What Is? Intergroup Dialogue Model
Intergroup Dialogue, is one of the most useful models that I have. It’s coming up on what 20 years old at this point next year. And every now and then I say, “Oh this thing is old should I keep going going back to it?” And I keep coming back to it because I haven’t found anything else that, to me, is as practical and helpful, as we think about the structure of our classes, than this model is. So I share this as a way to help us think concretely about how we might move towards more equitable engagement for students in our classes.
4 Stages of Intergroup Dialogue
- Create an environment for dialogue
- Situate the dialogue
- Explore conflicts in multiple perspectives
- Move from dialogue to action
Intergroup Dialogue is a process for engaging people in dialogues about difficult topics. They are Intergroup Dialogue because the whole goal here is that they bring two groups together, that have some tension or conflict, as a way to explore the sources of conflict and then find tangible ways to engage in dialogue towards the goal of new found understanding.
So if we think about our society right now many of us would agree that we are living in a society that is very very divisive right? Where folks really don’t engage with each other. Like the whole goal, when you look at MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, any of the major news stations, is they bring people on for a seven- or eight-minute segment. One side believes this, the other side believes that, they share their perspective and then they engage in debate to prove why my opponent is flawed and why my perspective is the one that’s correct.
The How To Guide
Intergroup Dialogue is saying that the whole goal around sustained dialogue is to come to new found understanding through this four stage process. I teach a class that is 15 weeks, we meet one time a week for 2 hours and 45 minutes each week. I think of my class structure through this four stage intergroup dialogue format. Let’s talk through what this might look like.
Stage one – Creating an environment for dialogue.
The whole goal of this first stage is to create the conditions for the dialogue that we want to happen to occur. We have to do certain things to set up the space so that it can occur. So if our goal is to have students develop critical thinking skills or learn to interact with their peers across differences, then we have to create the conditions for that to occur.
One thing that might happen in this stage is to think through some lower risk activities that help students build relationships with each other. I’ll give my class as an example. I’m in this class where the whole goal, again, is to help students understand how to facilitate and engage in dialogues about difficult topics. One of the activities that I have students do during the second week of the semester is what I call “stories in the box.” I ask students to bring three items to class to share with each other. One of those items should reflect a dominant identity that they hold. Another item should reflect a minoritized or subordinated identity that they hold. And the third item can reflect any identity of their choosing. They use this as a way to introduce themselves to each other. It’s a lower risk activity intended to help them build trust with each other and get comfortable talking about their identities. Because for many of them this is the first space that they really have to think about what does it mean to be, for example, a white woman in this space, what does it mean to be an international student in this space, or to be a black student who also identifies as heterosexual. To get comfortable talking about the importance of those identities with them is, again, a way to build some trust with each other.
As an instructor, if I’m thinking about your classes, the things I would think about is, who is in your class? I want you to envision your class. To think about the demographics of your students. To think about who you are as an educator and then what might you contribute as an instructor.
In the course of a 15-week semester I usually spend about three or four weeks on stage one. I’ve noticed if I don’t spend the time to help students build trust, then the kinds of dialogue that I want them to engage in doesn’t happen because they haven’t spent the necessary time getting to know each other in these more lower risk ways. So that’s stage one creating an environment for dialogue.
The second stage is situating the dialogue.
In this stage you’ve now spent the time building trust with students in your classes. So now you’re asking them to engage in in more risky activity. Now we’re trying to help them understand and develop more trust with each other and know what the topics that they’re going to be talking about in this class. So, you might include the key terms that are relevant in in your field. I introduce key terms to students in my classes.
Another thing you might do here is to use caucus groups. So caucus groups means that you’re bringing together people who have shared identities to engage with each other before bringing them to heterogeneous groups. Sometimes it’s really important, for example, around the topic of race for white people, white students to have space talking with only white students before they interact with their peers of color. There are certain things that white students have to have experience talking about among themselves. Sometimes students of color also just want the space to be able to talk about issues of race without feeling like they have to do that with white students present. So this is why caucus groups are often important because folks can talk about the issues that are relevant to their identity and then bring them together in larger cross-racial groups.
One of the things I noticed is around NDSU’s mission, vision, and core values is this focus on inclusivity. Value the unique skills experiences and identities of each person; continuously improving how we involve, develop, empower, and trust one another. Because this is tied to your mission and values some key questions here are: To what extent is this mission reflected in your courses?, Whose voices are heard?, Who makes the important decisions in your courses?, Who are in the senior leadership positions at the institution?, Is this value really reflected?
So in stage two you’re really asking participants to do some digging around some of the things we believe and see the extent to which that’s actually happening in practice. You might spend about four or five weeks on stage two, before you get to this point of exploring conflicts in multiple perspectives.
The third stage is exploring conflicts in multiple perspectives.
So now you’ve built some trust with the group, you’ve also done some time caucusing, you’ve done some time exploring the key terms in your discipline, and now you’re going take some more time to dig into those issues that might create some tension or conflict.
Some topics right now that are really important in our society. There’s cases at the Supreme Court around affirmative action, this comes up every few years, right? Our Senate just passed a resolution around same-sex marriage. So these are really critical issues that are happening in our society and there are hot topics, meaning that there’s lots of different feelings around these topics in in our society. So what are the hot topics in your field in your profession and your discipline that you want students to really engage in? You might ask them some key questions around that to help prompt their thinking around those issues.
Then we get to the last stage which is, moving from dialogue to action.
So here, you might identify a core issue to tackle further. You might also think about what this action looks like.
As an example here, when I was at Miami University I spent two years teaching a UNV101 class, which was a class a newly designed class for all first-year students at Miami where they’re supposed to take a class together. Multiple sections, right around 20 students in each of these sections, designed to help them transition into being college students. I vividly remember that towards the end of this class each of the students was to talk about something that they were going to do. Some action step that they were going to take beyond this class, to keep their learning happening. I asked students to share with me what their action item was. One of the students raised his hand and said you know one of the things I really want to do in this class or after this class is… I have this really close friend that I’ve known since we were like six-years old. And this friend often tells racist jokes in front of me and I often feel very uncomfortable when he’s sharing this with me and I never know what to do. So I’ve decided, as a result of this class, the next time that this happens I’m going to tell my friend that’s not okay and here’s why. One of the students in the class said something to the extent of, what’s the big deal about that, that feels very small to me. And I pushed back on that. The goal here is not to judge the smallness or significance of the action but it’s to get participants to do something tangible. Something that they can take with them and say, “oh yes I’ve done this as a result result of this class.” To me that’s what’s critical here in stage four is not to weigh the the significance of the action, but it’s to actually think about what can we do beyond this space.
So again, stage one is creating an environment for dialogue, then we move towards situating the dialogue, exploring conflicts in multiple perspectives, and then moving from dialogue to action.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen John Quaye, is a professor in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Program at The Ohio State University; Editor of The Journal of Higher Education; and Past President of ACPA: College Student Educators International. His research concentrates on engaging students in difficult dialogues about privilege, power, and oppression, and the strategies educators use to facilitate productive dialogues about these topics. His current work focuses on student and scholar activism, as well as the strategies Black educators and students use to heal from racial battle fatigue.