Social Justice Dialogues will be adopting a new structure next year and will be offered at all three academic levels. The new program will lead the way in student-facilitated courses at Knox, with faculty members operating solely from outside the classroom.
The course Social Justice Dialogues-Race has been offered at Knox since winter term and was modeled after the Intergroup Relations program at the University of Michigan. For the last two terms, faculty and staff have been running the course, but starting next year the dialogues will be student-run.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology-Sociology Gabrielle Raley, who currently teaches the course, said that faculty ran the course the last two terms to get used to the system before bringing in student facilitators.
“Because it’s such a new pedagogy, especially in terms of peer facilitation, we wanted to make sure we were starting small and getting lots of feedback from the curriculum committee and students who were in the classes. So that’s why for the last two terms faculty and staff have been the co-facilitators … so student facilitators come in with some of those kinks already worked out,” she said.
Starting next year, students will begin by taking the 100-level offering of the course, which mirrors the course currently offered in which students participate in dialogue. The 200-level course will first be offered Spring Term 2015 and will be the training course for students hoping to become peer facilitators. Students who are facilitators will be enrolled in the 300-level course, which will run simultaneously to the 100-level course. Student facilitators will work closely with faculty members, who will mentor the facilitators and grade the papers of the 100-level students.
The course will be offered at the 100 and 300 levels Fall Term 2014, with student facilitators receiving training over the summer.
Freshman Clara Appelbom Jiménez, who is currently enrolled in Social Justice Dialogues, said that she would potentially be interested in becoming a peer facilitator.
“I’ve really enjoyed this class, and it’s really eye-opening and interesting, and you learn a lot about yourself and others,” she said. “To be trained further to be a facilitator would be really cool, because I would see other people experiencing what I’m experiencing right now and be a part of that.”
Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez has taught the course both terms it has been offered. She said that since the program came to Knox the goal has been to expand it to be offered at all three levels.
“That’s the model that University of Michigan uses. … If the wheel’s not broke, don’t fix it. The University of Michigan model has been in existence for 25 years.”
Cervantez and Raley said that while they have tried to eliminate their authoritative roles in the classroom, it has been difficult to move away from this structure during the dialogues because students are used to having a professor for guidance.
“We’ve noticed as faculty and staff teaching the course, as much as we try to get rid of our titles and to get rid of our authoritative role in the course and in the actual dialogue class time, that dynamic still exists. When we’ve been socialized to look to the authority figure in the room, it’s hard to break away from that when the authority figure is in the room,” Cervantez said.
Appelbom Jiménez noted that while the instructors try to lose their titles during the dialogue, it is difficult when they are grading the students in the classroom.
“It’s evident that they do try really hard to be peers and are part of everything we do. … But then again you still get a graded journal back from them, and you know that the things you express can come back in their minds when they’re grading you.”
Raley said she hopes that by having peer facilitators, a more comfortable and equal dynamic will exist in the classroom.
“The trained facilitators, I think, are going to allow dialogues to have a level of acceptance and openness that even on our best days we are not really able to bring about,” she said.
The new structure for the intergroup dialogues course could potentially lead to developments in a social justice major or minor, depending on how the class develops over the next few years and whether there is enough student interest.
“There are a lot of students at Knox that are interested in social justice,” Cervantez said. “It does align with what I think Knox wants to be as far as educating future leaders, future entrepreneurs – future anything.”