What it takes—Advancing Intergroup Dialogue to transform lives

Screenshot of a Zoom meeting placed into a laptop mockup on a gradient background

July 31, 2023 |  By Nick Pfost

This summer, as politicians across the country breathlessly debated a fresh slate of laws to reshape higher education—covering academic freedom, admissions, cultural and multicultural programs, social justice education, and more—a group of 64 educators and college administrators gathered to learn about dialogue on their campuses.

Intergroup Dialogue is one powerful, research-based approach to help students learn about social group identity, understand power and oppression, and communicate across differences. It prepares them to live, work, and make ethical choices in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. At the annual National Intergroup Dialogue Institute, experts from The Program on Intergroup Relations shared the program’s philosophy and model for the purposes of helping these colleagues create dialogue programs on their own campuses.

The Michigan Model of Intergroup Dialogue is nationally recognized for its demonstrated, positive impact on the lives of students across all groups—and at the same time, because of its roots in liberatory and social justice education, it’s not inconceivable that a new program in one of these states could also become ensnared in the broader political fervor.

At this year’s Institute, “colleagues were definitely paying attention to the legal landscape and potential complications to doing the work,” said Shana Schoem, IGR’s associate director for strategic partnerships. And that landscape may make IGR’s role all the more valuable at this moment. “We have a long view across the many political and cultural moments since we were founded.”

Schoem explained that part of the work for a pioneering program is the ability and responsibility to lead, so while the current landscape was an essential truth that emerged in sessions, participants were capably guided and engaged around the core questions of what it takes to operationalize an intergroup relations program.

Reflecting on this year’s Institute, Schoem said, “It felt like we hosted a group of colleagues, not just participants.”

“It was a powerful reminder of how much these opportunities are needed and desired. And we couldn’t have done it without a really skilled team of staff and facilitators running the smartest and smoothest virtual Institute yet.”

This year’s was the fourth held virtually since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The four-day program is scheduled to return virtually for its 18th annual gathering from June 10-13, 2024.


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