Making the world a better place: alumni celebrated at Beloiter Days
On a beautiful, unseasonably warm weekend in late September, the Beloit College Alumni Association honored five remarkable members of the college community in a ceremony in Eaton Chapel as part of the Beloiter Days festivities.
Young Alumni Award
As a student at Beloit, Kidan Araya was a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a member of Kappa Delta sorority and Black Students United. She served as an Upward Bound and Help Yourself tutor, and as President of Women’s Health Club. She was a Charles Winter Wood Scholar, a Weissberg Scholar, and earned the Weissberg Human Rights Fellowship in 2013. She studied international development, politics, and forest policy in Cameroon in Central Africa. After graduating, she earned a Master of Arts in Geography at the University of Washington and received a fellowship to study in Sweden.
“Kidan has become a world leader in her field,” says Beloit professor and mentor Pablo Toral. “She is immensely generous, and credits Beloit College for allowing her to build her education on her personal passion, and for the know-how that has helped her to excel.”
Alphonse (Al) A. Gerhardstein’73, Distinguished Service Citation
After graduating from Beloit College, Al Gerhardstein attended law school at New York University, and went on to become a civil rights attorney and advocate for civil rights in housing and employment, reproductive health, for prisoners, victims of police misconduct, and the LGBTQ community.
Al founded the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which has pursued criminal justice reforms for 25 years. He has practiced law for over 46 years, litigating “causes, not cases,” and is perhaps best known for representing Jim Obergefell in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, that established same-sex marriage as a constitutional right in all 50 states. That journey is traced in the book, Love Wins, and also featured in the Netflix documentary, “Amend: The Fight for America,” hosted by Will Smith.
Al embraced campus life at Beloit, demonstrating early on his commitment to making the world a better place. He was a member of Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, won the White-Howells English prize in Prose and Poetry, participated in student government and The Round Table, and graduated cum laude with a degree in government and political science in 1973.
“People naturally turned to Al when there were issues on campus and things to be resolved. He was superb at helping people find common areas of agreement, without giving up his sense of justice,” recalls Al’s friend and Beloit classmate, Rabbi Marc Berkson’73. “And that has played out in what he has done professionally for many, many years. I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of this honor.”
Jessica Fox-Wilson’98, Distinguished Service Citation
During her student years, Jessica Fox-Wilson was a creative writing and education major, a resident assistant, a member of the Womyn’s Center (now Feminist Collective), and co-created Syzygy, a pop-up poetry performance troupe. She went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from Hamline University, returned to Beloit as a residential life coordinator, and later became career services director.
“Jessica connects with students in a deep way by meeting them where they are and pointing them in the direction they want to go,” says sociology professor Kate Linnenberg. “She is knowledgeable about what alumni are up to and is able to put our students into contact with people who can help them on their path.” In 2021, she helped create the Career Accelerator, a winter break program where students plan for their careers and meet alumni and future mentors.
Jessica juggles her campus roles with community service, as Beloit College’s former representative at the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce board and current representative with the Downtown Beloit Association, as a volunteer in the mock interview program at Beloit Memorial High School, and with Beloit’s chapter of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. She keeps up with many of her mentees well past their Beloit years. One of them, Nadir Carlson’16, participated in a Career Accelerator panel earlier this year and expressed gratitude for his mentor’s recognition.
“She’s impacted people in ways that I don’t think they always realize because she does stuff behind the scenes and doesn’t toot her own horn,” he said.
Dawn Sturdevant Baum’98, Distinguished Service Citation
The late Dawn Sturdevant Baum had a gift for bringing out the best in people. An enrolled member of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Mole Lake Band of Ojibwe, she was creative and artistic, and could often be found painting, beading, and basket-weaving. She enjoyed being in and around water throughout her life, and was an active member of the Beloit swim team.
After earning a law degree at the University of Wisconsin, Dawn worked with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court in Arizona, and as a legal assistant to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. She spent 12 years in Washington D. C., working for the Native American Rights Fund, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Indian Gaming Commission, and the Department of Justice in the Office of Tribal Justice.
In 2017, she moved to California, where she served as counsel for the Yurok Tribe, president of the Native American Bar Association, and as a member of the American Bar Association’s Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity. She worked to improve education for disenfranchised youth, and became one of the nation’s leading lawyers on issues of concern to Indigenous nations. A highly regarded advocate for Indigenous peoples and climate issues, she accomplished transformational change for her people and the planet.
Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer during the pandemic amid isolation and uncertainty, yet maintained her incredible resilience and held onto a belief in hope and the possibility of joy. She passed away June 10, 2023, at 46. Respected and beloved throughout her life, her legacy lives on in the communities she served, and with her family, friends, and colleagues.
Susan Kasten, Honorary Alumna
When she joined Beloit in 2001, Susan Kasten, long-time editor of Beloit College Magazine, was intrigued by the college’s rich history and passionate community. Two decades later, after retiring in December, she was granted emerita status and is now an honorary alumna at the college she grew to love — and that loved her in return.
Susan graduated magna cum laude from the Rockford College honors program with a bachelor of arts degree in English. As Beloit’s college editor, she brought a special touch to the magazine, and the stories published in her issues informed and inspired alumni. She forged many friendships and working relationships with faculty, staff, and alumni over the years, perhaps most notably with Archivist Emeritus Fred Burwell’86, with whom she collaborated on countless college history-related projects.
“The magazine has had a few other strong editors over the years and Susan carried on that tradition while offering her own sensibilities,” Fred says. “Under Susan, the magazine struck the perfect balance between hard journalism and feature-style publicity. She wasn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues, but she also found plenty of space for entertainment and good fun.”
Over her more than 20 years at Beloit, Susan was known for engaging with the college community and for her kind and joyful spirit. “She’s passionately interested in people and their stories, often the unconventional and unusual,” Fred says.