Personal Transformation

By engaging in intergroup dialogues or programs, participants are positioned to encounter views and experiences that differ from their own.  In many cases, this new information may prompt folks to reconsider and perhaps even alter their own perspectives and beliefs.  Being open to this kind of personal transformation involves being self-aware of one’s own views and willing to intentionally listen to the experiences of another group.  Individuals’ openness to this kind of transformation is key to successful intergroup dialogues and programs.

The Network of Immigrants and African Americans in Solidarity (NIAAS) openly emphasizes the need for participants to commit to personal openness and transformation from the very beginning of their involvement with NIAAS.  The form for registering to be involved with NIAAS lists several criteria for participation, and among those, explicitly asks whether the registrant agrees to “commit to be tolerant, positive and honest during the activities, dialogues & gatherings” and “commit to engage in challenging conversations, be open-minded and help find common ground.”  Establishing and fostering these values among participants from the start underscores NIAAS’s intention to bring folks into a space in which they are present, honest, and vulnerable in ways that are conducive to personal transformation.

In a similar way, The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan also establishes this mandate for openness at the start of their dialogue sessions.  This includes an explicit discussion about the expectation that conflicts are likely to arise during the course of the dialogues; the naming and normalizing of this conflict reassures participants.  Moreover, the intensity of the dialogue experience is also articulated from the start.  In the words of one project participant, “this is going to be about more than just eating each other’s food.”  These declarations help to bring people to a place in which they understand what it means to be open to transformation.

Organizational Transformation

On an organizational level, community groups and institutions seeking to begin intergroup initiatives would benefit from carefully analyzing the motivations and needs that stimulated their interest in these efforts.  It is important that groups seeking to build bridges examine their own reasoning and enter with the collective’s interests in mind rather than merely for the purpose of gaining additional support for one’s own causes.  Being shortsighted in this regard can compromise relationship-building efforts before they ever commence.  It is vital that organization be deliberate and intentional about how they frame intergroup efforts and employ an inclusive approach that uplifts mutual interests.

Organizations also need to recognize that transformation is an ongoing journey, not just a one-time or short-term experience.  True transformation changes an organization’s entire culture.  Participants shared how this organizational transformation can be struggle and ongoing effort.

One research participant reflected:  “The lesson we learned was the issue of capacity.  Groups that wanted to take this [intergroup work] on were unprepared and did not anticipate was that this challenges folks to completely change the way [their organizations] do business.  We need to be more intentional in helping people look at issues of collaboration.

Other organizations find themselves internally conflicted about whether and how to engage in organizational transformation within the context of intergroup relations work.  As one participant from an organization with approximately a 50/50 composition of immigrant and African American constituents stated, “Some leaders within the organization would like to keep the ‘immigrant stuff’ separate from the other stuff going on in the organization.  So there is some resistance from some parts of the organization to move this into a deeper conversation and bring our members together in more of a real way.  This is an internal struggle for us right now.”

Helpful Materials

Time for Change: A Toolkit for Transformation  (.pdf) – This document summarizes and details a cooperative inquiry journey made by four social change leaders.  The materials provide insights into the central question they engaged: “How can social change leaders help cultivate in ourselves and others change from within that inspires individual liberation and builds a movement for social justice?”  This document also covers guiding principles and pathways for personal and societal transformation and includes a set  of exercises designed to assist participants in taking the time for transformation.