Welcoming the world to Wheaton

The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning offers programs that allow all students in the Wheaton community to increase their cultural capacity, knowledge and awareness of how their racial identity impacts their experiences.

by Raquel Ramos, Dean of the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning and Parent, Classes of ’18, ’21, and ’23

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Multicultural Center, which we now know as the Marshall Center. Things have changed a lot in my time at Wheaton. The Center evolved from a multipurpose, unstaffed space reserved by students for special events and meetings to a fully staffed Center beginning in 2001. In 2005, upon her retirement, our building was named in honor of the late President Dale Rogers Marshall based on her commitment to diversity and inclusion. She supported the hiring of staff and providing the financial resources for us to be able to grow the space into the Center. We would not be here today without her vision and support.

Students can get involved with the Marshall Center in a variety of ways. We run an Early Arrival Program for students of color, just before New Student Orientation. We work closely with the other Centers on campus and their Early Arrival Programs to get students acclimated to campus, introduce them to campus resources, and help them establish a network of peer support. We connect with many students during that early time.

The Marshall Center has also been running weekly Intergroup Dialogues for the past 10 years. That is one of our signature programs and one that attracts students every semester. The student-facilitated dialogue groups meet for 10 weeks and come together to dialogue across difference, to practice what it means to listen for understanding and find common points of connection. These are invaluable life skills! We have students who participate and decide to return the next semester and also have students that participate in the facilitation training to become Dialogue Facilitators.

We host heritage month programs designed to enhance campus diversity; workshops around DEI topics such as inclusive language; and offer cultural enrichment activities like tickets to plays in the Boston and Providence areas or museum trips. This year, we have hosted a number of sessions to help students talk through, share experiences, process and better understand national events. We’ve been working with students on co-curricular opportunities like our Wheaton Inclusive STEM Excellence initiative to make STEM more accessible to students. We also meet with students and club leaders to collaborate on and co-sponsor programs and events. There are many ways to be involved! All of our programs are well-publicized and are open to all.

Aside from my work as the Dean of the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning, I also serve as one of the Diversity Equity and Access Leadership (DEAL) Co-chairs. DEAL was created because three of us—the Dean of the Marshall Center, the Dean of the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact, and the Associate Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development—came together to think about how we could move forward our Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. Staff, faculty and students worked together to develop the recommendations but we did not have a clear implementation plan. We came together so that the three of us could move that work forward and provide leadership around D, E and I initiatives.

Significant work has been accomplished in the past three years. Last year, we worked with our DEAL committees and campus stakeholders on the establishment of a DEI Mission Statement for our campus and also outlined 10 Action Steps Toward Racial Justice. This year, we have staff departments and faculty chairs overseeing academic departments working to create anti-racism plans. Although we still have work to do and it is ever evolving, there are many varied and innovative curricular and co-curricular initiatives and campus-wide work being done to address racial justice, accessibility, inclusion, and belonging.

I truly believe that we provide a transformational college experience for students. I have seen students attend Early Arrival Programs unsure of themselves, but with the goal of graduating, grow to become student leaders, take advantage of study abroad opportunities, conduct research with a faculty member, end up going on to graduate school, apply for national fellowships and do amazing things with their lives after Wheaton. It is gratifying to see where our alumni are now and the virtual platform has helped current students to connect with them more readily. We have hosted a number of programs that bring students and alumni together. The virtual platform has also made opportunities for connection more accessible to more families and parents. Wheaton has sponsored many speakers, programs, visiting artists and performances, and these events have been open to community members. Many more families have been able to take advantage of this increased accessibility and participate in campus events. During this past year with COVID-19 restrictions, we have become innovative with the programming that we’ve offered to continue to engage with students, and we’ve tried to make the most of the technology that we have available for virtual learning platforms and social media to reach broader audiences.

As a parent of three Wheaton students, I am confident that Wheaton was the right choice for their college education. I am proud of the growth I have seen in their time here at Wheaton. They took advantage of study abroad opportunities and internships that were instrumental in helping to solidify future career paths and enrich their college experience. The small class sizes allowed them to work closely with their professors and peers, which helped them to maximize their learning potential and deeply explore their academic interests. The friendships they made through club involvement, leadership opportunities and participation in athletics, will remain with them forever.

I hope that your students will benefit from the Wheaton experience as much as mine have. Here’s wishing you and your student the best as we close out the spring semester!