Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Intergroup Dialogue on Campus


Intergroup dialogue programs on college and university campuses are one of the fastest-growing diversity initiatives in higher education today. Pioneered at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in the mid 1980s, intergroup dialogue programs began to take hold on other campuses over the last ten years. Through the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Unity and Pluralism in Higher Education Program, intergroup dialogue program design, execution, and outcomes have become more widely disseminated within higher education arenas in the last five years.

As a result, intergroup dialogue programs have begun to emerge with increasing frequency in the college and university setting across the country in the last three years, often with the continued support of the Hewlett Foundation for whom the proliferation of intergroup dialogue programs in higher education is a major funding priority. The University of Maryland, College Park is among those with Hewlett finding who have more recently established intergroup dialogue programs on their campuses.

Basic Tenets

While each campus' intergroup dialogue program is different (configured to be uniquely responsive to the specific college or university community it serves), there are basic tenets of intergroup dialogue that run through all of the iterations of its practice. Generally, intergroup dialogue programs bring together diverse groups of students to engage in discussion of issues related to their diversity, broadly conceptualized; for example, on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

The purpose of intergroup dialogue is to enable participants to develop comfort with, and skill for, discourse on difficult topics towards the end of fostering positive, meaningful, and sustained cross-group relationships. More specifically, intergroup dialogues typically bring together two groups of 8-10 participants each, 16-20 total, representing two discrete identity groups, for two to three hours, once a week, over the course of several weeks to discuss the issues between, and forge friendships among, the groups. Two facilitators, one from each of the two groups represented in a given intergroup dialogue, co-facilitate.

Ideally, the participants from both groups should: (1) represent a wide range of perspectives on the perceived salient issues between the two groups; (2) have credibility with their respective larger constituencies; and (3) include, but not be limited to, members of their informal and formal leadership (e.g., the Black Student Union president, a sorority chapter griot, the football team captain, the Student Government Association secretary, and so forth).

Likewise, the facilitators should have: (1) extensive content area knowledge about the range of experiences of both groups' members and the issues between them (specific and general); (2) the ability to challenge, as well as support, the thinking of both groups' members, as an insider to one and an outsider to the other; and (3) extensive facilitation experience.

Theme and Variation

As indicated previously, while intergroup dialogue programs typically share the characteristics just identified, each school's program is tailor-made to the specific needs of its population. Differences from campus to campus generally include: where intergroup dialogue programs are housed within the college or university structure, whether intergroup dialogues are offered curricularly (for credit) and/or cocurricularly (for its intrinsic value and/or fim), and how broadly the notion of "intergroup" is conceptualized.

The University of Massachusetts intergroup dialogue program emerged in and continues to be housed in its College of Education (SJE, 2001). Initially, it began with a group of volunteer graduate student facilitators and a then senior faculty member, Bailey W. …