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Evaluating intergroup dialogue: Engaging diversity for personal and social responsibility

In 2003, supporters of the University
of Michigans defense of its affirmative
action policies filed seventy-four amici
curiae in the U.S. Supreme Court con-
tending that diversity in educational set-
tings is crucial to student learning. These
amicus briefs emphasized that interac-
tions with diverse peer groups encourage
students to learn from each other, to
understand perspectives that reflect
different experiences and various social
backgrounds, and to gain the cultural
competence critical to effective local and
global leadership. In support of similar
goals, the Association of American
Colleges and Universities has called for
“a kind of learning students need to meet
emerging challenges in the workplace, in
a diverse democracy, and in an intercon-
nected world” (AAC&U 2002). AAC&U
initiatives like Core Commitments have
supported universities’ efforts to help
students develop a sense of personal
and social responsibility that involves
taking seriously the perspectives of
others, grounding action in ethical
considerations, and contributing to the
larger society—all outcomes associated
with diversity work in higher education.
But what kind of education actu-
ally leverages diversity to foster these
outcomes? Evidence presented to the
Supreme Court in 2003 and research
conducted since has made clear that if
diversity is to have educational benefits,
colleges and universities need to make
full use of it as an institutional resource
(Chang et al. 2003; Gurin et al. 2002).
Colleges and universities must create
academic initiatives that engage students
intellectually and foster an understanding
of group-based inequalities and other
dynamics that affect intergroup relation-
ships. Educators must provide guided
interaction among students of different
backgrounds to ensure that students
engage constructively to understand their
similar and different experiences, and
develop individual and collective efficacy
to influence the world around them.
Intergroup dialogue (IGD) programs
are one way to engage students in
meaningful and substantive interaction
across difference. Given the increasing
number of such programs nationwide,
they represent an opportunity to assess
the value of a diversity education effort
across institutions. We recently conducted
a nine-university collaborative study
to evaluate the effects of gender and
race/ethnicity intergroup dialogues.1
IGD Practice and Theory
Intergroup dialogue initiatives bring
together students from two different
social identity groups in a sustained and
facilitated learning environment. As
an educational method, IGD engages
students to explore issues of diversity and
inequality and their personal and social
responsibility for building a more just
society (Zúñiga at al. 2007). Dialogue is a
collaborative communication process that
engages students in self–other exchanges
that illuminate intellectual and experien-
tial similarities and differences. Intergroup
dialogue may occur between women
and men, people of color and white
people, or people of different religions.
The IGD practice we researched
follows the theoretical model shown
in figure 1 (Nagda 2006). The three
broad goals of intergroup dialogue,
represented as outcomes, are: to develop
intergroup understanding by helping
students explore their own and others
social identities and statuses, and the
role of social structures in relation-
ships of privilege and inequality; to
foster positive intergroup relationships
by developing students’ empathy and
motivation to bridge differences of identi-
ties and statuses; and to foster intergroup
collaboration for personal and social
responsibility toward greater social justice.
IGD learning pedagogy involves
three important features:
1. Active and engaged learning:
IGD course curricula include readings
(historical, sociological, scientific, and
narrative), didactic and experiential
activities, writing assignments, and
questions to stimulate reflection, critical
analysis, and dialogue. Writing assign-
ments provide space for reflection and
help students integrate their learning
from the dialogue sessions, readings, and
experiences inside and outside of class.
2. Structured interaction: Through
credit-bearing courses, IGD brings
together equal numbers of students from
at least two identity groups for sustained
engagement. IGD classes usually meet
for two to three hours per week over a
period of ten to fourteen weeks. Students
learn interdependently as they practice
listening, asking questions, exploring con-
tentious issues, and making connections
with others. With the help of facilitators,
students develop guidelines for respectful
dialogic engagement, including working
with disagreements and conflicts.
3. Facilitated learning environments:
A team of two cofacilitators, one from
each identity group, works together
to guide intergroup dialogue. Before
Evaluating Intergroup Dialogue:
Engaging Diversity for Personal and Social
BIREN RATNESH A. NAGDA, associate professor of social work at the University of Washington;
PATRICIA GURIN, professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan;
NICHOLAS SORENSEN, doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Michigan; and
XIMENA ZÚÑIGA, associate professor of education (social justice education) at the University of
facilitating an IGD, faculty, professional
staff, and graduate or undergraduate
students undergo intensive knowledge
and skills development. They learn how to
create an inclusive and involved learning
environment, use structured activities
to promote reflection and integration of
academic content, and model dialogic
communication and collaboration.
Research Questions and Design
In the multiuniversity research project,
we wanted not only to understand what
outcomes result from intergroup dia-
logue, but also explain how intergroup
dialogue affects student learning, which
we refer to as processes. We focused on
two sets of processes: the psychological
processes that occur within individuals
(Dovidio et al. 2004), and the com-
munication processes that occur among
individuals (Nagda 2006). We theorized
that these processes mediate the impact
of intergroup dialogue pedagogy on
outcomes, as shown in figure 1.
Among other questions, we asked:
What are the primary effects of inter-
group dialogue on the three major
categories of outcomes? Do both race/
ethnicity and gender dialogues show
these effects? Do the effects of intergroup
dialogue exceed those of content learning
about race/ethnicity and gender—i.e., are
intergroup dialogue groups more effective
than courses on race/ethnicity and gender
that do not use the dialogue method?
The research design addressed issues
of selectivity, causality, and dialogue
topic through the following features:
Random Assignment: At partici-
pating institutions, interested students
applied online to enroll in intergroup
dialogue courses. Institutional teams
matched applicants by race and gender
and randomly assigned students to
dialogue groups (experimental groups)
or to groups whose members did not
participate in any intergroup dialogues
(control groups). This design allowed
us to control for student self-selectivity
and attribute observed learning out-
comes to intergroup dialogue practices.
Participating researchers conducted
a total of twenty-six race/ethnicity
dialogues with twenty-six control
groups, and twenty-six gender dialogues
with twenty-six control groups.
Comparison Groups: In addition to
the control groups, the study included
comparison groups consisting of social
science classes on race/ethnicity and
gender that used a lecture-discussion
format. These comparison groups
allowed us to test whether observed
effects could be attributed to the dialogue
method rather than simply to content
learning about race/ethnicity and gender.
Participating researchers conducted
fourteen race/ethnicity and fourteen
gender social science comparisons.
Assessment Methods: The project
consisted of a mixed-methods study.
Students in the dialogues, control groups,
and comparison groups completed a
survey at the terms start, a survey at the
end of the term, and a one-year longi-
tudinal follow-up survey. The surveys
were supplemented using qualitative
methods (videotaping, content analysis of
students’ final papers, and interviews).
Result Highlights
Analyses of pre- and postsurvey data
(table 1) indicate that intergroup dialogue
produces consistent positive effects
across all three categories of outcomes:
Intergroup Understanding:
Awareness of inequality and its relation-
ship to institutional and structural
factors (economically disadvantaged
schools, discrimination, low availability
of adequately paying jobs, unequal access
to education) are important measures
of intergroup understanding. Students
in both the race/ethnicity and gender
dialogues showed greater increases in
awareness and understanding of both
racial and gender inequalities and their
structural causes than did students in
the control groups or the social science
classes. Race/ethnicity dialogues also
significantly affected students’ under-
standing of income inequality, although
gender dialogues did not have the same
result. Another measure of intergroup
understanding that showed a positive
impact was identity engagement: a
student’s ability to think and learn about
his or her group identity and its relation-
ship to perspectives that the student and
other group members tend to hold.
Intergroup Relationships: Dialogue
increased students’ positive intergroup
relationships. In contrast to students in
both the control and comparison groups,
dialogue participants showed significantly
greater motivation to bridge differences
and greater increases in empathy. These
effects were consistent across both
gender and race/ethnicity dialogues.
Intergroup Collaboration and
Engagement: Assessments of how
Learning from
Engaging Self
Critical Reection
Common Ground
Figure 1: Theoretical framework of Intergroup Dialogue Practice and Research
dialogue fosters intergroup collaboration
toward personal and social responsibility
revealed consistent positive effects.
Dialogue participants, more than students
in the control groups and comparison
classes, expressed increased motivation to
be actively engaged in their post-college
communities by “influencing social
policy,” “influencing the political structure
through voting and educational cam-
paigns,” and “working to correct social
and economic inequalities.” Dialogue
also increased students’ confidence in
taking action and their actual behaviors.
After completing the dialogues, students
indicated greater personal responsibility
for educating themselves about “biases
that affect their own thinking” and about
other groups.” They also showed greater
responsibility for “challenging others
on derogatory comments made about
groups” and for participating in coalitions
to address discrimination and social
issues. All these results were greater for
the students participating in the dialogues
than for those in comparison classes.
Final Thoughts
Developing and acting on a sense of
personal and social responsibility are
lifelong endeavors. Our work with
intergroup dialogues, both through
practice and evidenced in our research,
confirms that higher education institu-
tions can support students as they
develop these capacities. Through
sustained dialogue with diverse peers
that integrates content learning and
experiential knowledge, intergroup
dialogue encourages students to be intel-
lectually challenged and emotionally
engaged. These facilitated relationships
influence students’ understanding of
their own and others’ experiences in
society and cultivate individual and col-
lective agency to effect social change.
Yet if intergroup dialogue is an
effective learning practice, assessments
that confirm its worth and explain its
mechanisms are also essential. Educators
and researchers must continue to provide
evidence of the value of educational
diversity as we strive to strengthen the
role of higher education in building just
futures. This article has emphasized
evidence relating to some selected
predicted outcomes of intergroup
dialogue. Further evidence related to
the whole theoretical model will be
presented in forthcoming articles and
a book expected in summer 2009. <
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1: Participating institutions were: Arizona State
University, Occidental College, Syracuse University,
the University of California-San Diego, the University
of Maryland-College Park, the University of
Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Michigan-
Ann Arbor, the University of Texas-Austin, and the
University of Washington-Seattle.
is table shows change over time comparing intergroup dialogue participants to students in
the control group and the social science classes. ese eects are consistent across race/ethnic-
ity and gender dialogues with the exception of structural understanding of income inequality
(signicant eects demonstrated for race/ethnicity but not gender dialogues). e level of
signicant dierence is indicated thus: *** p < .001, * p <.05, ns = non-signicant eect.
Awareness and Structural
Understanding of Gender
and Racial Inequality
Structural Understanding
of Income Inequality * ns
Motivation to Bridge
Anticipated Post-College
Involvement in Redressing
Condence and Frequency
of Taking Action
Identity Engagement
Table 1: Effects of intergroup dialogue across time
... Environments (Nagda et al., 2009). To both critique and extend this work, I foreground hip-hop feminism in an effort to enlarge educators' understandings of three themes central to a hip-hop feminist project: representation, embodiment, and alternative modes of critical engagement (see Durham et al., 2013;Peoples, 2008;Pough, 2003). ...
... Though useful in creating opportunities to dialogue about and across differences, identify common needs and goals, and surface varying perspectives (Ross, 2000), intergroup dialogue is framed in and through a constructivist paradigm of meaning making, which supports the social construction of identity and posits that individuals' experiences should be centered in discussions of meaning making. Particularly, the emphasis on structured engagement and outcomes (Gurin et al., 2013;Maxwell et al., 2011;Nagda et al., 2009;Zúñiga et al., 2007), may restrict the ability for alternative ways of being to surface in dialogue, thereby hindering meaning making opportunities for some participants. Hip-hop feminism is concerned with the lived reality of women and girls of color (Rose, 1994;Morgan, 1999;Pough, 2003), but more so "regimes of racialized representation that shape social identity and gender relations and with how these regimes structure the ways Black women and other women of color are made intelligible" (Durham et al., 2013, p. 727). ...
... With the help of facilitators, students develop guidelines for respectful dialogic engagement, including working with disagreements and conflicts" (Nagda et al., 2009, p. 2). These decisions, however, may be acting to foreclose discussions. ...
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Hip-hop culture serves as a space to correct, prescribe, make known, and show up. Additionally, it offers its users opportunities to do what other spaces cannot, and that is to present a remix of a previously accepted script. Reintroduction can help Black lives, survive, dismantle, and escape systems of thinking that render them invisible and unheard. In this conceptually grounded manuscript, I discuss intergroup dialogue (IGD), with particular attention to IGD pedagogy. Though an important pedagogical strategy in and outside of higher education, IGD pedagogy may be operating to stifle the full expression of Black participants. By way of intervention, I point to possibilities within hip-hop feminism and hip-hop aesthetics to assist educators and facilitators in reimagining IGD pedagogical practice.
... Key psychological processes in IGD include openness, positive interactions across difference, and identity engagement. Finally, it is these improvements in psychological processes that lead to new intergroup understandings, relationships, and collaborations (Nagda, Gurin, Sorensen, & Zúñiga, 2009). ...
... The effects of the IGD intervention appear to support previous IGD research findings that a single semester course can enhance the development of students' multicultural competencies, including the appreciation of group similarities and difference, through IGDbased curriculum interventions (Dessel et al., 2006;Frantell et al., 2019;Lopez, 2004;Zúñiga et al., 2007). These findings are consistent with the IGD theory, which suggests that IGD curriculum affects pedagogy (active and engage learning, didactic and experiential activities, writing assignments, questions that stimulate individual and group reflection), communication (IGD; e.g., active listening and learning from others, personal sharing, and self-reflection), and psychological processes (individual/students, cognitive and affective processes), which have been shown to have positive effects on IGD outcomes including enhanced intergroup understanding, relationships, and collaboration (Nagda, Gurin, Sorensen, & Zúñiga, 2009). The current study utilized a 16-week standardized, multitopic, IGD-based curriculum as the driving force to create enhanced communication and psychological processes for students, which appear to have led to favorable student outcomes. ...
... This distinction is important, because all individuals possess implicit bias about themselves, other individuals, and various groups. The goal of IGD-based coursework is to increase students' understanding, relationships, and collaboration across groups, not to necessarily remove implicit bias (Nagda Gurin, Sorensen, & Zúñiga, 2009). In other words, it is possible for behavioral change to occur, irrespective of attitudinal and implicit beliefs. ...
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Finding ways to support colleges in reducing the frequency of discrimination experiences is imperative to improve the health of the nation and reduce health disparities. The current study evaluated the effectiveness of an intergroup dialogue (IGD)-based diversity and social justice course offered to undergraduate students at a large, Midwestern University. Students enrolled in the course completed pre- and postcourse evaluation survey measures of critical consciousness, appreciation for diversity, preference for inequality, and week-to-week ratings of openness, connectedness, and participation in the course. Results suggest the course intervention had positive effects on students’ critical consciousness and appreciation of diversity scores. In addition, latent profile and transition analyses indicated students were significantly more likely to stay or move into adaptive versus less adaptive patterns of engagement (i.e., self-rated participation, openness, and connectedness). Findings are discussed in relationship to IGD theory and practice and implications for future research and implementation of IGD-based coursework.
... Many campuses have already implemented programs such as interfaith understanding (Monmouth Dialogue Project, 2013), Middle East issues intergroup dialogue courses Dessel & Ali, 2012;Khuri, 2004), and alternative spring break trips (Dessel & Ali, gram participation leads to increased understanding, relationships, and social justice orientation (Dessel & Rogge, 2008;Hogg et al., 2004;Nagda et al., 2009;Spencer et al., 2008). However, these programs have been replicated by Jewish fraternities and sororities, which sometimes makes them easier targets for people in opposition to their missions (Sasso et al., 2023). ...
There has been a continued increase in antisemitic activities at colleges and universities over the last decade. Media reports and research about perceptions of Jewish college students add face validity that student organizations are often targets of Anti-Jewish rhetoric. In particular, Jewish fraternities and sororities have been targeted by antisemitism as sites of violence but have also been spaces of resistance. Through a literature review of Jewish fraternities and sororities, the authors present their organizational saga to demonstrate a pattern of exclusion and antisemitism and summarize current initiatives by Jewish fraternities and sororities as spaces of resistance in combating antisemitism.
... Another approach is intergroup dialogue, where groups of students are guided by a facilitator to share their own personal narratives of identity (while maintaining a social justice perspective) from which students of different backgrounds can learn (Zúñiga, Nagda, & Sevig, 2002). Such practice was found to promote empathy in a range of contexts (Nagda, Gurin, Sorensen, & Zúñiga, 2009;Shechtman & Tanus, 2006). Work in the area of healing traumatic conflict between different groups saw storytelling developed as a technique; this approach also contains a distinct element of dealing with collective (historical) trauma. ...
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Together for Humanity programs promote school students' understandings and skills in intercultural understanding, belonging and connectedness, resilience, compassion, and creative and critical thinking. This report presents an independent evaluation of the extent to which Together for Humanity’s programs – particularly the Prejudice and Belonging and Good Practice Programs – achieve their aims. Further, the report contextualises Together for Humanity’s operations within an updated scope of current research on best practice.
... It is necessary to note that social work education attempts to engage in intergroup dialogic practices in classrooms across the United States (e.g., White and BIPOC students). Although much research supports the effectiveness of these practices in fostering learning and cultivating relationships among students from different social positionalities (Dessel & Rodenborg, 2017;Nagda et al., 2009;Zúñiga et al., 2007), these attempts may still lead to further harm to BIPOC students as White students engage in suturing strategies to separate themselves from responsibility and harm-centering their emotions and selves. ...
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Social work education reinforces hegemonic Whiteness through pedagogies and practices that rely on an entitlement to and harvesting of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color's lived experiences for the purpose of its tacit audience: White students. Despite this exploitative and harmful reliance on objectified lived experiences, White students continue to lack critical understanding of their racial positionality and connections to racism. Uprooting Whiteness requires sitting with what it means for White people to be "a White problem." Drawing on the work of Yancy, we (group co-facilitators; our dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and three MSW student participants) describe the creation, organization, facilitation, and experiences of the first year of the Space for Uprooting Whiteness-a biweekly space where White social work students examine and uproot their relationship to White supremacy and domination. We argue for White social workers to take collective responsibility for racism in and beyond our institutions-requiring interrogation of our everyday practices and their (inter)dependence with and on systems of domination. This paper ends with three experiential narratives from student participants in the space and implications of critical intragroup dialogic pedagogy among White students in social work education and beyond.
... Intergroup dialogue is a promising pedagogy in which students can explore their beliefs, gain understanding of LGB students' experiences and heterosexism, and collaborate across groups to promote inclusion (Dessel, 2010;Dessel, Woodford, & Warren, 2011). Intergroup dialogue, because of its structured nature (Nagda et al., 2009), may be particularly helpful in creating a space in which religious students who usually feel silenced in the classroom may feel comfortable sharing and critically reflecting upon their beliefs. Sociodrama, which also integrates dialogue techniques, may help students to see and transform dissonance between their personal religious beliefs and the profession's beliefs about LGB people; this is another useful approach (Aldredge, 2014). ...
Religious social work students often report less-affirming LGB attitudes, which is often attributed to anti-LGB religious teachings. Yet research often overlooks one’s beliefs about their denomination’s LGB teachings. We examine the association between MSW students’ LGB attitudes, syncretism between religious teachings that “homosexuality is a sin” and students’ beliefs about these teachings, and the influence of religiosity on syncretism. Results suggest that personal views about one’s denomination’s teachings matter, representing a point for educational intervention. Findings highlight the importance of creating opportunities for students belonging to anti-LGB denominations to reflect critically on religious teachings as part of their education.
This randomized controlled trial examined the impact of The Connection Project, an experiential, relationship‐focused intervention designed to improve school belongingness and decrease symptoms of depression and loneliness among new college students. Participants were 438 first‐year and transfer students (232 treatment, 206 waitlist‐control) at a medium‐sized, 4years, predominantly White public university in the Southeastern United States. At postintervention, the treatment group reported significant relative increases in school belonging and significant relative reductions in levels of loneliness and depressive symptoms in comparison to waitlist‐controls. Program effects were stronger for students from marginalized racial or ethnic backgrounds, students from lower socioeconomic status households, and transfer students. Results are interpreted as suggesting the utility of experiential, peer‐support prevention programming to promote college students' well‐being, particularly college students who hold identities that are traditionally disadvantaged in this context. Participants report reduced depression and loneliness relative to waitlist‐controls. Participants report increased belongingness at their school, even when remote. Program benefits are strongest for marginalized students, most at‐risk for disconnection. Experiential programming and supportive peer relationships promote college students' well‐being. Prevention programming may be a first line to reducing burden on college mental health services. Participants report reduced depression and loneliness relative to waitlist‐controls. Participants report increased belongingness at their school, even when remote. Program benefits are strongest for marginalized students, most at‐risk for disconnection. Experiential programming and supportive peer relationships promote college students' well‐being. Prevention programming may be a first line to reducing burden on college mental health services.
The current socio-political moment-rife with racial tensions and overt bigotry-has exacerbated longstanding racial inequities in higher education. While educational scholars have developed conceptual tools and offered data-informed recommendations for rooting out racism in campus policies and practices, this work is largely inaccessible to the public. At the same time, practitioners and policymakers are increasingly called on to implement quick solutions to what are, in fact, profound, structural problems. Racial Equity on College Campuses bridges this gap, marshaling the expertise of nineteen scholars and practitioners to translate research-based findings into actionable recommendations in three key areas: university leadership, teaching and learning, and student and campus life. The strategies gathered here will prove useful to institutional actors engaged in both real-time and long-term decision-making across contexts-from the classroom to the boardroom.
In response to the growing numbers of minoritized students (e.g., low-income, first-generation, students of color) transitioning into U.S. systems of higher education, researchers have developed transition-assistance strategies, such as psychologically wise-story interventions. Through a rigorous, theory-driven approach, wise-story interventions use stories to encourage students to develop adaptive meanings about college-transition challenges, subsequently allowing students to persist. Yet there is one critical distinction between existing wise-story interventions. Well-known examples endorse a color-evasive message that all students, regardless of their demographic backgrounds, share similar struggles when adjusting to college. One variation in wise-story interventions ties transition struggles explicitly to students’ identities, adopting more of a multicultural perspective. Drawing from diversity frameworks, we offer in this article a comparative analysis of these variations; we outline under what conditions, for whom, and through which processes these varying approaches to identity affect student outcomes. In this discussion, we reflect on both the strengths and challenges of wise-story interventions and offer considerations for extending these approaches. Specifically, we ask whether integrating critical perspectives into wise-story interventions better addresses the experiences of minoritized students as they navigate institutions historically built for dominant groups.
In the current context of legal challenges to affirmative action and race-based considerations in college admissions, educators have been challenged to articulate clearly the educational purposes and benefits of diversity. In this article, Patricia Gurin, Eric Dey, Sylvia Hurtado, and Gerald Gurin explore the relationship between students' experiences with diverse peers in the college or university setting and their educational outcomes. Rooted in theories of cognitive development and social psychology, the authors present a framework for understanding how diversity introduces the relational discontinuities critical to identity construction and its subsequent role in fostering cognitive growth. Using both single- and multi-institutional data from the University of Michigan and the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the authors go on to examine the effects of classroom diversity and informal interaction among African American, Asian American, Latino/a, and White students on learning and democracy outcomes. The results of their analyses under-score the educational and civic importance of informal interaction among different racial and ethnic groups during the college years. The authors offer their findings as evidence of the continuing importance of affirmative action and diversity efforts by colleges and universities, not only as a means of increasing access to higher education for greater numbers of students, but also as a means of fostering students' academic and social growth.
Compelling interest: Examining the evidence on racial dynamics in colleges and universities
  • M J Chang
  • J Witt
  • K Jones
  • Hakuta
CHanG, M. J., d. Witt, J. JoneS, and K. HaKuta. 2003. Compelling interest: Examining the evidence on racial dynamics in colleges and universities. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Breaking barriers, crossing boundaries, building bridges: Communication processes in intergroup dialogues
naGda, B. a. 2006. Breaking barriers, crossing boundaries, building bridges: Communication processes in intergroup dialogues. Journal of Social Issues 62 (3): 553-576.