Blugolds learn the power of perception

UW-Eau Claire alumni educates students on how to overcome bias

Former+Blugold+Dennis+Beale+spoke+in+front+of+students+at+Schneider+Hall+on+Monday.

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

Former Blugold Dennis Beale spoke in front of students at Schneider Hall on Monday.

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A man walked into a lecture hall full of students wearing a hoodie.

“How do you see me?” he asked the crowd.

Students began blurting out words like “unprofessional” and “lazy.” Next, he took off his hoodie to reveal a button-up shirt and a bow-tie.

“How do you see me now?” he asked again.

Students raised their hands and said he looks “professional” and “put-together.”

This, he said, is the power of perception.

On Monday, Oct. 15, in Schneider Hall, Dennis Beale, Associate Student Coordinator for Blugold Beginnings and UW-Eau Claire alumnus, held a presentation focusing on bias and the power of perception at an event sponsored by the Zeta Omicron chapter of Beta Alpha Psi — the accounting, finance and information systems honor society on campus.  

A native of the Chicago area, Beale explained he had a hard time being perceived in a positive light while he was growing up. Growing up in the inner-city as a black man, Beale said he was introduced to bias at a young age.

“I never saw myself working in higher education,” Beale said. “It took me a long time to get other people to see me as a professional.”

After introducing himself, Beale began to put up pictures of various individuals on the screen and asked students to shout out the first word that came to mind when viewing the anonymous photograph.

The first picture was of a Hispanic man. Immediately, students began using words like “drug dealer,” “cartel” and “thug” to describe him. One picture showed an African-American man wearing gold chains and holding up what seemed to be a gang sign. Students said he looked “like a drug addict,” “dangerous” and called him a “gang banger.” The very last picture he showed was of a young, white couple with a baby. Students described them as “stable” and “safe.”

Then, Beale went through the slideshow again. This time, he told the story of each person in the pictures. The man students had described as a “thug” was actually a loving father of two; the man students thought might have been a member of a drug cartel was actually a successful entrepreneur and the mother of the baby in the last photo was an ex-drug addict.

After allowing students to reflect on their perceptions, Beale read a quote from motivational speaker Wayne Dyer:

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change.”

After a good friend was shot and killed in Chicago, Beale said he made it his mission to change how people perceive black men. His presentation, he explained, was an effort to remind people not to judge a book by its cover.

“I learned a lot about how I perceive different people differently while putting this presentation together,” Brandon Simonis, a fourth-year accounting and information systems student and president of Beta Alpha Psi, said. “Most of the people in our club are juniors and seniors about to go out into the real world, and I want them to have this experience to know that they can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Taylor Grimm, a fourth-year information systems student and member of Beta Alpha Psi, said she hopes people will understand the power of perception after attending this event.

“We’re in a time right now in the country where I think it’s important,” Grimm said. “With so much racism going on, I think it’s important to remember to get to know someone’s story before judging them. Later on in life, they may help you go somewhere you never expected to go.”

Everyone has a story, Beale said as he wrapped up his presentation. It’s easy to judge someone right away, he explained, but why do that when one could just get to know them?

Anderson can be reached at [email protected]