A few years ago, UW-Madison business student Nalah McWhorter made known her experience and ideas as a person of color at the UW School of Business. What came from that would eventually develop into a Multicultural Center for the school that has officially ramped up to full use, much to the joy of McWhorter and many others who pushed for its creation.
One of the voices in support of that decision was Natalie Arriaga de Brooks who knew the issues well from her role as an academic advisor in the school. Arriaga de Brooks recently took a position as the assistant director at the Multicultural Center, and was excited to share how lively the center has been and its importance to students.
“The center now exists on the second floor of Grainger Hall. It’s housed in a nice little space where it can probably house around 50 to 80 students for any given event. We have an open area, we have study spaces, a quiet area, and then we have staff offices,” Arriaga de Brooks told Madison365 of the space put together with help from Multicultural Center Director Arutro Tito Diaz and student support.
“We’ve seen the student diversity grow within UW-Madison, so have we seen within the School of Business. To be able to have this center to serve our traditionally and/or historically underrepresented student populations has really been a great stride to seem,” she said.
“As a first-generation Mexican-American, Chicana woman, who has gained a broad perspective of inclusiveness due to my experiences, I am looking forward to empowering students who are seeking avenues of growing themselves as young professionals through our various programs and collaborations,” she added in a follow-up email to Blueprint365.
Arriaga de Brooks reflected on how changes in campus climate after political and racial tensions came to the surface in 2020, helped elevate voices such as McWhorter’s to draw attention to the needs of students of color. The Multicultural Center so far has helped fill some of those gaps providing students a place to gather and network.
“We get catered specifically from local Madison community businesses to say, ‘Hey, come and grab some food, come and mingle, and we’ll have some music playing on in the background,’” said Arriaga de Brooks. “You see an extraordinary amount of students coming in. The line goes out the door. Not only to grab food, because that’s always a great pull, but also to connect with others that they maybe have not seen around the business school in other traditional spaces.”
Compounding the community aspect is exactly what the team at the new center hopes to instill. Arriaga de Brooks spoke to the idea that while affinity-based student organizations were meaningful and important to students, they often were less investment when students did not have to physically engage to participate. The Multicultural Center hopes to offer what is missing.
“For students to be able to take advantage of our services in addition to student organizations, tells me that they are taking advantage of their opportunities and they feel the approachability that our units are creating,” Arriaga de Brooks said. “Our unit specifically is really inviting students to be a part of that. Specifically, I’m thinking about the Multicultural Center hosting our undergrad-to-undergrad peer mentoring program. Then we have an undergrad-to-graduate student mentoring program. That enables some of this connectedness within students and enables students to learn from and with one another.”
What is certain from the work done so far by Arriaga de Brooks and the WSB Multicultural Center team, is that students are excited to get involved. An increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion for the school could not come soon enough as more students of color pursue interests in business fields.
Listening to and working with students continues to be the number one focus for Arriaga de Brooks and her colleagues as they look to provide students with resources, education, and opportunity. Arriaga de Brooks looked forward to what is yet to be accomplished through possible outreach into the Madison community, as well as building bridges at UW itself.
“Being a hub to not only support students, but also enhance that persistence and sense of belonging that I think is definitely needed within the School of Business, and other areas of campus,” said Arriaga de Brooks in closing. “I think a big thing that the director has done a phenomenal job of this past year is collaborating with our UW-Madison campus partners too … other folks around campus, as well as within the business school. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing to do a lot more collaborations.”