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Intergroup Dialogue: Education for Social Justice

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on intergroup dialogue (IGD), an educational approach that teaches about and for social justice. Intergroup dialogue addresses one of the central concerns in contemporary research on intergroup contact between groups with distinct social statuses: Do identity salience and positive relationships mobilize or sedate collective action on the part of disadvantaged or advantaged groups? We explicate how IGD addresses the concerns through its theoretical and practice model. IGD pedagogy—content, structured interaction, and facilitation—fosters critical-dialogic communication processes that in turn impact cognitive and affective psychological processes. These two kinds of processes then produce outcomes. Results from a longitudinal, multi-site field experiment of randomly assigned (dialogue and control) students (N = 1437) showed significant treatment effects for dialogue students and strong support for the theoretical model and the centrality of the communication processes. These results support our claim that critical-dialogic intergroup dialogue heightens, not mutes, commitment to action.

Keywords: dialogue, intergroup contact, social justice education, critical pedagogy, communication processes, psychological processes, social identity, collective action

Social justice is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of people from all social identity groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. The process for attaining the goal of social justice should also be democratic and participatory, respectful of human diversity and group differences, and inclusive and affirming of human agency and capacity for working collaboratively with others to create change. . . . Our vision of social justice is a world in which the distribution of resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable, and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure, recognized and treated with respect. We envision a world in which individuals are both self-determining (able to develop their full capacities) and interdependent (capable of interacting democratically with others). Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others, their society, the environment, and the broader world in which we live. . . .

—(Bell, 2016, p. 3).

In her introductory statement to Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Lee Ann Bell spells out this larger vision of social justice that many educators are attempting to actualize in practice. She (p. 380) bridges the structural with the psychological, the individual with the collective, and self-agency with social responsibility. Most important, she emphasizes an alignment of social justice process and goals, such that the practices we engage in bringing about social justice outcomes must also themselves be socially just. Put simply, “the best ways of educating people is to give them an experience that embodies what you are trying to teach” (Horton, Kohl & Kohl, 1998, p. 68).

In this chapter, we focus on intergroup dialogue as an educational approach that aims to teach about and for social justice. Developed in the late 1980s and drawing on its roots in social identity theory, intergroup contact, and critical pedagogy, intergroup dialogue conceives students’ sharing their lived experiences as integral to the learning, teachers learning in concert with students, and all participants working to envision and enact social justice in the interactions in the classroom and wider world (Freire, 1970). By social justice, we mean recognition of group-based inequalities, understanding them as often illegitimate and produced in large measure by structural factors such as policies and institutional practices favoring one group more than others, and becoming motivated to act to support more equitable outcomes for all groups in society. Social justice, for us, also includes social relationships, not only as an end but also as a means to greater individual, collective, and coalitional social change action.

Intergroup dialogue is located at the intersection of social justice education and intergroup contact, yet it extends both these traditions in innovative and challenging ways. Broadly speaking, diversity and social justice education, sometimes also referred to as multicultural education, has grappled with who, what, and how to engage increasing demographic diversity in schools. The diversity approach, also known as the human relations approach, “focuses on appreciating social differences without an emphasis on power dynamics or differential access to resources and institutional support needed to live safe, satisfying and productive lives” (Hardiman, Jackson & Griffin, 2007, p. 58). In contrast, the social justice approach “focuses on understanding the social power dynamics and social inequality that result in some social groups having privilege, status, and access, whereas other groups are disadvantaged, oppressed, and denied access” (Hardiman et al., 2007, p. 58). While social diversity education is seen as “educating about others,” social justice education is “education that changes students and society” (Kumashiro, 2000; also see Sleeter & Grant, 2009, for discussion of various approaches to multicultural education; also see Adams & Zúñiga, 2016, for further discussion of differences between diversity and social justice education). Although there is broad agreement among progressive educators about the vision and goals of social justice education, the particular practices and methods to promote those goals vary. Intergroup dialogue is more aligned with social justice education even though it draws on the relationship focus of diversity education. Unlike diversity education, however, intergroup dialogue positions these relationships within systems of power and privilege (Nagda & Gurin, 2013a).

In many ways, the distinctions between diversity and social justice education reflect current and longstanding debates in intergroup contact theory about how salient separate group identities should be during intergroup contact, and thus how much focus there should be on similarities and/or differences between groups. (See Brewer & Miller, 1984; Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000; Hewstone & Brown, 1986; Tajfel, 1974, for different views on this question.) A focus on similarities is seen to foster friendships, a process viewed as important for reducing prejudice and promoting harmony (Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011). A focus on differences, even conflicts, is considered to be important, especially from the perspectives of disadvantaged group members and in contexts of direct violence and on-going asymmetrical power relationships between groups (Abu-Nimer, 1999; Halabi & Sonnenschein, 2004; Hammack & Pilecki, 2015; Maoz, 2011, 2018). More recently, there is a robust debate about the aims of intergroup contact: Should the aim be to reduce prejudice or to promote collective action (Dixon, Levine, Reicher, & Durrheim, 2012; Wright & Baray, 2012; Wright & Lubensky, 2009)? Tropp and Mallett (2011) further question whether the aim in intergroup contact is to reduce, perhaps prevent, prejudice or to promote positive intergroup relationships. Still others ask for whom are the relationships experienced as positive and for what purpose? (Cakal, Hewstone, Schwar, & Heath, 2011; Dixon et al., 2010; Saguy, Tausch, Dovidio, & Pratto, 2009). There is also a rich body of work emerging on differences in motivations, expectations, and aspirations in intergroup contact for advantaged and disadvantaged group members (p. 381) (Demoulin, Leyens, & Dovidio, 2009; Saguy et al., 2009). Some argue that the psychological processes involved in creating positive intergroup relationships have diametrically opposed impact on members of advantaged and disadvantaged groups (Wright & Baray, 2012).

These current debates about the aims and consequences of intergroup contact between members of groups with different levels of societal power connect to Tajfel’s and Turner’s (1986) distinction between social mobility and social change orientations that may emerge in intergroup contact (see also Durrheim & Dixon, 2018, for historical perspective). Be it in social psychology research on intergroup contact or in diversity and social justice education, scholars and practitioners face challenges in how to simultaneously address three tensions: recognize identity, inequality, and conflict; develop positive intergroup relationships; and foster support for and participation in social change action. These tensions frame the critical-dialogic model that guides our theory and practice of intergroup dialogue. On the one hand, we aim to produce critical consciousness (critical analysis and change), and, on the other hand, we also aim to produce dialogic relationships (interpersonal and intergroup relationships between self and other). Further, we conceptualize critical consciousness and dialogic relationships as interconnected and continually influencing each other. Throughout this chapter, we elaborate how our critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue deals with the interplay between the critical and dialogic and in doing so integrates aspects of both diversity and social justice education.

We begin this chapter by first defining intergroup dialogue and elaborate on its goals. We trace its foundations in our early work from the 1970s through the 1990s on group identity and consciousness, and in our beginning conceptualization and practice of intergroup dialogue in the late 1980s. Next we present what we now call the critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue that is guiding practice in educational and community settings in the United States. We discuss how it addresses recent criticisms of intergroup contact, and how, through its distinctive pedagogy and communication processes, it fosters cognitive and affective processes within participants. These processes in turn advance participants’ understanding of group-based inequalities, intergroup empathy and motivation to bridge differences, and intergroup collaboration and action. Next we describe how the model is implemented in practice and then present evidence supporting the model from a large-scale, multi-university field experiment. We also discuss critiques of intergroup dialogue, namely that it could be too focused on critical analysis or that it could be too focused on relationships. Our main point in this chapter is that critical-dialogic intergroup dialogue, involving clear salience of the identities of two participating groups, explicit attention to power, inequalities, coalition building, and intergroup collaboration is a particular kind of intergroup contact that does not mute, in fact heightens, commitment to action.

What Is Intergroup Dialogue?

Our approach to intergroup dialogue is a distinct critical-dialogic educational model that mobilizes relationship building across differences, fosters understanding of social identities and social inequalities, and enhances motivation and capacity for social action. By critical, we mean a critical analysis of power inequalities and of the need for social action to mitigate them (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Freire, 1970), and by dialogic, we mean an intentional effort to build relationships across groups that are affected by these inequalities (Baxter, 2004; Freire, 1970). More specifically,

When participants engage in critical dialogue—they draw on and share their own narratives—perspectives constructed through and informed by their social, cultural and lived experiences. Those narratives are shared by other participants and include texts that may lead participants to deconstruct status quo discourses, reconstruct their understandings in more complex ways, and construct new ways of being and understanding the world. Therefore we see critical dialogue as potentially transformative for individuals and society

(Laman, Jewett, Jennings, Wilson & Souto-Manning, 2012, p. 199).

In all three ways—relationship building, understanding identities in the context of inequalities, and enhancing motivation for social action—the critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue promotes social justice through careful attention to group composition and leadership and explicit linkage of goals to educational activities. We discuss these aspects of intergroup dialogue next.

(p. 382) Group Composition and Leadership

Developed and refined mostly for college students, usually in sustained, credit-bearing courses, and now being applied in middle and high schools and community settings in the United States, intergroup dialogue brings together a diverse group of participants, usually from six to eight members of each of two social identity groups that differ in societal power, that is people with less privilege (disadvantaged or subordinated groups) and those with more privilege (advantaged or dominant groups; Zúñiga & Nagda, 1993; Zúñiga, Nagda & Sevig, 2002). Historically, these groups have experienced conflict, and currently, they have different levels of power, a potential of conflict, or are estranged in some ways. Examples in the United States include people of color and white people; women and men; lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people, and heterosexual people; people from working-, middle-, and upper-socioeconomic class backgrounds; Arabs and Jews (or Muslims and Christians), and so on. These identity groupings are not formed to enforce a homogenization of experiences, but rather to recognize their different social locations in asymmetric power relationships.

Two facilitators, each representing the two identity groups in dialogue, provide guidance for the weekly dialogue class sessions over the duration of an academic term. They use an educational curriculum that includes readings and written assignments, structured learning activities that take place in the classroom to actively engage students, dialogue guidelines to deepen learning from the activities, and facilitator suggestions to promote inquiry and engaged group dynamics (see Nagda & Gurin, 2013a, for details of curriculum). Intergroup dialogue practitioners converge on three sets of goals for intergroup dialogue (see Gurin, Nagda, & Zúñiga, 2013; Zúñiga, Nagda, Chesler, & Cytron-Walker, 2007; Zúñiga et al., 2002).

Goals and Illustrative Educational Activities

The first goal of intergroup dialogue is to build intergroup relationships across differences, power, and conflicts. Asymmetrical power relationships that exist in the wider society, on university campuses, and within the dialogues themselves affect the participants’ conceptualizations of identities and inequalities as well as the nature of relationships they build within and across groups. Relationship processes that build trust are crucial, and to do that, dialogues need to be sustained and facilitated. Dialogic processes of listening, sharing, and asking questions do not develop immediately when groups are brought into contact, but develop over time. As trust emerges through dialogic interactions, participants become motivated to bridge differences and experience conflict as an opportunity to deepen learning rather than something to be feared or avoided (Freire, 1990; Nagda, 2006). Disagreements and differences in experiences and perspectives that emerge in intergroup dialogues are seen as opportunities for further exploration and greater understanding of the personal, social and political influences, but not with a goal of coming to agreement or consensus.

A structured activity called testimonials is crucial for building a level of trust that produces motivation to bridge and work across differences. In a gender dialogue, for example, participants prepare a narrative about their socialization experiences related to gender through family, peers, adults, social institutions and the larger societal culture. They recount critical incidents and experiences that shaped their gender identities and gender expression, points in their lives where they became aware of gender differences, privilege, oppression, and so on. In the dialogue group, facilitators invite participants to take about 5 to 7 minutes to share these narratives and to listen attentively to each other’s narratives. Participants usually take turns in a round to share, with support and validation from both facilitators and fellow participants. Facilitators also ask participants not to interrupt each other while sharing and not to ask questions right after someone’s sharing. Instead, participants can write on index cards thoughts and questions that come up while others are sharing. The intentional set-up of this testimonial session deepens active listening skills and the dialogue. What is crucial in this activity is for participants to listen, and then to begin to use inquiry by asking each other questions that deepen everyone’s understanding of the shared testimonials. The testimonials are one of the key experiences that intergroup dialogue participants report as formative in their learning of inequalities, power, differences, and commonalties, as well as developing strong bonds across differences. The mutuality and reciprocity in sharing, questions to understand experiences more fully, and the identification of commonalties and differences serve to deepen empathy among participants. The quality of empathy is not simply about being able to take another’s perspective but a deeper appreciation of others’ lives in a larger context. Reciprocal self-disclosure, (p. 383) validation of identity experiences, appreciation of differences, and finding commonalties among participants are all evident here.

The second goal of intergroup dialogue is to develop an intergroup understanding of group identities and group-based inequalities. Social identity theorists suggest that becoming aware of one’s identity in relation to a broader social context happens through stages, not necessarily in a linear manner but still moving from unawareness to awareness or naïve consciousness to critical consciousness (Freire, 1970; Hardiman, Jackson & Griffin, 2007; Tajfel, 1974; Tatum, 1992). Identities are understood not merely as personal identities but as group memberships (such as race and gender) that are located in structures of social power and privilege (such as racism and white supremacy, and sexism and patriarchy). Thus, in our model, groups and group identities are kept salient and used as critical features of interaction throughout the dialogue process. As we shall describe, there are times when members of the two groups meet separately in what are called caucus or affinity groups in which they discuss experiences and perspectives they may not have discussed in the intergroup setting, and decide which, if any, to bring back to the total group. Moreover, many of in-class structured, active-learning exercises explicitly focus on group-based experiences and perspectives.

An example of helping students understand the group bases of identities and perspectives is a caucus/fishbowl activity. Students are asked to talk in like-identity groups known as intragroup caucuses. For example, in an interracial dialogue, people of color, bi/multiracial, and white participants students meet in separate groups to dialogue specifically about challenges and advantages they have on campus and in the larger society. They share the personal impact of oppression and privilege, and ways in which they feel proud (or not) of their identities. These caucus conversations continue later in a fishbowl format when the whole group reconvenes. Participants from one identity group are in an inner circle, with the rest of the participants in an outer circle. The inner circle shares learning and insights from their caucus conversations while the outer circle listens. Then participants from the outer circle are invited to share/paraphrase one thing they heard. This format—inner group sharing and outer group listening and paraphrasing—is repeated until all two/three subgroups have had a chance to share. In the collective reflection, facilitators ask for general observations and insights. Participants from the dominant group usually talk about their discomfort in sharing their experiences and taking ownership of privilege. Participants from disadvantaged groups usually talk about feeling validated, safe, and strongly connected in the caucus groups. This asymmetric dynamic becomes substance for the dialogue with facilitators, who inquire why this dynamic exists, which leads to a critical examination of fears, for example, of talking about white privilege in interracial settings. These differences are then analyzed using colorblind and multicultural perspectives. The connections of privilege, lack of identity salience, and guilt as well as empowerment produce profound insights for all learners. The caucus/fishbowl format also makes visible the sometimes unspoken dynamics in dialogue about who is sharing about what, because asymmetries are highlighted and interrogated.

Intergroup understanding also involves becoming aware of how power relationships are located in institutional, historical and structural systems of power and privilege, and are not merely interpersonal. Be it through economics, media, politics, education and other institutions as well as by social policies enacted in these institutions, members of advantaged and disadvantaged societal groups receive unequal societal rewards and face unequal opportunities. Rewards and opportunities are socially structured, disadvantaging some groups in society and advantaging others. However, just as the sources of inequality are socially structured, inequalities can be reduced or eliminated through social action. The connection between sources and solutions is continually made in intergroup dialogue, as the following structured activity illustrates.

A learning activity, The Web of Oppression, continues to contextualize individual, intragroup, and intergroup experiences within structures of power and privilege. The web of oppression is particularly influential in helping participants critically understand the structural nature of inequality. Before the session, facilitators prepare a pre-constructed web that has packets of small cards attached to it. Each packet of cards is based on a particular institution, such as education, media, health care, university, prison system, legal system, and so on. Behind the face card are different statistics that highlight the disparities that exist within these institutions. For example, health care may show racial disparities in access to health care and life expectancy. Facilitators invite all participants to pick up the web and think about what it may represent. Participants may say that it represents interconnections, a solid (p. 384) structure that we are all a part of, and something that can hold some up and some down. Facilitators may then ask for how these ideas are linked to inequalities such as racism, sexism, or classism. Participants start making initial connections to the structural system of inequality. Facilitators then invite participants to take turns in picking a packet of cards and to read the associated information. Sometimes, facilitators may also ask participants to personalize or share their own examples of inequalities in a particular institution. After sharing the personal example, participants read the associated statistics. As each participant reads the information, they start seeing the pervasiveness of disparities and the interconnections among the institutions.

Identity salience in our model of intergroup dialogue thus differs greatly from how identities are treated in other types of intergroup contact where they are often ignored or deliberately muted by stressing that participants in the contact situation are just individuals and are expected primarily to form personal relationships with each other through decatergorization (Brewer & Miller, 1984), or by putting members of the two groups into a team situation or in other ways emphasizing that they have a common in-group identity through recatergorization (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000). In the decategorization model, members of separate groups are expected to relinquish their separate identities by focusing on individuals and personalities of in-group and out-group members. In the recategorization model, members of separate groups are also expected to relinquish their separate identities but they do this differently, focusing on a new superordinate and shared/common identity. Neither decategorization nor recategorization emphasizes real-world social identities that members of many groups cannot drop and/or do not want to drop.

Our approach in which group identities are kept salient has most in common with a third approach in social psychology, the dual identity model offered by Hewstone and Brown (1986). The dual identity model facilitates cooperation between social groups while permitting members of the two groups to retain their group identities as they also learn how to work across differences. The dual identity model is especially appropriate when group membership is not easily relinquished, either because people are personally and deeply connected to historically significant social groups, such as racial, ethnic, or religious groups, or because group membership carries with it visible cues that make it virtually impossible to avoid or ignore group membership. The dual identity model balances individuality with salient group membership, both of which are important for generalization beyond a specific contact context and group members (Gonzalez & Brown, 2003; Van Oudenhoven, Groenewoud, & Hewstone, 1996). Our emphasis on maintenance of separate group identities as members of two groups learn to dialogue with each other and eventually to craft a new, shared identity as social justice advocates is a dual-identity model.

As these first two goals demonstrate, our model of intergroup contact integrates both relationship building, including positive feelings about members of the other group and intergroup empathy, and critical analysis of power, inequality, discrimination, and oppression. Some have argued that when positive feelings and empathy develop during intergroup contact, members of disadvantaged groups will become less likely to engage in collective action, thereby sedating the possibility of increasing social justice (Dixon et al., 2012; Jost, Stem & Kalkstein, 2012; Tausch & Becker, 2012; Wright & Bitacola, 2012). However, in our model, positive intergroup experiences and intergroup empathy develop as members of the two groups also simultaneously deepen their understanding of how their different group experiences are shaped by power and privilege and illegitimate group-based inequalities. The blending of the relational and critical, with our emphasis on each group gaining a perspective on the societal experiences of the other group and coming to recognize the illegitimacy of inequalities, is exactly what critics of the prejudice-reduction approach to intergroup contact recommend (Abu-Nimer, 2004; Bar-On & Kassem, 2004; Bar-Tal, 2004; Dixon et al., 2012; Hammack, Pilecki, & Merrilees, 2014; Hewstone et al., 2012; Suleiman, 2004; Wright & Bitacola, 2012). Bar-Tal (2004) specifically stresses the importance of increasing critical thinking and empathy, just as we do in our model of intergroup dialogue:

. . . there should be initiated attempts to develop two lines of education. One line should encourage critical thinking, in order to boost critical examination of the prevailing thoughts about the conflict management and to promote alternatives to violence. The other line should encourage empathy to view the rival as humane and also a victim of the violence. These two lines of education may eventually serve as a basis for the evolution of education for coexistence when the violence diminishes and the leaders begin political negotiation to end the conflict peacefully. (p. 267)

(p. 385) The third goal of intergroup dialogue is to foster individual and collective capacities to promote social justice. Ultimately, the goal of intergroup dialogue is to mobilize the newer understandings of identities and inequalities and ways of relating across differences to promote social justice. The focus on action in our critical-dialogic approach concurs with recent calls for social psychology to move beyond prejudice reduction and to connect intergroup contact with social change, writ large.

One way the third goal is actualized is asking participants to practice intergroup collaboration to reduce inequalities and promote social justice. Participants are asked to develop and implement an Intergroup Collaboration Project (ICP). Groups of four students, equally drawn from the two identity groups, collaborate for about two-thirds of the academic term to design a project focused on inequalities that exist on their campus. The project extends their learning outside the classroom and involves taking action on their learning. The goal of the project is for the participants to reflect on the process of collaboration—considering all ideas, leadership, task allocation, and completion through the lenses of identities and privilege and power. At the end of the term, participants present their projects and what they learned about inequalities and the process of collaboration. There is then a collective reflection about the ICP project that looks at connections across the projects, the rewards and challenges of intergroup collaborations, lessons learned, and lessons to apply in the future.

As is evident in the ICP, we focus on collaborative action that the two groups undertake together, but not at the exclusion of collective, solidarity-based action that each group may also undertake. We are not arguing that collective, solidary action by the less privileged, or by the more privileged on behalf of the less privileged, is less important. But collaborative action is also important. Members of less privileged groups are encouraged to recognize common experiences of exclusion and discrimination across multiple low-power groups in society that need to be changed. Members of more privileged groups are encouraged to reflect on unearned privileges that result simply from their group memberships and to consider ways they can promote social justice. The critical analysis and relationship building in the dialogue process in our model are expected to help participants of both groups to develop commitments to act and to foster their capacities to act together. The group setting offers a way to experiment with new inclusive behaviors and to forge new collaborations within and across groups. Participants learn how to challenge exclusion, interrupt discriminatory acts, and develop cross-group activities to combat inequality. The cross-group alliances, created through the intergroup collaboration projects, are expected to help members of the different identity groups to define and implement what socially just, collaborative action entails.

We turn now to the personal roots of our model of intergroup dialogue, namely how our earlier work on group identity and consciousness and our initial work on intergroup dialogue that conceptualized education for change through interactive group learning led to the current model that informs the practice of intergroup dialogue on many universities in the United States.

Personal Scholarly Roots of the Intergroup Dialogue Model

We developed the critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue in collaboration with numerous colleagues over many years, first through scholarly work on the role of social identities and of questioning the legitimacy of inequalities in the political mobilization of subordinate groups,1 and second through initial formation of intergroup dialogue courses that emphasized understanding and intervening in intergroup conflicts2 and examination of their effects.

Group Identity and Consciousness

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Gurin and colleagues explored how withdrawal of legitimacy of inequality played a role in the motivation of African American students to take part in the southern student Civil Rights movement (Gurin & Epps, 1975; Gurin & Katz, 1966). The most actively involved students at historically Black colleges and universities and those most highly identified as African Americans attributed racial disparities to systemic factors more than uninvolved students and those who thought of themselves just as Americans. System-blaming attributions were motivating factors for students to become involved in the southern movement, and participation in the movement’s demonstrations and marches then increased these attributions (Gurin & Epps, 1975).

We, as others, were then much influenced by Tajfel’s writing on social identities, defined as the aspects of a person’s self-concept that derive from one’s knowledge of being part of categories and groups, together with the value and emotional (p. 386) significance attached to those memberships (Tajfel, 1974). Tajfel argues that the formation of social identities is the consequence of three social psychological processes. The first, social categorization (us and them), takes place even when individuals are told that they have been categorized on a random basis. The second, social comparison, inevitably follows social categorization; people naturally tend to compare their group(s) with others. The third, cognitive and emotional psychological work to achieve psychological distinctiveness, then occurs but develops differently for groups that are societally valued and those that are societally devalued and disparaged. We focused especially on the identity dynamics and impact of identity on the political mobilization of members of devalued groups: African Americans, working class Americans, and the poor (Gurin, Miller & Gurin, 1980); African Americans (Gurin, Hatchett & Jackson, 1992); and African American students (Gurin & Epps, 1975); the elderly (Miller, Gurin, & Gurin, 1980, 1981); women (Gurin & Markus, 1988, 1989); and Chicanos (Rodriguez & Gurin, 1990; Hurtado, Rodriguez, Gurin & Beals, 1992; Hurtado, Gurin, & Peng, 1994).

In all of these studies, we distinguished group identity that represents one’s awareness of and value placed on belonging to a social category from group consciousness that represents one’s evaluation of the group’s position in society (Gurin, et al., 1980; Gutierrez & Lewis, 1999). The elements of group consciousness among low-power/devalued groups—discontent with the group’s level of power, denial of the legitimacy of group-based disparities, and commitment to collective action—relate to Tajfel’s discussion of what members of such groups may do when social mobility out of the group is blocked or rejected because of communal values to remain within such groups (Gurin, et al., 1980). Empirically, across numerous groups, these studies showed (1) that group consciousness was highest among those with the most central group identities, that is those identities that people thought the most about (Converse, 1970; Crocker & Luhtanen, 1990), and (2) that together group identity and consciousness related to electoral and non-electoral political behaviors, positive evaluations of members of other low-power groups, and to governmental policies aimed at reducing group-based inequalities. These studies also demonstrated that heightened identity and consciousness among members of high-power groups were associated with living where racial/ethnic protests existed, presumably producing a threat to their power and status, with negative evaluations of low-power groups, and associated with negative attitudes toward equality-oriented governmental policies. These early findings are supported in recent studies, showing that group identity among low-power groups, especially when it is politicized to emphasize the illegitimacy of inequality and the culpability of the out-group (Sturmer & Simon, 2009; van Zomeren & Spears, 2009; Louis, 2009) is influential in explaining which members advocate and take part in collective action. The arousal of group identity among high-power groups under perceived threat to their privilege is also supported by recent work showing how members of privileged groups, especially the most identified among them, act to maintain oppression (Postmes & Smith, 2009; Iyer & Ryan, 2009), but even such groups can act as allies when they have somehow managed to develop a critique of the legitimacy of inequality and to recognize the pervasiveness of group-based discrimination (Iyer & Ryan, 2009).

These early studies did not examine what happens to power discontent, withdrawal of legitimacy of inequality, and commitments to collective action when low and high-power groups actually interact with each other. Instead, they focused nearly exclusively on separate groups and nearly always on subordinate groups. Nor did we examine changes over time in group identity, power discontent, illegitimacy of inequality, and action commitments, as most of these studies were conducted in cross-sectional surveys (for exception, see Gurin & Epps, 1975, which examined how participation in the southern student movement changed such orientations). Interest in the impact of intergroup contact and in change in identity and consciousness, which we see as expressions of the psychological work Tajfel and Turner (1986) discussed as social change orientations, led us in the late 1980s to our initial development and study of intergroup dialogue, to which we turn next.

Education for Change and Group Learning Processes

Intergroup dialogues were developed in the late 1980s at the University of Michigan in response to campus strife about intergroup relations. Faculty, students, and staff were called upon to develop proactive ways of understanding and dealing with campus-based intergroup conflicts (Maxwell, Nagda, & Thompson, 2011). One such effort was the establishment of the Program on Intergroup Relations, originally a partnership between an (p. 387) academic-residential program, the Pilot Program, and an interdisciplinary research-development center, the Program on Conflict Management Alternatives (PCMA). The thrust of the Program on Intergroup Relations was to offer undergraduates academic opportunities that combined intellectual and experiential learning focused on diversity, justice and social change. Especially important, as Schoem (1991) asserted, was to challenge the “conspiracy of separateness, misinformation, and ignorance” that marked intergroup relations on campus:

Students take the same classes but sit grouped by race, ethnicity, and religion. Students play sports together but don’t get past talk of jump shots and rebounds. Students live together in the same residence halls but merely share a polite “hello” or nod if they are sufficiently daring to break down barriers. Students placed together as roommates for their first-year of college discover ingenious ways to sidestep conversations about their lives in terms of race and ethnicity. We live in separate worlds (p. 3).

Our early work was greatly influenced by emancipatory education models, especially the work of Paulo Freire (1970). Drawn to both Freire’s critical analysis of power relations and to his distinction between traditional banking education and the liberatory dialogic education, we began to envision ways in which course content, classroom structures, and teaching-learning processes could help integrate students’ lived experiences with academic knowledge in the service of social change. A banking model of education, as the metaphor implies, vests knowledge expertise in the teachers and conceives of students as empty receptacles without a priori knowledge, valid experiences, or sense-making of social reality. “The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of the world” (Freire, 1990, p. 73). Dialogic education, in contrast, appealed to the socially transformative power of education to undo inequality by reconceiving the teacher-student relationship not as expert-novice but as co-learners, with each party bringing valid knowledge, expertise, and experience to the learning encounter. Naturally, reconceiving the teacher-student relationship also means envisioning newer ways of student-student interactions as co-learners. Furthermore, as much as we sought for students to understand the structural, social and psychological influences on intergroup relations, we also sought for them to recognize their individual and collective agency for social change. “In problem posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (Freire, 1990, p. 83).

Together with the educational innovations, we also began a series of studies to understand student learning in these courses. The early studies began to answer the question of what happens when members of low and high-power groups are in structured intergroup contact situations. A qualitative approach helped illuminate the students’ actual experiences in intergroup dialogue, and demonstrated outcomes beyond prejudice reduction and development of friendships. Because, as already discussed, previous studies of identity, consciousness, and social action had not examined change over time, we sought to understand the effects of such intergroup contact on students’ changes in understandings of identity, inequalities, and orientation to social action. Lastly, it was important for us to understand the pedagogical components of intergroup contact, as opposed to mere participation or not, that influenced the outcomes. Together, these early studies helped build the foundation of a critical-dialogic theory of intergroup dialogue that now guides our work.

Zúñiga and Nagda (1993) conducted the first study that looked at student learning in face-to-face intergroup dialogues between students from low- and high-power groups. Students in a course on “Intergroup Relations and Conflict” were required to participate in intergroup dialogues over a period of 5 weeks as part of the semester-long course.3 Student narratives spoke to valued and important opportunities to break down barriers among their peers and to engage in substantive conversations previously avoided. They came to appreciate the importance of group identities that structured their individual experiences and intergroup relationships. They connected identities to positions of power and privilege, and especially to how group-based inequalities were institutionalized. Many students wrote about redefining their social identities through an understanding of internalized hatred or internalized entitlement, and about attempts at envisioning change and building coalitions. Students found that the peer-based learning challenged their own ignorance, misinformation, and prejudice about identity groups.

(p. 388) While the exploratory study provided a cross-sectional view of outcomes of intergroup dialogue, it did not say how students changed or did not change in their understanding of themselves, others, and the larger world. Subsequent studies examined the question of change over time. We compared students before and after taking part in such courses (Gurin, Nagda, Lopez, & Sfeir-Younis, 1993; Nagda, Gurin, & Lopez, 2003; Nagda & Zúñiga, 2003), and in a few instances we examined pre-post change among course participants and matched control group students who did not take intergroup dialogue courses (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004; Gurin, Peng, Lopez, & Nagda, 1999; Lopez, Gurin, & Nagda, 1998). In both the pre-post change studies and the quasi-experimental pre-post studies, course participants showed increased structural attributions for inequality, as well as endorsement of more structural solutions to intergroup conflict (Gurin et al., 1993; Lopez et al., 1998). Nagda et al. (2003) also found that students advocated for both more individual agency and structural change. Course participants were also shown to increase in how frequently they thought about group identity and in how much they conceived of themselves in terms of group identity (Gurin et al., 1999; Nagda & Zuniga, 2003).

Given that our pedagogical design was based on Freire’s dialogic education and on interactional learning, and that students in the exploratory studies affirmed the positive impact of peer-based learning, we began to look at the specific pedagogical components of intergroup dialogue. We wanted to understand the features of intergroup dialogue that were important in influencing the change. We looked at the unique and joint impact of different teaching-learning modalities—traditional approaches to content (lectures and readings) and innovative approaches involving active learning activities (e.g., intergroup dialogue) within the classroom. Lopez et al. (1998) and Nagda et al. (2003) found that students’ rating of the importance of both these modalities predicted their structural attributions for inequality at the end of the course. However, only the active learning pedagogy predicted macro-level (institutional and societal) action to address inequalities. Nagda et al. (2003) included an additional dimension of learning—engaged learning—that accounted for students’ continued thinking, talking, and applying course concepts outside of class. Engaged learning was found to mediate the effect of content on active thinking (partial mediation) and structural thinking (full mediation) and the impact of active learning on active thinking (full mediation). What was important about engaged learning was that it showed a bridge from in-class pedagogy to out-of-class application of course issues.

The next question we studied focused on what aspects of the actual engagement inside the intergroup dialogue classroom (beyond just the content and active learning) were important. Nagda and Zúñiga (2003) conceptualized and examined how dialogic learning processes within intergroup dialogue—such as, peer facilitation, structured activities, being able to disagree, sharing views and experiences, asking questions, working through disagreements and talking about ways to take action with people in different groups—were related to outcomes. Students’ rating of importance of these dialogic learning processes showed a positive moderating influence on outcomes such as thinking about racial identity, perspective taking, communicating across differences, beliefs about conflict, and bridging differences (Nagda & Zúñiga, 2003). The dialogic interaction processes helped define the nature and quality of interaction across differences in the contact situation. Across these studies, we see the importance of both in-class pedagogical components and out-of-class learning modalities as well as the importance of more refined dialogic interaction processes.

While building on these early studies and paralleling the refinement of intergroup dialogue practice, other studies expanded the outcomes to include more relational outcomes (e.g., motivation to bridge differences and comfort in communicating across differences (see Nagda, Kim & Truelove, 2004; Nagda & Zuniga, 2003) and action outcomes, especially self-directed prejudice reduction and other-directed diversity promotion (see Nagda et al., 2004). Pettigrew’s (1998) review of intergroup contact called to understand the friendship processes that help explain outcomes of intergroup contact and generalizability. Dovidio et al. (2004) elucidated enlightenment and encounter program approaches that influence cognitive and affective psychological processes, which in turn influence outcomes. These are “underlying processes or psychological mechanisms through which outside forces produce change . . . they are the internal processes that translate external influences and interventions into reductions of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination” (Dovidio, et al., 2004, p. 244). Because intergroup dialogue pedagogy and interactions keep group identities salient, Nagda et al. (p. 389) (2004) refined Pettigrew’s friendship potential to motivation to bridge differences across identities and conceptualized it as a psychological process. Results showed that intergroup dialogue increased students’ motivation to bridge differences, and that motivation to bridge differences mediated the impact of enlightenment (content) and encounter (intergroup dialogue) on students’ endorsement of the importance of and confidence in taking actions to promote diversity and justice.

Intergroup Dialogue: Education for Social JusticeClick to view larger

Figure 22.1. A Critical-Dialogic Theoretical Framework of Intergroup Dialogue

(adapted from Nagda, Gurin, Sorensen & Wong (Lau), 2013)

Identification of motivation to bridge differences was an important beginning in investigating additional psychological processes in intergroup dialogue. Yet because it was based on Pettigrew’s (1998) focus on friendship processes, and knowing that intergroup dialogue reaches beyond friendships to social change actions, Nagda (2006) inquired about the nature of bridging differences: What contributes to bridging differences beyond the pedagogical features? Nagda (2006) focused on the nature of engagement that occurs within intergroup dialogue. He conceptualized this as communication processes, referring to the interactions and exchanges that occur among participants within the intergroup dialogue setting. He found four distinct communication processes that mediated the influence of intergroup dialogue pedagogy on motivation to bridge differences: appreciating difference (learning about others, listening and asking questions), engaging self (sharing one’s own perspective), critical reflection (examination of one’s ideas and experiences in the context of power and privilege) and alliance building (working through disagreements and conflicts, and talking with others about taking action).

In addition to focusing on change, the early intergroup dialogue courses emphasized a connection between intergroup contact and social identity that was not reflective of most social psychological approaches at the time. In intergroup dialogue, then as now, group identity is always salient. In developing intergroup dialogue interventions, we always stressed exploration of commonalities and differences within and between groups such that awareness of groups constantly pervades intergroup contact.

The Theoretical Model of Critical-Dialogic Intergroup Dialogue

Our early work led us to developing the theoretical model of critical-dialogic intergroup dialogue (see Figure 22.1) that now guides practice at many educational and community settings in the United States. The model represents a theory of change and is more fully delineated in Dialogue Across Difference: Theory, Research, and Practice in (p. 390) Intergroup Dialogue (see Gurin, Nagda, & Zúñiga, 2013). The book represents contributions from colleagues from nine universities4 who worked collaboratively for five years implementing a standard curriculum for race and gender dialogue courses and a uniform, experimental research design for evaluating them. We turn now to discussing the elements of this model and then to describing evidence for the impact of intergroup dialogue courses based on this model in a field experiment conducted by the nine US. universities, which included 1,437 students and 52 pairs of intergroup dialogue courses and control groups.

Pedagogy and Communication Processes

As the model depicts, a pedagogy (involving readings, videos, and other forms of content, structured in-class, active-learning exercises, and facilitative guidance) creates four distinctive communication processes among the participants, two defined as dialogic and produce relational learning (engaging self and appreciating difference) and two defined as critical and produce analytic and action learning (critical reflection and alliance building). This pedagogy and the communication processes the pedagogy should advance are expected to help members of both identity groups become more aware of and involved in their own group identities, as well as appreciative of the identities of the other group.

Communication processes, fostered by the pedagogy of intergroup dialogue, were first discussed by Nagda (2006), who distinguished dialogic processes—denoting a relationship of self and other through which students learn to co-create their relationships—and critical processes—involving critical analysis, reflection, and action. The dialogic are the relational aspects of our model that help people uncover motivations and beliefs of all parties involved in an inequitable relationship, explore structural features that reproduce specific forms of inequality between them, and appreciate that relationships evolve over time. These processes require participants to suspend judgments, listen deeply, identify assumptions, ask questions of each other, and use reflection and inquiry (Bohm, 1996; Weiler, 1995).

Suspending judgments speaks to openness to others and their perspectives whether or not they are similar or radically different from one’s own. . . . Deep listening calls for focusing on and paying attention to others in order to understand the content and meaning of what they are saying; it involves stopping one’s own inner chatter that gets in the way of fully listening to others. . . . Identifying assumptions refers to understanding how inferences are based on available information. . . . Oftentimes, these assumptions are based on cultural beliefs that may not apply to a particular interaction. . . . Identifying assumptions means understanding how one’s judgment led to the inferences that it did, and thus identifying the ways in which communication may have been impaired.

Reflection and inquiry involve trying to make sense of on-going communication and asking questions of others in order to make sense together

(Nagda, Gurin, Sorensen & Wong[Lau], 2013, p. 80).

Nagda (2006) delineated two dialogic processes that are expected to take place in our model of intergroup dialogue. Participants from both identity groups become able to look at themselves, admit mistakes and vulnerabilities, and actively share experiences with others, what we call engaging self. They also learn to listen to others while trying to grasp the meaning of stories and experiences others share with them, and to ask questions and probe the ideas of others both within their own group and especially the other group (appreciating difference).

The critical processes refer to exchanges that illuminate how power and privilege influence the lives of people in different social groups, and how people can develop alliances with each other. This aspect of our framework draws upon Freire’s (1970) concept of critical consciousness, which uses analysis of unequal power and action to bring about greater social and economic justice. Building on this early work, critical race scholars, critical feminist scholars, and Black feminist scholars particularly have emphasized how structures in the law and other institutions influence the operation and impact in society of race, gender, and social class (Anzaldúa & Keating, 2002; Benhabib, 2002; Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 2011; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Dietz, 2003; Taylor, Gillborn, & Ladson-Billings, 2009).

Nagda (2006) delineated two critical processes as well. In one, students from both groups engage in critical reflection, often through storytelling, on the role of power and privilege in shaping the lives of members from both the more and less privileged groups in the dialogue. In the other, they become able to build alliances in which differences are not ignored or muted but are what makes intergroup collaboration possible. The critical processes distinguish our model of intergroup dialogue from (p. 391) much of the previous work in social psychology on intergroup contact that has focused primarily on interpersonal relationships and friendships as conditions leading to reduction of intergroup prejudice and bias. The traditional aim of intergroup contact has been the creation of intergroup harmony and reduction of bias through interpersonal relationships and friendships (Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011). While it is hard to argue against cross-group friendships and relationships, they can promote false assumptions of equality and undercut sociopolitical analyses so necessary for social justice (Saguy et al., 2009). We assumed, in contrast, that an exclusively interpersonal approach would not serve social justice.

Communication Processes Foster Affective and Cognitive Psychological Processes

Intuitively, one might imagine that the dialogic communication processes would stimulate the affective psychological processes, while the critical processes would promote the cognitive psychological processes. Instead, our model indicates that both sets of processes occur together and connect with both psychological processes. As one student put it, “both ideas and emotions surface whenever people talk deeply about identities.” The dialogic processes of sharing, listening to personal stories, and inquiring help students to think deeply, critically, and in complex ways about race and gender. The critical processes of analysis and reflection also contribute, especially to helping students perceive and understand multiple perspectives and structural attributions for inequality. The dialogic and critical processes should also foster affective psychological processes by addressing the emotional challenges that sometimes emerge during intergroup interaction, producing an intergroup climate that is comfortable for students to confront issues that they usually avoid or talk about only in superficial ways. Comfort does not mean non-challenging, nor are students always comfortable when they and others share, take risks, ask questions, admit vulnerabilities, listen actively to others, and engage in collective reflection. Both the dialogic and critical processes should lower intergroup anxieties, especially among the more privileged who worry about appearing prejudiced as well as among the less privileged who anticipate having to cope once again with prejudice directed at them. With these processes operating, participants from both groups can begin to collaborate in action with each other (Nagda, Gurin, Sorensen & Wong(Lau), 2013).

Cognitive and Affective Psychological Processes as Mediators

The cognitive and affective psychological processes are viewed as mediators of the impact of the distinctive pedagogy and communication processes on the main outcomes of intergroup dialogue: understanding of inequality, intergroup empathy, motivation to bridge differences, and collaborative action. All of these outcomes require thinking and reflection, which the cognitive processes of involvement in identity, thinking about society, and perspective taking all entail. Our rationale for the connection between cognitive processes and the three outcomes is based in both intergroup dialogue practice and in research literatures related to one or more of the components of cognitive involvement. Cognitive empathy has been shown to lead to emotional empathy, one of the intergroup relationship outcomes of intergroup dialogue (Batson et al., 1997). As students learn to take the perspectives of members in the other identity group and as they engage in analytical thinking about society and complex causes of behavior, they should also develop emotional empathy. A student captured the connection between cognitive work and empathy when she pointed out that when she had started to make assumptions about a participant based on his/her group identity, she stopped herself and asked, “Why am I doing this?” She added that becoming aware of assumptions and dealing with complexity of identities and societal influences helped her become less judgmental and better able to feel what others feel.

The multiple perspectives that participants encounter in the dialogue and the stories they hear about identities and experiences with power and privilege give them greater understanding of the structural sources of inequality. It is no wonder, then, that cognitive psychological processes are implicated in critique of inequality as students think about how members of various groups differ in how they explain disparities and what should be done about them. Increasingly, students become more critical thinkers about the impact of society on different groups and how their own social positions have given them and their classmates’ relative advantages and disadvantages. A student shared what this process was like as she examined her life through the lens of inequality. She noted that there were many times when she had to think hard about how society works and about things she used to take for granted. As she put it, “It’s as though somebody had placed my whole world in a jar for me to look (p. 392) at and then they shook it up. Piece by piece, I had to take inventory and analyze my beliefs and opinions.” She could begin to “get it” that many types of group-based inequalities are illegitimate and not fair depictions of what people in various groups are able to do and accomplish.

Cognitive processes, especially increased involvement in identity, should lead to action commitments, the third outcome of intergroup dialogue. Research has demonstrated that identity engagement is associated with collective action among low-power groups, as well as with action by allies on behalf of low-power groups (Kelly & Breinlinger, 1996; Simon et al., 1998; Stürmer & Simon, 2004; Stürmer, Simon, Loewy, & Jörger, 2003; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Identity is especially influential when it is politicized in the sense of reflecting awareness of relative deprivation or when it is connected to a social movement (Duncan & Stewart, 2007; Gurin, Hatchett, & Jackson, 1992; Gurin, Miller, & Gurin, 1980; Gutierrez & Lewis, 1999; Stürmer & Simon, 2009; van Zomeren, Spears, Fischer, & Leach, 2004; Wright, 2009). Other research provides evidence that recognizing the impact of systems of racial and gender-based power and privilege on one’s group identity promotes ally development (Kahn & Ferguson, 2009; O’Brien, 2001; Reason, Roosa Millar, & Scales, 2005). We also hypothesize that analytical thinking about society will foster collective action among members of low-power groups, as well as action by members of high-power groups on behalf of lower-power groups (Bailey, 1998; Reason et al., 2005).

Emotions that are generated during intergroup dialogue should also foster intergroup understanding, bridging differences and positive relationships, and collaborative action because all of these outcomes involve emotion as well as thinking and reflection. For example, positive emotions and having emotionally satisfying intergroup interactions clearly promote emotional empathy. These emotions in intergroup dialogue include experiences such as sharing personal feelings and problems and having meaningful discussions outside of class about ethnic or gender relations as well as feeling engaged, open, excited, and trusting (some of the items that measure emotions, see Appendix A of Dialogue Across Difference and also Shelton, Trail, West, & Bergsieker, 2010). Previous literature shows that these kinds of self-disclosing experiences promote emotional empathy (Rimé, 2007; Turner, Hewstone, & Voci, 2007). The predicted connection between affective processes of positivity and emotional empathy is also based on intergroup dialogue practice. When students tell stories involving their identities, the expression of emotion is normalized; students see that emotions expressed by other students are accepted and appreciated. Everyone becomes more comfortable with emotional expression and feeling what others feel as they share stories and experiences. A student conveyed this connection, indicating that hearing the stories of other students put her at ease because she realized that other people had experiences and struggles similar to hers. She perceived this connection as an example of intergroup empathy, feeling the sadness and anger she believed others must feel when they narrated accounts of having been “put down” and demeaned.

Emotions should also foster an understanding of inequalities. While cognitive processes may predominate in understanding inequality and its structural sources, learning how inequality operates in the lives of dialogue participants involves emotions as well. Understanding how power and privilege shape the lives of other participants is produced at least in part by the emotions that are aroused when sharing of experiences takes place in the dialogue. Emotions should further encourage commitment to action and the capacity to collaborate across groups in confronting micro-aggressions and in changing institutional policies and procedures that create or reinforce inequality. Research on action demonstrates that anger, guilt, and sympathy motivate actions on behalf of lower power groups by members of higher power groups (Doosje, Branscombe, Spears, & Manstead, 1998; Iyer, Schmader, & Lickel, 2007; Leach, Iyer, & Pedersen, 2006; Van Zomeren & Iyer, 2009). Anger also motivates collective action by lower power groups (Ellemers & Barreto, 2009; Iyer & Ryan, 2009; van Zomeren et al., 2004). Moreover, emotions involved in positive interaction across groups—respect, sympathy, sadness—should lead to collaborative action. Respect is especially influential in fostering collaborative action (Lalljee, Tam, Hewstone, Laham, & Lee, 2009), as are interactions marked by meaningful and honest conversations about social issues (Broido, 2000; O’Brien, 2001; Reason et al., 2005; Tatum, 2007). Such interactions embolden students to take positive steps toward addressing inequalities in their immediate environments, sometimes even against peer pressure. A male student related that learning how women feel in various situations helped him confront his fraternity brothers about sexist remarks and behaviors, and that it was his (p. 393) increasing capacity to share his feelings when conversing about sexism that proved to be effective with his male friends.

In summary, the dialogic and critical communication processes which foster affective and cognitive psychological processes help explain how intergroup dialogue theoretically should lead to greater understanding of group-based inequalities, more positive intergroup relationships, and increased capacity to collaborate across groups to advance social justice. This theoretical model was tested in a nine-university collaboration to investigate both the effects of intergroup dialogue and the processes of change that produce the effects. We turn to that research next.

Research Evidence for Critical-Dialogic Intergroup Dialogue

Support for the critical-dialogic theory of change of intergroup dialogue comes from a mixed-methods, multi-university experimental study in which students who applied to enroll in either a racial/ethnic intergroup dialogue course or a gender intergroup dialogue course were randomly assigned either to the courses or to waitlist control groups. Altogether this research encompassed 26 pairs of race/ethnic intergroup dialogue courses and control groups, as well as 26 pairs of gender intergroup dialogue courses and control groups conducted over three years at the nine universities. Both the dialogue courses and the control groups had an equal proportion of white students and students of color and of men and women.5 Students in both the dialogue courses and control groups responded to a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the term in which the courses were offered and then to a post-post questionnaire a year after the end of the term. The questionnaires included demographic information and questions that measured all of the concepts in the theoretical framework discussed earlier. The randomization of students motivated to take an intergroup dialogue course to the courses and to control groups was important because it was possible to attribute effects to actually being in the intergroup dialogue courses. An effect was represented by significantly greater changes from pre to post, or from pre to the post-post, among participants in the dialogue courses than among students in the control groups.

Two major questions guided the research:

  1. 1. What were the effects of intergroup dialogue? Effects (pre- and post-IGD and pre- and delayed post-IGD change) were assessed for the cognitive and affective measures the theory casts as processes of change, and on the three sets of dialogue outcomes, namely intergroup understanding (understanding of structural causes of group-based inequalities), positive intergroup relationships (intergroup empathy and motivation to bridge difference), and intergroup collaboration (confidence and frequency of individual actions, educating others, and collaborative action).

  2. 2. What processes produce the effects? In other words, did the data analysis (structural equation modeling) support our theoretical framework?

The results addressing both sets of questions are presented in detail in Dialogue Across Difference: Practice, Theory and Research on Intergroup Dialogue (Gurin et al., 2013). Briefly summarized here, however, the results on the predicted effects of intergroup dialogue were robust. Of the 24 measures comprising the psychological processes and three sets of outcomes, intergroup dialogue showed significant effects on 20 outcomes. Moreover, the effects were found on nearly all of these measures in both racial/ethnic and gender intergroup dialogues and for students from both more and less societally privileged groups (white students and students of color in racial/ethnic dialogues, men and women in gender dialogues). Longitudinal effects, measured a year post-intergroup dialogue, were evident on 21 of the 24 measures. The effects, which ranged from small to moderate size, were especially impressive because of their consistency across many measures.

The causal analysis testing the theoretical framework also showed support. As predicted, measures of intergroup pedagogy were statistically related to measures of dialogic and critical communication (engaging self, appreciating difference, critical reflection and alliance building). Both pedagogy and communication process measures were statistically connected, as predicted, to measures of change in cognitive and affective psychological processes, and they in turn were related to measures of structural understanding of group-based inequalities (both racial and gender inequalities), measures of intergroup empathy, and measures of intergroup collaboration. The fit of the model met all standard indicators (see Sorensen et al., 2013, and Appendix B of Gurin et al., 2013). Looking at outcomes a year later, we found that the communication processes in intergroup dialogue have a sustained direct effect on outcomes. The social interactions and processes fostered within the intergroup dialogue learning (p. 394) environment were still operative in explaining long-term change in understanding structural sources of inequalities, intergroup empathy, and intergroup collaboration and action.

This is the first large-scale, experimental test of the impact of intergroup dialogue. It is rare in higher education to use random assignment to assess the impact of courses or co-curricular programs or majors, yet this study managed to provide a rigorous assessment of intergroup dialogue with 1,437 students. The qualitative data collected and analyzed in the study (videotaping of three sessions of ten ethnic/racial and ten gender dialogue courses, interviews with students in those twenty dialogue courses, and content analyses of the final papers written to the standard assignment across all courses at all universities) supported the quantitative results summarized earlier (see Gurin, Meier, Nagda, & Gurin-Sands, 2013; Stassen et al., 2013; Wong(Lau) et al., 2013).

Potential Pitfalls and Possibilities

Intergroup dialogue as a critical-dialogic approach to intergroup contact and social justice education offers the promise of intergroup understanding, positive intergroup relationships and commitment to and frequency of social action. Whereas many social psychologists have theorized and found that positive intergroup relationships actually work counter to social change, what is known as the “sedative” effects of contact (Cakal et al., 2011) or the “irony of harmony” (Saguy et al., 2009), intergroup dialogue offers a specific type of contact in which positive relationships support rather than hinder critical consciousness and social justice. Bringing together the critical and the dialogic means that relationships are integral to critical analysis and that ways in which power and privilege are performed in relationships must be examined. Dialogic relational processes of listening, asking questions, and sharing are important elements of communication along with critical processes of analyzing how power operates; together, they promote new, more honest, and open relationships across differences as well as greater understanding of inequalities and of social action. Personalization and storytelling of how one has been socialized into positions of privilege and disadvantage are important elements in building affective and empathic relations across differences. To build a socially just community, both similarities and differences need to be recognized and contextualized within power structures. Bridging differences—sharing about one’s identities, learning about others’ identities, and making a commitment to continue learning—enables students to honor their own identities and to build relations across identities. A concerted effort is made to build both in-group solidarity and cross-group alliances. Relationships are seen as critical to action and change, and as sites for engaging critical consciousness and mobilizing for change.

Potential Pitfalls and Criticisms of Intergroup Dialogue

Although the evidence in our multi-university, longitudinal study supports the outcomes and processes in intergroup dialogue, a number of challenges and criticisms are worth discussing. We devote a full chapter to the criticisms in our book (see Nagda & Gurin, 2013b). Here, we recap the main points and connect them to emerging work in social psychology in rethinking intergroup contact. There are four main areas of criticisms: that intergroup dialogue is too dialogic, that it is too critical, that it puts too little attention on action, and that it benefits the most privileged groups.

First, some scholars fault the relational focus of intergroup dialogue as shortchanging a social change agenda (Gorski, 2008; McPhail, 2004; Miller & Donner, 2000). They argue that a relational focus in intergroup dialogue meets the needs of the privileged, while members of disadvantaged group members are often tokenized or colonized, and also that intergroup dialogue too often essentializes the identities and cultures of disadvantaged group members, decontextualizing them from group-based inequalities that structure intergroup life. As Gorski (2008) puts it, advantaged group members “enjoy personal growth and fulfillment from these intercultural practices” often at the expense of disadvantaged group members (p. 521). Burbules (2000) further suggests that dialogue is fetishized, making it seem as though dialogue is the only way to work through differences and conflicts. Then there is the possibility that a purely relational approach, with its procedural rules and emphasis on maintaining civility in discourse, will mute awareness of group differences. We agree that sometimes “civility functions not to level the playing field or to ensure just or equitable treatment for all but rather to silence even further the already marginalized” (a study participant quoted in Simpson, 2008, p. 153). From this perspective, intergroup dialogue is too often considered a means of friendly conversation and getting along, which contributes to (p. 395) colorblind and identity-blind approaches to social relationships and social policies.

Second, other scholars have raised concerns that intergroup dialogue is too critical, charging that it relies on a purely cognitive understanding of intergroup relations and social structures, and that it pays little or no attention to emotionality in intergroup interactions (Brooks, 2011). From this perspective, the critical component of intergroup dialogue may relieve participants from feeling the discomfort and disequilibrium so necessary for grasping what injustice means in the lives of people. Failure to adequately deal with emotions may hinder social change efforts, especially the building of positive intergroup relations sometimes needed for social change (Brooks, 2011). A related concern is the possibility of essentializing group identities and status positions as innate traits of individuals and not as socially-structured, group-based understanding of self and others. Individual members may be seen only through the stereotypical conceptions associated with group identity and status labels. Participants may miss that identities are dynamic, not static; identities are not fixed and are affected by engaging with others, and can challenge rather than confirm, the status-quo in intergroup relationships (Hammack, 2006). “For members of groups with less privilege, such labeling puts them as victims and underplays their resiliency. . . . For members of groups with more privilege, such labeling puts them as perpetrators and discounts their attempts at self-directed change, alliance building, or social justice advocacy” (Nagda & Gurin, p. 297).

Third, whether intergroup dialogue is perceived to be too dialogic or too critical, scholars have raised the concern that new knowledge and relationships developed within the intergroup dialogue setting may not be translated into social justice action. Two issues are raised about the connection between dialogue and action—that action may not be dealt with at all (Chesler, 2001), and even if considered, action may simply be intentions to act rather than actual action (McPhail, 2004). In other words, some believe that intergroup dialogue is “all talk and no walk” and thus implicitly leads to intergroup harmony rather than to social and structural change (Gorski, 2008; Maoz, 2011). The view of intergroup dialogue as insufficiently focused on action comes not only by seeing it as too relational, but also as seeing it as too critical—that its emphasis on critical analysis can hamper social change efforts because inequalities become perceived as insurmountable and intractable. From this perspective, critical consciousness of inequalities may end up fostering a sense of helplessness (Sue et al., 2010). Still others worry that the emphasis on collaborative action in intergroup dialogue may weaken identity-based collective action that is often required to produce structural change (Bekerman, 2007). Abu-Nimer (1999) offers the possibility of intergroup dialogue fostering both collective and collaborative action under the conditions that all groups interrogate their empowerment (and we would add disempowerment) and to not substitute the intergroup contact engagement for actual structural change.

Finally, an overriding concern of intergroup dialogue, like any intergroup contact, is who really benefits from the encounter—especially, does intergroup dialogue privilege the privileged and marginalize the marginalized? Recent social psychological work seeks to contextualize intergroup contact in power relations and understand the different motivations, engagement and aspirations of members of dominant and subordinate groups (Demoulin, Leyens, & Dovidio, 2009). This work has demonstrated, for example, that members of privileged groups are motivated to focus on commonalties between groups in contact, while members of less privileged groups want to focus on differences (see Saguy, Dovidio, & Pratto, 2008). Furthermore, members of privileged groups more frequently give individualistic and system-justifying causes for social inequalities, while members of less privileged groups tend to think more structurally (Bobo, 2011; Cohen, 2011; Gurin, Miller, & Gurin, 1980). Affectively, fear operates differently across groups as well; members of privileged groups are often afraid of appearing prejudiced and of offending others, while members of less privileged groups are fearful of being a target of prejudice (Shelton, Richeson, & Salvatore, 2005). While guilt and shame may prevail for privileged group members, anger and resentment are likely to be present for less privileged group members (Richeson & Trawalter, 2005). Furthermore, being liked by members of less privileged groups is frequently a goal of members of privileged groups, while being respected by members of more privileged groups is frequently a goal of members of less privileged groups (Bergsieker, Shelton, & Richeson, 2010). Actions or outcomes of intergroup contact can also differ, with privileged group members leaning more toward prejudice reduction, while the less privileged often advocate for social change (Dixon, Tropp, Durrheim, & Tredoux, 2010; Maoz, 2011; Saguy & Kteily, 2014; Wright & Lubensky, 2009).

(p. 396) In summary, intergroup dialogue has critics who have raised important issues for both practitioners and scholars to consider. What is clear from our multi-university study of race and gender intergroup dialogue courses is that the critical-dialogic communication processes produced when our model is effectively implemented has immediate and long-term effects. In addition, the study demonstrated that students from both more privileged and less privileged groups gained in understanding structural underpinning of inequalities, intergroup empathy, and both confidence and frequency of action. On a few measures, the size of the effect of intergroup dialogue was somewhat larger for students from the more privileged groups, but with only rare exceptions, the impact of intergroup dialogue was statistically reliable for both sets of participants.

Possibilities Offered by Intergroup Dialogue

We take these criticisms seriously but we also contend that the critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue offers a way for both positive relationships and action to result from this special kind of intergroup contact, even in light of the evidence from social psychological research in recent years showing that low and high-power groups are motivated differently to participate in contact across such groups. In the new work in social psychology, approaches to contact that lean toward the dialogic are more aligned with the outcome of prejudice reduction and the needs and aspirations of advantaged groups. In contrast, approaches that lean toward the critical are more aligned with the outcome of collective action and the needs and aspirations of disadvantaged groups. For us, the crucial question is how do we assure that fostering positive intergroup relationships is not an end unto itself but rather is harnessed to mobilize social action?

We argue that the critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue offers a possible answer to this question because it conceives of relationships as fueling recognition of injustice, something that is often made real in the personal stories of participants from both groups, and that heightened awareness of injustice and inequalities motivate participants to do something about them. As such, we join others who argue that the framing of prejudice reduction versus collective action is too dichotomous and oppositional (Hewstone, Swart, & Hodson, 2012). Instead “both [are] important but are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive options” (Abrams, Vasiljevic, & Wardrop, 2012, p. 425). As Dixon et al. (2012) suggest, “the way to reduce inequality is not to get people to like each other but to get them to mobilize collectively against the structures of inequality” (p. 454). Prentice & Shelton (2012) spell out four elements of a relational theory of social change that is not antithetical to structural analyses and action. First, a psychological and behavioral analysis of relationships developed in intergroup contact would allow for people from both sides of the divide to learn how they each experience the relationship. Second, a structural analysis of relationships would show the asymmetry of inequality and the processes that maintain this asymmetry. Third, a temporal dimension would allow relationships to evolve over time, including times for both intragroup and intergroup conversations (Wright & Bitacola, 2012). Fourth, incorporation of a broader societal context would illuminate the influence of context on relationships. Together, these four elements should promote intergroup understanding—“a shared intergroup reality involving understanding that differences between groups can be a vehicle for facilitating communication, recognizing inequality, and addressing it” (Abrams et al., 2012, p. 426). Communication in which members of advantaged groups grasp group-based inequality and are able to understand it as largely illegitimate, and understand that their privileges are not altogether earned or legitimate, has been shown to counter the sedative effects of intergroup contact (Becker, Wright, Lubensky, & Zhou, 2013). It is “only when members of advantaged group partners describe their group’s advantaged position as legitimate or when they leave their feelings about their group’s advantage ambiguous” (Tausch & Becker, 2012, p. 448) that positive cross-group contact undermines collective action.

The emphasis in our critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue on ways that relationships can foster rather than hinder social action is consistent with other relational approaches to intergroup contact, such as intergroup forgiveness (Hewstone, Cairns, Voci, McLernon, & Niens, 2006; Swart, Turner, Hewstone, & Voci, 2012) and intergroup reconciliation (Nadler, 2012; Nadler & Liviatan, 2006). These three models—intergroup dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation—all explicitly recognize the importance of identities and the importance of power differentials in intergroup contact, focus on relational processes that help foster positive intergroup relationships, and foster ways of using relationships to redress conflicts and inequalities for a better (p. 397) future. In forgiveness, reciprocal self-disclosure and empathy are deemed important in restoring relationships. In reconciliation, removal of identity threats for the parties in contact is seen as crucial. In intergroup dialogue, it is the critical-dialogic communication processes that create cognitive and affective psychological engagement which lead to intergroup understanding, relationships, and intergroup collaboration (Gurin et al., 2013; also see Nagda, 2006; Nagda & Gurin, 2012; Stephan, 2008).

Critical-Dialogic Communication: The Importance of Alliance Building for Social Action

How does intergroup dialogue extend the emerging focus on relational perspectives on intergroup contact? We suggest that it is the centrality of critical-dialogic communication processes that helps specify some of the face-to-face relational processes that underlie communication across differences about and for social justice. The relational perspective advanced by Prentice and Shelton (2012) and others that we discussed earlier correctly emphasizes communication about the larger social realities and their influence on the intergroup relationships. Intergroup dialogue extends this perspective by attending to how relationships are explored and negotiated in relation to social action directed toward challenging the processes and structures that perpetuate inequalities. The communication process of alliance building is especially influential in integrating positive relationships, understanding of inequalities and social action. It allows members of both disadvantaged and advantaged groups to partner in social actions in ways that strive to neither reinforce power hierarchies nor reverse roles in these hierarchies. Alliance building challenges members of both advantaged and disadvantaged groups to conceive of themselves and their relationships in socially just ways, that is, to change power-over relationships to power-with relationships. “Alliances involve a trusting, conjoint commitment toward learning and action in the context of differences and inequalities; they represent an earnest grappling with differences and conflicts in the pursuit of social justice” (Nagda, 2006, p. 569). Thus, alliance building offers individuals from disadvantaged groups to recognize their resiliency and capacity for change (Howarth, Wagner, Kessi, & Sen, 2012), and for individuals from advantaged groups to recognize both the illegitimacy of inequality and their responsibility to partner for social change (Saguy & Kteily, 2014).

The qualitative aspects of our multi-university research, in which twenty dialogue groups were videotaped and students in those dialogues were interviewed, revealed that alliance building communication included talking about social action, and exploring different views of action and how those differences became the source of a powerful plan that members of both groups could endorse. Additionally important was negotiating their roles in carrying out agreed-upon actions, and checking each other’s sensibilities and feelings as they worked together. Students applied their understanding of identity, power, and privilege to the actions and collaborations, and forged ways of working together that promoted more just collaborations. Even when not fully successful, the challenges of alliance building were dialogued about to deepen understanding. Students spoke about their experiences:

Moving forward as allies meant collaborating with people from very diverse backgrounds and thus with people who brought very diverse perspectives. That is what is important in developing alliances, realizing that differences make for strengths when you listen and are willing to focus on differences from the very beginning. (White woman in a gender dialogue)

I came to appreciate the value of building alliances. Alliances require much more than laying down demands but involve full commitment and determination of all parties. Alliances are not formed to receive rewards. Alliances are formed out of desire and passion for bettering our world and not because of sympathy. (Man of color in gender dialogue)

These communications were especially evident in the ICP, an activity in which small groups of four students (made up of two members of each identity group in dialogue) worked together to conceive of an action addressing a campus-based inequality that they could implement and present back to their intergroup dialogue colleagues. Two students shared illustrative experiences about working on the ICP:

Our ICP group was strategically chosen for us to interact with persons of a different race, ethnicity and possibly gender than ourselves. . . . this strategy served as a catalyst to take us out of our comfort zones. . . . When I read the poem on alliances, the last stanza stuck out for me because it served as a perfect explanation of what went on in my ICP group. “Alliances are really very simple; they arise out (p. 398) of the fact that we are different.” (White man in a race dialogue.)

Thinking about my ICP, the lesson I learned from it was that people of different racial backgrounds can come together and work as a team to achieve a common goal. Our experiences with the project led to a very empowering conversation that we held on the need for alliances, being allies for each other, and the need for more knowledge and education with regards to racial profiling in general. Also we have built long lasting relationships and coalitions in addition to completing what we set out to do. (Woman of color in a race/ethnicity dialogue)

Other students captured the possibilities that critical-dialogic intergroup dialogue offers in that acknowledging power differences and building positive relationships can indeed generate a sense of hope and mobilize for collaborative action.

We realized that the best way to work in a group of diverse people is to embrace the differences among us, rather than pretending that they do not exist. By acknowledging that we are all different, some of us more privileged or more oppressed than others, it creates an open and honest atmosphere where we all feel free to express our ideas. (White woman in a gender dialogue)

From these moments of conflict, I also felt a sense of hope when I realized that it was possible for diverse people to use their differences in pursuit of a common goal. (Man of color in a race-ethnicity dialogue)

Becoming allies is something we can take beyond the dialogue. (White man in in a race-ethnicity dialogue)


The critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue that we have presented here, and tested in a multi-university field experiment, is explicitly designed to focus on the impact of both dialogic relationships and critical analysis on collaborative action. Whereas in some approaches to social justice education, “critical” seems merely to deconstruct unequal power structures, relationships and identities, the “critical” in critical-dialogic education aims to reconstruct institutions, relationships and identities that are liberatory and socially just. “Our work seeks to integrate a language of critique and possibility . . . we see dialogue as a tool that participants can use to identify critical social practices in order to reflect on, interpret and change their realities” (Laman et al., p. 199, 2012).

We referred earlier to Kumashiro’s (2000) conceptualization of social diversity as “educating about others” and social justice education as “education that changes students and society.” We conceive of intergroup dialogue and critical-dialogic education as education with others to change ourselves, our relationships, and society. In educational settings, relationships across differences can serve as a context of learning about social injustices and experimenting with ways of thinking, relating and acting for social justice. Thus, the critical-dialogic model of intergroup dialogue is not simply a feel-good approach but a planned intervention that engages participants in critically examining how they are all affected, albeit differently and differentially, by systems of power and privilege, and how they can develop relationships across these differences in service of working together toward greater social justice.


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (1) Arthur Miller, Gerald Gurin, Hazel Markus, Jaclyn Rodriguez, Aida Hurtado, Rosina Chia, and Halford Fairchild especially were also involved in early work on social identity and system blame.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (2) David Schoem, Ximena Zúñiga, Luis Sfeir-Younis, Todd Sevig, and Mark Chesler were also influential in the development of intergroup dialogues at the University of Michigan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (3) Our first intergroup dialogue efforts spanned 5 weeks, meeting for about 90 minutes per session. We maintained a commitment to student-centered learning, and even though these intergroup dialogues were linked to courses, the instructors were not involved in the dialogues. The dialogues were facilitated either by senior undergraduates or graduate students. Our learning from these early efforts led us to expand the duration to 7 weeks with meetings of 2 hours each. Now most credit-bearing intergroup dialogues span the length of the academic term, be it quarter-long or semester-long.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (4) Delia Saenz, Kathleen Wong(Lau), and Thomas Walker at Arizona State University; Jaclyn Rodriguez, Anna Yeakley and Andrea Rodriguez-Scheel at Occidental College; Gretchen Lopez and Judy Hamilton, Syracuse University; Gary Anderson, University of California, San Diego; Gloria Bouis and Craig Alimo, University of Maryland; Martha Stassen, University of Massachusetts; Patricia Gurin, Nicholas Sorensen, Kelly Maxwell, Elizabeth Meyers, and Chloé-Gurin Sands, University of Michigan; Teresa Brett and Margarita Orellano at University of Texas; Biren (Ratnesh) Nagda and Akua Campanella at University of Washington, Seattle; and consultants, Walter and Cookie Stephan, New Mexico State University, and Mark Chesler and Richard Gonzalez, University of Michigan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (5) We recognize that not all students of color are alike, but even at the University of Michigan with the largest intergroup dialogue program among the nine universities, not enough students of color are among the applicant pool for the intergroup dialogue courses to pair separate groups of color with white students or with each other.