Conference explores best practices in intergroup dialogue

IDP conference
Jason Koski/University Photography
The Intergroup Dialogue Project conference at Cornell.

Students, faculty and staff from various institutions shared experiences and research in the growing field of intergroup dialogue at a conference hosted in June by Cornell’s Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP).

Intergroup Dialogue in Context” drew about 130 participants from 37 institutions to campus. “Some of the participants already have programs in place and others are interested in starting their own,” said Adi Grabiner-Keinan, director of IDP.

Offerings at the second biennial conference included an alternative campus tour developed by IDP student facilitators, with a historical focus on social justice-related landmarks, events and scholarship at Cornell.

IDP launched its first intergroup dialogue course in 2012 with two sections and 30 undergraduate students. The course has since achieved a capacity of 200 students and 13 sections. The peer-facilitated educational program is designed to foster communication across social, cultural and power differences, and to help diverse campus communities engage in difficult conversations about identity, solidarity and social justice.

An inaugural regional conference in 2015 “brought together people from all over the northeast that practice intergroup dialogue,” Grabiner-Keinan said. “It was clear we needed a space to share best practices. By the end of the conference, we knew we wanted to host the next one.”

Organizers sought programming and topic proposals connecting theory to practice, emphasizing hands-on experiential learning, and reflecting on the role of critical dialogue in the current social and political climate.

“Since being developed at the University of Michigan over 20 years ago, intergroup dialogue courses have been started at institutions all over the U.S. This conference was an opportunity for practitioners to review their progress and program development, to see what is happening outside of their institutions, and to think about all of this in the context of today’s world and how our practices might change,” Grabiner-Keinan said.

One conference session highlighted student experiences from Cornell’s first graduate-level intergroup dialogue courses in July and December 2016, reprised in two sessions this summer. (IDP also offers peer-led programs for faculty and staff, and facilitators have contributed to academic research and social movements on campus and beyond.)

The grad-level courses seek to provide “a meaningful process for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to explore their identities, practice communication across difference and to think together about authentic diversity in academia,” Grabiner-Keinan said.

Graduate students Peter DelNero, Jazlin Gomez and Caitlin Kane, past IDP participants and facilitators, led an interactive session reflecting on implementing IDP in graduate settings. They discussed the ways the courses have inspired and supported equity and inclusion projects in classrooms and departments. The session ended with attendees and panelists collectively brainstorming ideas for future graduate programs.

One such project highlighted in the session was doctoral student Natalie Hofmeister’s collaborative team project, “Empowering Women in STEM to Lead Through Inclusive Practice and Community Building,” which received a Campus Action Project grant from the American Association of University Women in November for workshops on issues facing underrepresented groups in the sciences. The project was partially inspired by Hofmeister’s experience in the IDP graduate course.

Topics for other interactive sessions included: creating writing assignments that promote self-awareness and understanding of others; “Dialogue in the Time of Trump” and challenges to pedagogy; and how to develop a dialogue course on gender binaries. Grabiner-Keinan and Vivian Relta, director and senior facilitator of Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble, facilitated the opening session on active listening.

Keynote speaker and filmmaker Shakti Butler, founding president of the nonprofit social justice organization World Trust, led a discussion on racial inequality using scenes from her documentary “Cracking the Codes,” and a workshop, “Strategic Questioning: An Approach to Creating Personal and Social Change.”

IDP recently received a grant from the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies to develop a new section focused on internationality and citizenship, to debut in the upcoming fall semester. Content for the new section is being developed for a diverse mix of students.

“Half the class will be international or undocumented students, the other half U.S. citizens,” Grabiner-Keinan said. “In the course we usually focus on U.S.-centric issues. This is an opportunity to explore topics in the context of different countries, societies and cultures, and the challenges faced by international and undocumented students at Cornell.”

The Intergroup Dialogue Project’s course, EDUC 2610, is open to all undergraduate students.

“Because the course fulfills the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) diversity requirement, we have found that most of our students and peer facilitators come from CALS,” Grabiner-Keinan said. “There is this debate: should we require diversity education for everyone? We have seen first-hand the positive effects.”

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