Intergroup Relations

Co-Directors Donna Rich Kaplowitz and Monita C. Thompson

Dear Friends,

Welcome to Winter 2021 at The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan.

COVID-19 has revealed more acutely what we have long known: that inequity is baked into nearly every system in our nation. As the pandemic grinds on, the disproportionate impact of health inequities on communities of color and poor communities spells out in the clearest and simultaneously most heartbreaking of ways how much work the nation has to do to move toward a socially just world.  

Along with the rest of the world, we here at IGR watched as the events in January 2021 unfolded revealing in piercing terms the gaping political divide in our country. 

We know this much is true: our social justice education program is needed now more than ever. The demand and desire to create spaces for dialogue across difference has taken on new urgency in the last year, and we continue our deep commitment to our work with our students and colleagues to raise awareness of inequality to bring about a more socially just society.

IGR at U-M is the oldest program of its kind in higher education, conceived and developed in 1988 by a group of U-M faculty, staff, and students dedicated to the notion that  understanding social inequalityis a foundational principle of undergraduate education at the university. Since its founding, our program has offered students a robust opportunity to explore social diversity in an intentional, reflective, way, through intergroup dialogue and liberatory education practice. Our program is a partnership between Student Life and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) precisely because we believe our work is to develop full human potential. We pride ourselves not only on being student-focused but also for generously supporting the development of intergroup educational programs across the country.

This past year we have successfully moved all of our programs to a remote format, and though 18 months ago we would have shaken our heads at the possibility of running dialogues remotely, we have learned through the magic of technology that we can continue to deliver high-quality programs online. 

We believe that understanding the differences between us is crucial to the development of thoughtful global citizens. We teach and learn about social group identity, intergroup relations, inequality, working through conflict, and communicating across differences. We encourage students, staff, and faculty to learn about differences and similarities, to embrace them and to find commonality in the human experience. To this end, we focus on gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion, ability status, socio-economic class, nationality, and other topics. Our goal is to empower our students to develop tools to dismantle systems of oppression to create a more just and equitable society.

One of the joys we have doing this work is that we are constantly pushing our own selves and learning from our students and colleagues. Social justice education is ever-evolving and we bring both humility and bravery to this work.

This website includes information about all facets of the program. If you can’t find something you are looking for, please feel free to contact us directly. One of the fundamental tenets of our work here at IGR is a generosity of spirit that includes sharing our learning with others. We strive to improve our own practice and toward that end, we look forward to learning from each of you on our shared journey.

As we venture forward, we take courage from those upon whose shoulders we stand. In 1857, Frederick Douglas said “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and while we find ourselves 164 years later still in the struggle, we believe, as Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral university is long but it bends toward justice.” We take heart in seeing that the discourse is changing and we have hope that from the ashes of this current moment, a new, more just, and equitable society will arise.

As our colleague Stephanie Hicks has written, “Hope isn’t something we do when it’s convenient when it seems like better days, or a better world, are right around the corner. Yearning for the world we want and creating it is something we have to do consistently, with rigor, even when - especially when - times are tough.”

We here at IGR are committed to hope – to planting seeds of justice – and get into what John Lewis has called “good trouble” during these challenging times.

Donna Rich Kaplowitz and Monita C. Thompson