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Volume 2, Number 2, Feb 2002

Intergroup Dialogue: Deliberative Democracy in School, College, Community, and Workplace

Schoem, D. & Hurtado, S. (eds) (2001).
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Review by Samantha Spitzer

Intergroup Dialogue is geared toward people working for peace, social justice and diverse democracy. It presents theory, practice, research and evaluation of intergroup dialogue programs, as well as case studies of organizations that have implemented such programs. It is especially useful for anybody working with campus mediation programs.

In the first chapter of the book, titled "Intergroup Dialogue: Democracy at Work in Theory and Practice", David Schoem, Sylvia Hurtado, Todd Sevig, Mark Chesler and Stephen H. Sumida discuss the history, definition and current use of intergroup dialogue. According to the authors,

Today, people in all walks of life report they are confronted with problems of intergroup relations, and many seek some venue to join in dialogue about these issues. Why? Because every day in contemporary society we face conflict rooted in the historical legacy of the social divisions of our country and because, at the same time, we embrace a pluralistic and democratic America...We must talk with each other to survive as a society.

The authors view intergroup dialogue as a

...significant and bold model of small groups of people coming together from various walks of life to build a strong democracy...It is a positive effort on the part of the citizenry to take initiative and responsibility for talking about building a just, multicultural society.

The process of intergroup dialogue is also detailed in this chapter. In summary, intergroup dialogue consists of face-to-face relationship building and thoughtful engagement about difficult issues. It requires an extended commitment and takes place in an atmosphere of confidentiality and understanding. Dialogues often focus on race, although other issues of social identity can be addressed. Dialogues are led by facilitators, center on intergroup conflict and community building and often lead to group action.

In Chapter 2, "Research and Evaluation on Intergroup Dialogue", Hurtado looks at the research, studies and evaluations supporting intergroup dialogue. According to Hurtado,

Much of the research on intergroup dialogue identifies thinking and citizenship skills necessary for participation in a diverse society with increasingly complex social problems that are too difficult for one person to solve. After experiencing intergroup dialogue, participants typically think and see the world differently, increase personal and social awareness of different group experiences and forms of oppression in society, and build confidence in working through differences with others.

Case Studies

Chapters 3-14 are filled with case studies from the school, college, community and workplace arenas. The authors of the case studies address the institutional context, philosophy and rationale for starting an intergroup dialogue program, a description of the program components, a discussion of the methodology and process of the dialogues, the successes and challenges facing the program and its intergroup dialogue efforts and evaluation data.

Only the college case studies will be addressed here, as they are most relevant to the target audience of this publication. The first case study is "Voices of Diversity: Intergroup Dialogues at Arizona State University" by Jesus Trevino. ASU created the Intergroup Relations Center in 1997 to address issues, capitalize on diversity as an asset, encourage intergroup interaction, address intergroup conflict and provide intergroup relations education and training. Evaluation results show that the Voice of Diversity program (the program specifically designed to structure interaction between difference groups on campus) produces significant cognitive and affective outcomes. Students come away from dialogues with increased knowledge about specific groups on campus. As Trevino states in his conclusion,

As our institutions of higher education continue to diversify, new strategies must be employed to take advantage of the multiplicity of cultures, languages, worldviews, orientations, talents, skills, and perspectives that groups bring to campus...Intergroup dialogue is one effective approach to creating interaction between groups as a means of using diversity to achieve intergroup educational outcomes.

The second case study is "Educating for Social Justice: The Program on Intergroup Relations, Conflict, and Community at the University of Michigan" by Monita C. Thompson, Teresa Graham Brett and Charles Behling. The Program on Intergroup Relations, Conflict, and Community (IGR) was established in 1988 to reduce racial and ethnic tension and U of M. The primary initiative of the IGR was to create intergroup dialogues. The IGR believes that systematic education, interaction and dialogue can prepare learners in the building of just communities. In addition to facilitating dialogues, the IGR also provides training courses for those wishing to be facilitators. The IGR finds that intergroup dialogues increases critical awareness, sustained dialogue and the bridging of differences.

The final case study relating to higher education is "Intergroup Dialogue, Education, and Action: Innovations at the University of Washington School of Social Work" by Biren (Ratnesh) A. Nagda, Scott Harding, Dominique Moise-Swanson, Mary Lou Balassone, Margaret Spearman and Stan de Mello. The Intergroup Dialogue, Education, and Action (IDEA) effort at the University of Washingon School of Social Work was started in 1996. The program primarily uses intergroup dialogue as an experiential setting for social work students to engage with people from different backgrounds. IDEA views dialogues as an integral component of the educational experience that assists students in becoming effective citizens.

Final Chapters

The remainder of Intergroup Dialogue explores critical issues in intergroup dialogue. Issues addressed include facilitation, individual and group identity, content and process, power, post-dialogue action and design considerations. The final pages of the book include a directory of intergroup dialogue programs and organizations.

Intergroup Dialogue is comprehensive, interesting and useful. As Carol Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, states

This breakthrough book identifies clearly the new democratic capacities Americans need to face and transcend our histories or racial and cultural hierarchy - and trumpets the good news that our campuses and communities are already working hard to create these new capacities.
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