Campus / News / February 18, 2015

Intergroup Dialogue grows in, out of classroom

Anthropology-Sociology Lecturer Tianna Cervantez leads a group exercise that “links” students together by common issues and beliefs in her Social Justice Dialogues class. (Casey Mendoza/TKS)

Anthropology-Sociology Lecturer Tianna Cervantez leads a group exercise that “links” students together by common issues and beliefs in her Social Justice Dialogues class during the Intergroup Dialogues pilot course last spring. (Casey Mendoza/TKS)

Intergroup Dialogue is paving its way toward a permanent position in the curriculum and as a yearly event for members of the faculty after beginning last year in the form of a pilot program for both professors and students.

At the Feb. 2 faculty meeting it was announced that three Intergroup Dialogue sessions, which are hosted by facilitators from the University of Michigan, will occur in 2015: one in summer, one during Fall Term and the last during winter break. For students, Spring Term offers an Intergroup Dialogue advanced course, entitled “Social Justice Dialogue Facilitation.”

The push for Intergroup Dialogue on campus has come from Professor of History Catherine Denial and Associate Professor of Anthropology-Sociology Gabe Raley, who each led an introductory course on Intergroup Dialogue last winter and spring, and will jointly lead the facilitator class in Spring Term. They also were leaders in creating the three-day faculty version that occurred over the past summer.

Denial explained the commonalities between both student and faculty Intergroup Dialogue workshops.

“Intergroup Dialogue begins with a lot of focus on the self and understanding our own social identities, so like race, class, gender, sexuality, religion — all of those things that mean you are part of a larger group that experiences either privilege or discrimination in society.”

After spending time looking inward, the faculty and student workshops split in their approaches. In the faculty workshops, they turn outward to focus on how these aspects of who they are and who their students are interact in the classroom. Then the group discusses how to diversify their classrooms, from the subjects more easily manipulated like Creative Writing and History to the hard sciences and math courses.

Assistant Professor of History Danielle Fatkin attended the faculty workshop last August, and found in her own classes a way to apply what she learned.

For her class Fall Term on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she found that “with those kinds of hot button religious and political issues, [she felt] like there was an element missing that the Intergroup Dialogue workshop really helped [her] identify, which was the idea that there is an emotional education as well as an intellectual education that’s part of the process for students.”

Fatkin found that the level of difficulty could be an improvement for next year.

“I think that faculty are at very different places themselves in this, as some people have been teaching diversity classes [and] are already implementing these strategies explicitly because they have already had this training or because of the nature of what they teach,” Fatkin said. “So people who have already been engaged in this are just in a very different place and probably need a different kind of workshop than people who have never really done this.”

In student workshops, after self-reflection, “we work on really thinking about how these things play out socially,” Denial said. “… What are the hot topics now? One right now would be police brutality, or another might be wage gaps in the workplace. … [We] try to put in place dialogue techniques, which means approaching conflict rather than running away from it or shutting down because of it. It means listening very actively toward one another,” along with many other ways of participating in and reacting to dialogue differently.

At the end of the introduction course the focus shifts to allyship and how to help groups that are targeted for discrimination. In the new 200-level course “Social Justice Dialogue Facilitation,” the course moves forward to focusing on building facilitation techniques and understanding group dynamics. The aim is to equip students by the end of the term to become facilitators themselves.

Senior Celinda Davis participated in the pilot class for intergroup dialogue last winter. The topic changes each time, with the pilot focusing on race relations. Davis distinguished the difference between discussing an issue and dialoguing as, “you’re actively listening, you’re hearing personal experiences of different people in the context of these larger social discussions on race. … I learned that dialogue is incredibly hard, but incredibly important.”

Davis found the experience readily applicable to her everyday life.

“It’s something I’m trying to work on every day, of not just like hearing what people are saying to give an answer, but hearing what people are saying and making sure that I am hearing what they are saying. That’s a huge part of active listening. … When you start to actually listen to people you’re able to challenge your own privileges and hopefully will start to work to break down or move beyond those privileges.”

She is also taking her knowledge and applying it to an independent study in the spring, focused on social justice education for elementary students. She hopes to create an example curriculum as a result of her work.

Davis had one main critique of the course: because of the class focused on race, the class was made up of half white students and half students of color. For Davis, mixed race, this put her in a strange position. When students were divided into small groups to discuss their race experiences, she didn’t know where her place was as a biracial student. She hopes in the future for more of a conversation on those who do not fit in the white/black binary.

Responding to a faculty concern that the Intergroup Dialogue workshop was not challenging enough, Denial said, “We can make it as challenging as people want it to be.”

Overall, Denial encourages students and faculty members to take part.

“I think one of most valuable things that it does is give you the tools to deal with conflict,” Denial said. “Because too often — this is true of anyone at any age — we tend to shut down when we get into conflict. … This gives you tools to know that you will survive conflict, know how to handle your emotions during conflict, be able to ask questions during conflict, so that there is a real system of learning to understand each other rather than a system of shouting each out down. So I think it’s a really productive skill to have.”

Callie Rouse
Callie Rouse graduated in 2017 as a international relations major and double minor in creative writing and history. She has been involved in journalism since her sophomore year in high school and worked for The Knox Student for four years. She worked as a News Editor her sophomore to senior years. During her freshman year Callie served as Student Government Reporter.

Tags:  Catherine Denial celinda davis danielle fatkin Gabe Raley intergroup dialogues social justice university of michigan

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