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Evaluating intergroup dialogue: Engaging diversity for personal and social responsibility

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VOL. 12, NO. 1 ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES
4
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
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING 
Evaluating Intergroup Dialogue:
Engaging Diversity for Personal and Social
Responsibility
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
Massachusetts-Amherst
ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES VOL. 12, NO. 1 5
CIVIC LEARNING FOR SHARED FUTURES
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
INTERGROUP
DIALOGUE
PEDAGOGY
COMMUNICATION
PROCESSES
(WITHIN IGD)
PSYCHOLOGICAL
PROCESSES
(WITHIN
INDIVIDUALS)
OUTCOMES
Active
Learning
Structured
Interaction
Facilitative
Guidance
Learning from
Others
Engaging Self
Critical Reection
Building
Alliances/
Common Ground
Intergroup
Understanding
Intergroup
Relationships
Intergroup
Collaboration
Cognitive
Processes
Aective
Processes
Figure 1: Theoretical framework of Intergroup Dialogue Practice and Research
VOL. 12, NO. 1 ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES
6
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.
OUTCOMES EFFECT OF
DIALOGUE VS.
CONTROL
EFFECT OF DIALOGUE
VS. SOCIAL SCIENCE
COMPARISON
INTERGROUP
UNDERSTANDING
Awareness and Structural
Understanding of Gender
and Racial Inequality
Structural Understanding
of Income Inequality * ns
Empathy
INTERGROUP
RELATIONSHIPS
Motivation to Bridge
INTERGROUP
COLLABORATION
Anticipated Post-College
Involvement in Redressing
Inequality
Condence and Frequency
of Taking Action
Dierences
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). ...
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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.