Intergroup Relations

Photo of family at dinner table

by Jonathan Vanderbeck, IGR Graduate Student Intern

I’m new to IGR and will be working here for a year as a graduate intern from the School of Social Work. It’s been a great first month and I have enjoyed diving into my work. However, there is definitely a bit of a learning curve when it comes to understanding the work and role of IGR, particularly around courses regarding dialogue and facilitation. 

When I told my parents back in the summer that I had secured an internship at IGR, the first thing they did was ask me, 

“What is intergroup dialogue?”

It’s a bit of a perplexing thing – the phrase “intergroup dialogue”. What does it mean?

Without explanation, it simply sounds like groups of people having a conversation. And indeed when I explain that, I usually get the inquisitive question, 

“So what makes it special?”

So, as I’ve had to learn how to give an elevator pitch to my relatives back home who ask me what it is I do, let me try and give you some talking points on how to explain intergroup dialogue courses in a more descriptive (and ultimately more marketable) way.

1. It’s a “third-way” of communication.

Tired of fruitless debates over politics around the proverbial “dinner table”? Or perhaps you’re tired of discussions that don’t really go anywhere and no one is pushed beyond their comfort zone? Dialogue is about making sure every voice is being heard, while simultaneously pushing back against normative narratives. 

2. It’s a way to “deescalate” conflict around controversial topics.

Let’s face it. Issues of controversy come up in almost any setting. Being able to tell a future employer that you’re trained in this unique form of conflict resolution will be an asset, both in your professional career and personal lives. 

3. It elevates marginalized voices and issues of injustice.

“Marginalized”. “Oppression”. “Injustice”. These are hot-button terms right now. Intergroup Dialogue’s unique approach in allowing all voices to be heard, while encouraging participants to question the status quo, can help to shed more light on issues that are commonly overlooked by dominant groups.

4. For those who have facilitated a dialogue, you've demonstrated group leadership in managing conversation around difficult issues.

Just about anyone could write on a resume that they “displayed leadership”. However, training in and practicing the methods of facilitating intergroup dialogue is no small thing. It demonstrates leadership in navigating tricky and sensitive conversations. 

So the next time I see my family or have to answer the question "what exactly IS IGR?", here’s the things I’ll be bringing up. To sum it up, it’s more than just groups having conversations with one another. Intergroup dialogue skills give us ways to skillfully talk with others about identity, diversity, and social justice. Given all the different people and situations we'll run into over the course of our lives, who wouldn't agree that these types of skills are useful or maybe even essential to succeeding in our world?