Shiloah Coley ’20 has a hard time imagining what her time at the university would have been like without the Multicultural Student Center (MSC).
“For Black students and other students of color, it can be really isolating on campus, especially if you might be coming from a background that’s much more diverse,” says Coley, who interned at the center for three years. “So having a network of people to support you and nurture you can be really vital. … The MSC played a really crucial role in my ability to blossom on this campus.”
Since the center was founded in 1988, it has become an integral part of programming for students of color, says interim director Ida Balderrama-Trudell MS’09. “The MSC staff provides experiences and community that contribute significantly to a sense of belonging for students of color and assists in helping them have their unique Wisconsin experience,” she adds.
The MSC, which is located in the Red Gym, provides a home for the Black, Latinx, and APIDA (Asian, Pacific Islanders, and Desi American) cultural centers and celebrates heritage months for those groups, as well as planning other events. When people hear the words multicultural student center, says Balderrama-Trudell, most of them think of a cultural center space. “And while we are that,” she says, “[we focus on] much more than that by providing social-justice education and leadership and involvement both for students internally and for the larger campus as well.”
The MSC hosts an annual social-justice leadership retreat, as well as brown bags, workshops, and panels throughout the year. It also offers leadership training to its 65 affiliated student organizations, including groups such as the Wisconsin Black Student Union, the Multicultural Greek Council, and the Filipino American Student Organization. Currently, the center is partnering with University Health Services to provide support spaces for students of color in response to the local and national climate and Black Lives Matter movement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the MSC to shift a lot of its programming online, and staff members have relied on social media to promote initiatives, highlight relevant events in the Madison community, and remind students to take care of themselves during troubled times. At press time, Balderrama-Trudell expected that the MSC would hold its annual welcome and orientation events for students of color this fall, along with celebrating Latinx Heritage Month in mid-September, in a format that allows for COVID-19 safety measures.
Whether the center offers in-person or virtual experiences, there’s little doubt that it will continue to change students’ lives. As Michael Penn II ’15 wrote in a Facebook review in 2017, “I’m almost two years out of school, and I’m still welcomed whenever I’m back around. The [MSC] is a safe haven. I’m forever grateful for it.”