty and resources to keep them here has made the task more difficult, according to one former student turned college mentor.
“As an African-American male at a predominantly white institution, there are certain things you don’t learn if you don’t have a role model right then and there,” Dennis Beale said. “All I’m doing is paying it forward.”
Beale, college success coordinator at UW-Eau Claire, recruits, mentors and is an advocate for a majority of the university’s multicultural population, specifically black students. Beale works exclusively with first-generation, multicultural and low-income college students. His help ranges from providing academic resources and part-time employment to preparing his students for life and being a mentor to many students who feel alone or marginalized at a predominately white institution.
Beale’s job goes beyond just being a contact or advisor to his students, his willingness to help this underrepresented demographic with anything at any time has helped coin his phrase, “Come see me.” This slogan can be heard from Beale himself just about every day or from any of his tightly-knit group of students who have clung to him since their arrival in Eau Claire.
Collis McCloud, a senior and president of Black Student Alliance, said Beale does a great job of providing him and others with connections of people to network with on a campus where he doesn’t always feel included.
“The culture shock here is minimizing our role on this campus as students,” McCloud said, adding that Beale gives him hope. “It takes a big weight off your shoulder knowing that you have people who are supporting you, and you’re more inclined to do more things on campus.”
Beale’s role in the life of his students has a lot do with his own experiences as a multicultural student on the campus of UW-Eau Claire. Being a man of color on campus once himself has helped him better understand some of the things that his students go through on a day-to-day basis.
“If they (Beale’s students) don’t feel like they have a voice at times, I am that voice for them and I take that with pride,” Beale said. “There are certain things that I experienced during my time here that I don’t want them to experience in a negative way.”
Most of Beale’s students are from inner-city Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. Each of those cities are diverse, urban and different from a city like Eau Claire that has a black population of 1.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Beale said the campus has to get better with accepting diversity. His students, and even Beale himself when he was a student, have faced struggles with adjusting to the atmosphere at UW-Eau Claire.
Being the only person of color in a class, having all eyes on them when they walk in a public place and being looked at differently, are issues multicultural students on campus and in the community face, Beale said. To counteract these hardships, Beale said he prides himself on support and being advocates for his students.
“As a black man on campus, I’d be helpless without Brother Beale,” said Jefferson Hall, a sophomore Business Management major. “After the university allowed bringing Trump to campus, my mind was lost with the administration that claims they’re here to help us. Out of all the individuals who claim they’re here for us students of diverse background, only Dennis came. His shift doesn’t end at 5 p.m., his shift will end when he witnesses all of his students succeed in life, degree or not.”
To further build on his relationship with students, Beale recently started a campus organization called Black Male Empowerment, or BME. Beale said it is a group that is geared towards helping African-American males become successful during their college journey and beyond and improving the image of African-American males on campus and in the community.
Darius Sims, a member of BME, said the group’s grade point average requirement keeps him on track.
“We have to hold a 2.5 (GPA), which currently isn’t the easiest thing for me right now,” Sims said. “That’s another thing that motivates me to not give up.”
Beale has been able to motivate his students make the minority a priority. The impact he has had on his students has not only aided their college careers, but perhaps even saved them.
“If Dennis was to leave Eau Claire, I wouldn’t be here,” Sims said of his highly-regarded mentor.
With the formation of BME and the constant mentorship of his students, Beale is making a difference.
“Changing lives is something I take pride in,” Beale said. “It’s not just a job for me.”