Intergroup Dialogues

Aims, objectives, and intended audience

The Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) at the University of Michigan is a social justice education program jointly administered by the Liberal Arts College and the Division of Student Affairs. Offering both a university-based sequence of courses and co-curricular activities, IGR fosters intergroup relations and understanding both within and beyond the classroom context. Participants become more self-aware of their own identities and values as well those of others, and gain skills needed to communicate and ally across groups for diverse and equitable democracy. The target audience for this curriculum is college students, and it has also been adapted for high school students and other community groups.

Broad structure and key educational methods of the curriculum

This summary specifically refers to Intergroup Dialogues, a 100-level two-credit course offered through IGR at the University of Michigan. This course encompasses 13 sessions that meet once a week for two hours. Participants enroll in the dialogue course and then fill out a placement form in which they note the identity topics (i.e., race, religion, gender, sexual orientation) that most interest them. Students are then divided into classes that focus on a single identity dichotomy (i.e., white/non-white, men/women, etc.) based on their interests. Dialogue groups ideally have 14-16 participants, with a 50/50 split between the two identities that are the focus of this course. Each course has two facilitators, one representing each identity group.

Key educational methods include experiential exercises, structured facilitation by peers, biographical testimonials designed to build trust and interpersonal connections, small group and large group discussions, and journaling/reading activities.

Key themes of the course

The 13 class sessions progress through four stages:

1. Stage 1: Creating a Shared Meaning of Dialogue
This stage focuses on group formation and trust building. Participants learn how to dialogue and what differentiates dialogue from debate. The conversations acknowledge participants’ multiple identities and recognize the particular identity that will be the focus of these dialogue sessions.

2. Stage 2: Identity, Social Relations, and Conflict
The sessions in this stage invite participants to explore identity on both a personal and group level. The material helps folks identify not only inter- and intra-group differences, but also the similarities of their experiences. Conversations also address differences in group privilege and discrimination, particularly when groups are comprised of individuals with greater and lesser degrees of privilege. Stage 2 also addresses structural racism and related social justice issues.

3. Stage 3: Issues of Social Justice / Hot Topics
Stage 3 delves into “hot topic” real-world issues that tend to be divisive. Participants generate possible hot topics based on relevant subjects that are controversial or ways in which they feel misunderstood. One of the overarching lessons of this phase is that groups-allying-together is not simply a matter of allying as friends; it is often a matter of allying together even when self-interests differ. How can we be in community together even when someone else’s perspective on a topic irritates me? Can I still listen to you and remain in dialogue mode with you even during moments when I may be upset by your viewpoint? The “hot topics” often produce divisions and provide opportunities for participants to work through conflicts.

4. Stage 4: Alliances and Other Next Steps
The sessions in this final stage invite participants to consider ways in which they see the groups working together productively. Questions that the participants consider include: What would that look like? What kind of allying would be helpful and productive? What specific steps can we take to work together in a positive manner? Participants are challenged to move beyond the insights they have gained and use/build upon their new understandings.

Additional notes
Founded in 1988, the IGR program at the University of Michigan is the oldest and most established program of its type in higher education. This model has been adapted and implemented at other universities around the country. See this list here.

Curriculum acquisition information

This curriculum is available to persons who have been trained in IGR methodology. Training is offered by The University of Michigan at an annual summer Institute, and in other consultation programs. Further inquiries regarding the program may be directed to:

The Program on Intergroup Relations
The University of Michigan
1214 S. University Ave, 2nd Floor, Suite B
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-2592
Phone: (734) 936-1875