Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education: Intergroup Dialogue Program Student Outcomes and Implications for Campus Radical Climate: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Diversity Initiatives in Higher Education:

Intergroup Dialogue Program Student Outcomes and Implications for Campus Radical Climate:

A Case Study1

Introduction

The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the cognitive and affective outcomes in students that were participants in the Intergroup Dialogue Program (IDP) at the University of Maryland, College Park.2 This case study describes the impact that this program had on student beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors regarding interaction across difference based on race and/or ethnicity. Knowledge gained from this study is transferable and can assist in the further development of the IDP at the University of Maryland, as well as at others institutions across the country.

Contexts of the Study

This study was conducted in the context of two conjoining projects. The first project is the Diverse Democracy Project3 directed by Dr. Sylvia Hurtado from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. This national project engages ten higher education institutions, varying in size, organization, and mission, from across the country-including the University of Maryland-in seeking to understand how students learn from a variety of social justice education oriented initiatives. Further, the project seeks to "extend the development of promising practices among participating institutions" by exploring:

* How colleges are creating diverse learning environments and are actively preparing students to live and work in an increasingly complex and diverse democracy;

* The role of the diverse peer group in the acquisition of important cognitive, social, and democratic outcomes both inside and outside of classroom environments;

* Student outcomes that can be best achieved through specific kinds of initiatives designed to increase student engagement with diverse perspectives. (University of Michigan, 2000)

The IDP at the University of Maryland is one of the promising practices included in the Diverse Democracy Project.

The second context out of which this research was completed is the Office of Human Relations Programs (OHRP), an arm of the Office of the President, at the University of Maryland. Maryland's IDP is a featured program within OHRP's Student Intercultural Learning Center (SILO). OHRP has dedicated direct and in-kind support toward this study.4 OHRP's SILC piloted Maryland's IDP in the spring of 2000, implementing its full-scale IDP the ensuing fall. Maryland's intergroup dialogues (IDs) are facilitated primarily by OHRP professionals and Graduate Assistants (GAs), and occasionally by faculty, staff, and GAs from other units and/or departments across campus.

This study explored the experiences of the students who were participants in the IDP during the spring semester of 2001 and who signed University of Maryland Institutional Review Board forms. By ensuring that this study engaged the ethical standards and structures of the University of Maryland it also binded and limited it as a case study.

Intergroup Dialogue and Social justice Education

As mentioned in the previous article in this section of Multicultural Education (see Volume 9, Number 4, Summer 2002, pp. 30-32), there are a number of higher education institutions that have developed IDPs on their campuses. These institutions include, but are not limited to, the University ofMassachusetts, Amherst, the University of Michigan, Arizona State University, and the University of Maryland. It is important to reiterate that IDPs on these campuses have been developed as vehicles through which social justice education is taught and practiced; that is, the conceptualization of Intergroup Dialogue (ID) is sociopolitically located.

Social justice education (SJE) is both a pedagogical process as well as a curricular destination (Bell, 1997). "Social Justice Education seeks to create and support learning environments where education is the practice of freedom and where the student and teacher are mutually engaged in the construction and transformation of knowledge into social action and change" (Hackman, 2000). …