When Claudia Guzmán heard about an opening for the director position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Multicultural Student Center, she jumped at the opportunity. At the time, Guzmán was working as the director of student life at UW-Green Bay.
While Guzmán said the job gave her leadership, managerial and administrative skills, she missed aspects of her old job as UW-Milwaukee’s socio-cultural program coordinator, where she led diversity, inclusion and social justice programming for six and a half years.
“I felt it was all really good and important work, but my passion is to focus on the student experience of students of color, ” Guzmán said. “I was really excited when I saw the position open up because I felt like it was sort of the perfect culmination at this point of my personal and professional paths.”
Guzmán said the MSC director position allowed her to combine prior experience working directly with students with her leadership and administrative skillset.
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UW-Madison’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Identity and Inclusion Gabe Javier said the school was looking for a candidate with strong administrative skills, but also someone who would advocate for students and who students could connect with.
In addition, Guzmán’s prior experience within the UW System made her a strong candidate.
“She is experienced in socio-cultural and multicultural programming,” Javier said. “She is experienced with different types of institutions, but also has intimate knowledge of Wisconsin and the UW System having been at two other UW schools.”
Javier previously held the MSC director position and continues to maintain close ties with the MSC in his current position in the Office of Inclusion Education within Student Affairs.
Guzmán says her own experiences in college highlight the importance of the work performed by the MSC.
“I personally know what it is like to be a high-achieving student of color in a predominantly white institution that is competitive,” Guzmán said. “All the students of color who are here are remarkable, high-achieving, smart kids. I have the experience, skills, passion and desire to do what I can to ensure that students of color are having the best possible Wisconsin experience.”
During her undergraduate years at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Guzmán said she initially struggled with finding a sense of belonging on campus. Guzmán grew up attending public schools in Milwaukee, but at Wellesley College, most of her classmates hailed from private East Coast high schools.
On top of it all, Guzmán said she opted to live off-campus her freshman year, making it difficult to connect with a student body that lived almost exclusively in the residence halls.
Unlike many Latina identifying students at Wellesley College, Guzmán never learned Spanish growing up. Not being able to speak the language made her feel separate from them.
That all started to change as Guzmán got involved in Wellesley College’s Latina and Native American student organization.
“Mezcla was the Latina student org, and from the time even before I set foot on campus, the entire time that I was a student there, that was my home, that was my anchor, and that was where I felt like I belonged and could make sense of those different pieces of my identity where I felt so different from everybody else,” Guzmán said.
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Guzmán eventually worked her way up in the organization, becoming its president during her senior year.
This year marks an important stage in the MSC’s evolution as an organization, Guzmán said. A key aspect of the center was recently shifted to fall under student affairs.
“The MSC used to have three pillars — leadership development with multicultural student organizations, cultural programming and social justice,” Guzmán said. “The social justice pillar was moved out of the MSC portfolio and used as the foundation for establishing what is now called the Office of Inclusion Education.”
Javier said the change would elevate the work of Inclusion Education across student affairs. He added he expects the social justice team will continue to work closely with the MSC.
Another change the MSC is dealing with is figuring out how to continue operations through the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, the MSC’s headquarters is bustling with student activity. Now, all in-person interaction is severely limited.
Currently, MSC is only open for up to 20 students at a time for reservable study tables, Guzmán said.
One way the MSC is making its virtual programming more engaging is by adding an in-person component, Guzmán said. Possibilities for this sort of hybrid programming include having a virtual art class that involves picking up art supplies in person.
October will feature several events in honor of Latinx Heritage Month. The MSC partnered with UHS to host Tu Voz, a virtual conversation event about Latinx identity. Art kits were made available for pick up to the first 20 students who signed up.
“The MSC has had to be really nimble in how it offers its services, but I think the staff has been able to meet that challenge,” Javier said. “We still want to be one of those haven spaces for people of color.”