Shujuana Dennard wanted to be a law enforcement officer her entire life. Ever since she was a child, she felt a calling to help others and keep people safe.
Now, at 28 years of age, she has become the first woman police chief and director of campus security in the history of Talladega College.
“Growing up I was fascinated with becoming a law enforcement officer,” Dennard said. “The officers I looked up to growing up are now my mentors.”
A native of Anniston and an alum of Jacksonville State University, Dennard has been familiar with Central Alabama her entire life. She spent four years with the Birmingham Police Department where she worked with the unit dedicated to narcotics crimes and also with the Alabama ABC Board.
While these years helped mold her into the officer she is today, Dennard says it was her early years that motivated her to give back to the community, especially to students at Talladega.
Dennard comes from a single-parent household, where her mother at one point worked three jobs to support the family. Because of this, she not only relates to Talladega students with single-parent homes, but goes out of her way to support them. In her mind, support with mental health is just as important as support for their physical health.
“Some students come from single-parent homes like I did. Some students don’t know how to come back to college after their parents get divorced. That is when depression sets in,” Dennard said.
In her new role as police chief and director of campus security, she is now responsible for the safety and security of all students and staff on campus, as well as protection of facilities and property. Additionally, she will be responsible for traffic management, loss prevention, emergency management as well as other responsibilities not listed in the job description.
Because of her experiences in law enforcement, where she has seen gun violence, domestic disputes and drug crimes, Dennard has a perspective on life she takes with her every day to work.
“If you can just affect one person, you’ve done right. If you can change one person’s mind, you’ve done a good job. You can’t change everyone,” Dennard said.
Dennard’s commitment to the community does not stop on the edge of the campus border. Dennard says she is always ready to pitch in and help out officers off campus. This is not only because a student might be living off campus in need of assistance, but also because she wants to show the city of Talladega, not just the college, that she is there for them.
To further amplify her commitment to community growth, Dennard was a key member in Birmingham Equally United during her time with the BPD. The organization is committed toward bridging the gap between the community and police officers. Community leaders and leaders from police forces are both directly involved in the group.
During Dennard’s time with Birmingham Equally United, she worked with the community on information-gathering strategies that involve the community pitching in to help stop the “neighborhood drug dealer.” Dennard was part of an exercise that saw members of the community put in different police response scenarios to see how they would react.
Someone who is always supportive of others, Dennard has also received support, especially since her appointment to the position.
According to her, multiple people, especially women, have reached out to congratulate her. This includes another female campus police chief from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dennard says that because of this, she feels she has made an impact.
“I am very proud, but I am not complacent. There is always room to improve,” Dennard said.
Additionally, Talladega College President Dr. Billy Hawkins has provided support as well, saying in a news release that “she earned this position because of her exceptional knowledge, training, experience and skills.”
However, what really makes Dennard smile is seeing former students go on to careers in law enforcement. As someone who looks up to her mentors, she hopes her former students look up to her as well. She says that she receives tons of thanks from these former students who choose a career in law enforcement.
Her success in student support comes from her commitment to the students themselves. Now, in her role as police chief for the college, that relationship is important now more than ever.
“College is a place where people find out who they are,” Dennard said. “Sometimes their voices aren’t heard. I try to build rapport with the students.”