The Wisconsin School of Business has launched a new Multicultural Center—encompassing two spaces in Grainger Hall designed to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the school.
The center is much more than physical spaces, however. It’s a student-led initiative designed to promote cultural change, the result of hard work from a school community that yearns to build WSB into a more inclusive and supportive place. It’s an investment in people and possibilities for those who are too often marginalized, and the continuation of a decade-plus of work that WSB has put in to make the business world more equitable.
The center’s mission is to support students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, particularly students of color, and provide them with opportunities for connection, collaboration, and belonging.
It launches with two mentoring programs established and several events in the works.
Led by students, built through collaboration
The idea for the center started with a petition written by student Nalah McWhorter (BBA ’22), president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union. She opened up about her experience as a person of color at the school and the redesign WSB needed to further include students of color.
The WSB community listened to what McWhorter and her fellow students said, and interest from across the school emerged in making McWhorter’s idea a reality.
The school then created a committee of students, staff, and outside stakeholders to review ideas of how the center would function and then developed a plan. The center had a soft opening in Fall 2021 and will be in full swing starting in Fall 2022.
One of the center’s early successes was a Black History Month event that drew huge attendance. It was there that McWhorter’s dream for the space was realized.
“It feels so surreal,” says McWhorter. “This was literally an idea two years ago. And now it’s a real space, and I’m seeing faces I’ve never seen before: Black business students, Asian business students, business students from all over that I’ve never seen before, and that’s really, really cool.”
“The space is just so welcoming,” continues McWhorter. “You walk in and everybody is like, ‘hi, how are you?’ It’s just a very welcoming, inclusive space that feels good to sit down in and study, and feels good to go to and meet up with other students and work on projects.”
Although she will only get a chance to use the center in its soft opening year, McWhorter says that she didn’t develop the idea for the center for herself, but the Black and Brown students that will follow in her footsteps at WSB. She hopes that having that inclusive space will give them, as well as faculty and staff of color, opportunities to connect and simply have a place to hang out.
Olivia Asare (BBA ’24), a student on the center’s planning committee, hopes the center can be a place where students of color feel comfortable being their 100% authentic selves, while furthering their education and professional development.
“If the center becomes a place that students can walk away from and say they furthered their career or found an amazing opportunity because of the resources available to them, I believe it would be an incredible accomplishment,” says Asare.
Building on WSB’s portfolio of DEI programs
The launch of the center expands upon WSB’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work, which includes the BEL Program; student affinity groups; a DEI advisory committee; Business Badger Badges; partnerships with The Consortium, the Forté Foundation, and The PhD Project; and equity and inclusion principles increasingly being embedded into the curriculum. Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been key priorities for WSB since 2009 when the school launched its DEI office, headed by Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Binnu Palta Hill.
As workplaces have demanded more diversity and equity, WSB has continually looked at how it could better serve its students, faculty, staff, and the greater business world.
“There’s a great diversity, equity, and inclusion infrastructure in place here, and we’re elevating it,” says Palta Hill.
The Multicultural Center launch complements WSB’s further investments in DEI education. The school’s innovations in stackable badge-oriented learning allow for an upcoming expanded slate of DEI offerings aimed at individuals and organizations. WSB’s Center for Professional Development additionally offers a DEI certificate for campus and corporate partners.
Since Vallabh “Samba” Sambamurthy joined the school as Albert O. Nicholas Dean in 2019, the DEI office has grown, with Palta Hill taking on a major strategic role and Siri Pairin (BA ’15) and Patty Cisneros Prevo joining in school-wide and undergraduate DEI capacities. The latest DEI leader to join is Arturo “Tito” Diaz (BS ’15), the new Kemper Foundation Director of the Multicultural Center.
Tito Diaz leads the way as center director
Diaz is building on his experience as a UW–Madison alum in his role leading the center. A 2015 grad, Diaz brings experience from UW’s campuswide multicultural center, a degree in community and nonprofit leadership, and most importantly, lived experience as a student of color on campus. Diaz understands that students of color can have varied experiences in college.
“When I look back on my undergraduate experience, it was filled with joy and laughter and smiles and activism and all the things I really like, so I was able to build a real love for the university. And I very much want that for every student,” says Diaz.
Diaz’ role is to design programming for students in the center; support community building; and provide opportunities for students to learn, grow, and prepare for their careers.
The center functions in two ways. First, it provides an opportunity for students to form relationships with each other and experience a deep sense of belonging at the university. Second, the center prepares students for the corporate world, where diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen as important pillars of any successful organization.
“One of the coolest things about the center has been the communal approach that it has taken on, from Nalah McWhorter, from the petition that was taken to going around to different folks to try to get the buy-in, the call from all the students who signed up,” says Diaz.
Diaz is proud that WSB is among the first business schools in the nation to offer a dedicated center that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion and supports underrepresented students. And for it to be founded on students’ innovation makes it even more special.
Student mentorship brings the center to life
The center’s two mentorship programs are Multicultural Business Mentors and Business Buddies.
The Multicultural Business Mentors creates opportunities for graduate students to mentor undergraduates. Business Buddies is a peer-to-peer mentor model for undergrads. Both programs kicked off this semester with a formal launch coming in Fall 2022.
Diaz envisions Multicultural Center alumni panels, fireside chats, and mentoring sessions with current students. The center will serve as a natural venue for alumni to share their experiences in the professional world and network with students.
The center is additionally partnering with the office of student life in the undergraduate business program on multicultural development opportunities, with Cisneros Prevo using the center for meetings with student affinity groups.
With the help of students like McWhorter and the guidance of passionate connectors like Diaz, the school is en route to a better—and more inclusive future.
The Multicultural Center spaces
Grainger Hall 2250 and 2256
|2250: The Multicultural Commons|
This is the main hub, with a front desk, artwork from a student-run competition, a large TV, and lounge furniture. This space will be multifunctional, used by people who want to study, groups who want to meet, and events. The large TV can be used for presentations, with speakers and alumni calling in.
This space houses two offices, a conference room, quiet study space, and a meditation/prayer/wellness room. The conference room will be set up to host smaller meetings, and the meditation/prayer/wellness room will be used by students and others who need to take a moment for themselves.