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)

The Whole World Is Figuring This Out

Claudia Guzmán describes higher education professionals as stewards of the student experience, for both those currently enrolled and those in the future.

“I definitely believe the institution belongs to the students, and every year we have an entirely new dynamic and new group to serve as students graduate and arrive,” she says.

Guzmán recently relocated to Madison from Green Bay to serve as the new director of the UW–Madison Multicultural Student Center. Starting a new position in a new city while operating off a laptop in her house feels strange, but she’s ready to serve students in the best way possible.

“I think the whole world is figuring this out, and I believe students are the experts in what they want out of their own college experience,” Guzmán says. “I’m hoping to get some good feedback from students.”

Prior to joining UW–Madison, she worked as UW–Green Bay’s director of student life, helping to enhance the college experience for nearly 7,000 students. She knows what it’s like to be a student of color at a mostly white collegiate institution. After graduating from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee in 1998, she attended Wellesley College, an all-female liberal arts college in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

“I think my story is important,” Guzmán says. “I’m proud to be a brown woman that came up out of public schools. I am proud to say I came up in and navigated higher education institutions.”

She believes students do not always know how powerful their voices are. Students of color at predominantly white institutions have a lot in common with staff members of color. Students and staff members experience the same issues of marginalization, and her position affords her some privileges and the ability to advocate for students’ interests.

“I really see it as my job to have a voice that is strong, passionate, and articulate,” Guzmán says.

Before working in Green Bay, she served as the sociocultural program manager at UW–Milwaukee, where she expanded diverse programming and collaboration across the institution. Guzmán oversaw large-scale lectures and events featuring speakers such as Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza and former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who spoke about his Muslim identity.

She looks forward to engaging with and getting to know students at events on campus, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, student programming and events will require some changes to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

“The whole student experience is going to be completely different, and no one knows what to expect,” Guzmán says.

Multicultural Student Center staff have been working to make sure their programming is still responsive to student needs. Although the physical space will have only limited availability to students — no more than 20 students will be allowed in at a time — Guzmán still plans to be on site, because MSC’s reservation software can’t quite accommodate those limitations.

“In theory, as we’re figuring out this reservation system, you can’t see if there’s any availability in these 20 spots,” she said.

MSC staff will rely on social media to get students connected, and they’re reaching out to various spaces that may accommodate students.

“It’s going to be challenging, and we’re going to be creative and flexible,” she says.