Graduation Profile: Giving voice to others’ needs inspired by passion for literature

English major served as platform for Will Dale to discover passion for social justice

Will Dale with Jayhawk
Will Dale has been active in KU’s Center for Community Outreach as an opportunity to help others in his community. He served as executive director in his senior year. – photos courtesy Will Dale

Combining an English degree with social justice may not be a logical connection for everyone. For graduating senior Will Dale, he couldn’t imagine any other way.

“English was my first choice,” Dale said. “I’ve really fallen in love with reading literature and analyzing how literature has depth and meaning and can even effect policy changes.”

His dedication to social justice at KU has shaped his experience within and outside of the classroom. Perhaps most notably, Dale’s work with the Center for Community Outreach shows how his efforts have grown during the last four years. He began at the CCO as a CAAS (Concerned, Active, and Aware Students) program coordinator his freshman year, then became the development director his sophomore year. He had to take a break from the organization’s leadership in 2013 when he studied abroad in Costa Rica for a semester, but this year he has returned as the executive director of CCO.

“I always like to thank my mentors and I don’t think I could have been at the point I am today without people to really guide the way and introduce me to people I need to know. Those resources and those mentors are really what make the difference in the KU experience.”

As the executive director, Dale said he and the other executive staff have focused the CCO’s mission on empowering young people to be service leaders in the community.

“My classes in English have really affected how I approach that leadership position. I approach literature through this social justice lens and looking at identities. That study of identities really affects how I approach leadership within the CCO.”

Will Dale in Washington DC
Before college, Will Dale hadn’t had many chances to travel beyond his hometown of Topeka. At KU he’s been able to travel to Costa Rica, London and Washington, D.C. The experiences have opened his eyes to different cultures and attitudes.

Dale has expanded his social justice work beyond KU as well. He was a Kansas Health Foundation Undergraduate Fellow through the KU Workgroup for Community Health and Development. His sophomore year he worked with Communities in Schools of Kansas City, Kan., to help build a youth collaborative among six different churches and six different public schools. In that role he got firsthand community organizing experience, which he said was invaluable.

“For me, my study of literature and the classes that I’ve taken, directly overlap with my community work. I’m using the same lens, using the same mindset to do social justice and advocacy work.”

His focus on examining identities has been fueled by his diverse experience at KU. Before college, Dale hadn’t had many chances to travel beyond his hometown of Topeka. At KU he’s been able to travel to Costa Rica, London and Washington, D.C. These experiences have helped him explore different cultures and attitudes, see how education works in different communities and guide him to becoming more of a global citizen.

Dale wants to continue this kind of work after walking down the hill this May. His short-term plans are currently undetermined, but in the long run he said he wants to work in advocacy, community organizing and education reform work, similar to his experiences thus far.

Will Dale cleanup
Focusing on the CCO’s mission to empower students as service leaders in the community has been a priority for Will Dale set as executive director of the Center for Community Outreach.

“My big introduction to social justice was through education reform and looking at education inequities. When I got to KU I became really aware that education looks different in different parts of the country and different parts of the city. That really pushes me into social justice. I’m working for my own community, I’m working for my own schools, and everything is interconnected. So, I might not even be technically working in education, I might be working on health care access or registering people to vote, but it’s also directly tied to education reform and making sure our schools have the resources they need to succeed.”