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Claudia Guzmán

Students and employees at UW-Madison share their insights onto what being on campus during a pandemic is like.

John Allen
October 14, 2020

Claudia Guzmán, director of the Multicultural Student Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured in front of the Red Gym on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Claudia Guzmán arrived on campus at the most important — and most difficult — time for her job. She began her work as director of the UW’s Multicultural Student Center (MSC) in the summer of 2020, when coronavirus had shut down most in-person interaction on the UW–Madison campus and when the protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbury had increased calls for the UW to do more to address issues of diversity and inclusion on campus. Addressing those calls is a large part of her job — which she would begin with very little in-person interaction.

How often do you get to campus this semester?

At this time, I am on campus four or five days per week. 

What is a typical day like for you right now?

I’m currently working out of my office in the Red Gym because I find myself more focused and productive in that space, where I can spread things out and use my whiteboard, bulletin board, and giant Post-it notes. (I’m a very visual and tactile thinker.) Since we are currently closed, I am the only one here, which is also conducive to the kind of big-picture thinking and long-term planning I am facilitating with my team. However, it’s also really difficult to cultivate connections with folks — staff and students alike — in a primarily virtual environment. I’m probably spending about 50 percent of my week in online video meetings, but it’s just not the same as meeting and getting to know people in person. You lose a lot of the organic, informal and spontaneous connection that is possible in real life.

How did the UW conduct your orientation or onboarding?

Online. I attended the Virtual New Employee Orientation and have been provided documents with checklists and links to resources and trainings by my supervisor. Again, the information is useful, but there is so much lost in the absence of community. I would have loved to have met my fellow new employees at VNEO.

This is a time when diversity and inclusiveness are particularly prominent topics. And yet, I suspect your work is complicated by COVID restrictions. Have you had to postpone any of your goals due to the pandemic?

The MSC has to remain agile and innovative in our efforts to serve students during the pandemic. We were open as a reservations-based study space for the first two weeks of the school year. Our programming has been designed primarily for virtual delivery, with some hybrid components that have had to be postponed. We continue to solicit student feedback and experiment with technology to identify effective tools and strategies for building community online.

Do you have much face-to-face interaction with students or fellow staffers, or is it all virtual? What tools do you use for virtual interaction?

All virtual. Our staff uses Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WhatsApp to communicate internally. We have used those tools, along with BoothCentral, StreamYard, Instagram Live, and more, to communicate with students. 

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