Evaluating Intergroup Dialogue: Engaging
Diversity for Personal and Social Responsibility
By Biren (Ratnesh) A. Nagda, associate professor
of social work at the University of Washington; Patricia
Gurin, professor emerita of psychology and women’s
studies at the University of Michigan; Nicholas Sorensen,
doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University
of Michigan; and Ximena Zúñiga, associate
professor of education (social justice education) at
the University of Massachusetts-Amherst
In 2003, supporters of the University of Michigan's
defense of its affirmative action policies filed seventy-four
amici curiae in the U.S. Supreme Court contending
that diversity in educational settings is crucial to
student learning. These amicus briefs emphasized that
interactions with diverse peer groups encourage students
to learn from each other, to understand perspectives
that reflect different experiences and various social
backgrounds, and to gain the cultural competence critical
to effective local and global leadership. In support
of similar goals, the Association of American Colleges
and Universities has called for "a kind of learning
students need to meet emerging challenges in the workplace,
in a diverse democracy, and in an interconnected world"
(AAC&U 2002). AAC&U initiatives like Core Commitments
have supported universities' efforts to help students
develop a sense of personal and social responsibility
that involves taking seriously the perspectives of others,
grounding action in ethical considerations, and contributing
to the larger society--all outcomes associated with
diversity work in higher education.
But what kind of education actually leverages diversity
to foster these outcomes? Evidence presented to the
Supreme Court in 2003 and research conducted since has
made clear that if diversity is to have educational
benefits, colleges and universities need to make full
use of it as an institutional resource (Chang et al.
2003; Gurin et al. 2002). Colleges and universities
must create academic initiatives that engage students
intellectually and foster an understanding of group-based
inequalities and other dynamics that affect intergroup
relationships. Educators must provide guided interaction
among students of different backgrounds to ensure that
students engage constructively to understand their similar
and different experiences, and develop individual and
collective efficacy to influence the world around them.
Intergroup dialogue (IGD) programs are one way to engage
students in meaningful and substantive interaction across
difference. Given the increasing number of such programs
nationwide, they represent an opportunity to assess
the value of a diversity education effort across institutions.
We recently conducted a nine-university collaborative
study to evaluate the effects of gender and race/ethnicity
IGD Practice and Theory
Intergroup dialogue initiatives bring together students
from two different social identity groups in a sustained
and facilitated learning environment. As an educational
method, IGD engages students to explore issues of diversity
and inequality and their personal and social responsibility
for building a more just society (Zúñiga
at al. 2007). Dialogue is a collaborative communication
process that engages students in self-other exchanges
that illuminate intellectual and experiential similarities
and differences. Intergroup dialogue may occur between
women and men, people of color and white people, or
people of different religions.
The IGD practice we researched follows the theoretical
model shown in figure 1 (Nagda 2006). The three broad
goals of intergroup dialogue, represented as outcomes,
are: to develop intergroup understanding by helping
students explore their own and others' social identities
and statuses, and the role of social structures in relationships
of privilege and inequality; to foster positive intergroup
relationships by developing students' empathy and motivation
to bridge differences of identities and statuses; and
to foster intergroup collaboration for personal and
social responsibility toward greater social justice.
IGD learning pedagogy involves three important features:
1. Active and engaged learning:
IGD course curricula include readings (historical,
sociological, scientific, and narrative), didactic
and experiential activities, writing assignments,
and questions to stimulate reflection, critical analysis,
and dialogue. Writing assignments provide space for
reflection and help students integrate their learning
from the dialogue sessions, readings, and experiences
inside and outside of class.
2. Structured interaction: Through
credit-bearing courses, IGD brings together equal
numbers of students from at least two identity groups
for sustained engagement. IGD classes usually meet
for two to three hours per week over a period of ten
to fourteen weeks. Students learn interdependently
as they practice listening, asking questions, exploring
contentious issues, and making connections with others.
With the help of facilitators, students develop guidelines
for respectful dialogic engagement, including working
with disagreements and conflicts.
3. Facilitated learning environments: A team of two cofacilitators, one from each identity
group, works together to guide intergroup dialogue.
Before facilitating an IGD, faculty, professional
staff, and graduate or undergraduate students undergo
intensive knowledge and skills development. They learn
how to create an inclusive and involved learning environment,
use structured activities to promote reflection and
integration of academic content, and model dialogic
communication and collaboration.
Research Questions and Design
In the multiuniversity research project, we wanted
not only to understand what outcomes result from intergroup
dialogue, but also explain how intergroup dialogue affects
student learning, which we refer to as processes. We
focused on two sets of processes: the psychological
processes that occur within individuals (Dovidio et
al. 2004), and the communication processes that occur
among individuals (Nagda 2006). We theorized that these
processes mediate the impact of intergroup dialogue
pedagogy on outcomes, as shown in figure 1.
1: Theoretical framework of Intergroup
Dialogue Practice and Research
Among other questions, we asked: What are the primary
effects of intergroup dialogue on the three major categories
of outcomes? Do both race/ethnicity and gender dialogues
show these effects? Do the effects of intergroup dialogue
exceed those of content learning about race/ethnicity
and gender--i.e., are intergroup dialogue groups more
effective than courses on race/ethnicity and gender
that do not use the dialogue method?
The research design addressed issues of selectivity,
causality, and dialogue topic through the following
Random Assignment: At participating
institutions, interested students applied online to
enroll in intergroup dialogue courses. Institutional
teams matched applicants by race and gender and randomly
assigned students to dialogue groups (experimental
groups) or to groups whose members did not participate
in any intergroup dialogues (control groups). This
design allowed us to control for student self-selectivity
and attribute observed learning outcomes to intergroup
dialogue practices. Participating researchers conducted
a total of twenty-six race/ethnicity dialogues with
twenty-six control groups, and twenty-six gender dialogues
with twenty-six control groups.
Comparison Groups: In addition to
the control groups, the study included comparison
groups consisting of social science classes on race/ethnicity
and gender that used a lecture-discussion format.
These comparison groups allowed us to test whether
observed effects could be attributed to the dialogue
method rather than simply to content learning about
race/ethnicity and gender. Participating researchers
conducted fourteen race/ethnicity and fourteen gender
social science comparisons.
Assessment Methods: The project
consisted of a mixed-methods study. Students in the
dialogues, control groups, and comparison groups completed
a survey at the term's start, a survey at the end
of the term, and a one-year longitudinal follow-up
survey. The surveys were supplemented using qualitative
methods (videotaping, content analysis of students'
final papers, and interviews).
Analyses of pre- and postsurvey data (table 1) indicate
that intergroup dialogue produces consistent positive
effects across all three categories of outcomes:
Intergroup Understanding: Awareness
of inequality and its relationship to institutional
and structural factors (economically disadvantaged
schools, discrimination, low availability of adequately
paying jobs, unequal access to education) are important
measures of intergroup understanding. Students in
both the race/ethnicity and gender dialogues showed
greater increases in awareness and understanding of
both racial and gender inequalities and their structural
causes than did students in the control groups or
the social science classes. Race/ethnicity dialogues
also significantly affected students' understanding
of income inequality, although gender dialogues did
not have the same result. Another measure of intergroup
understanding that showed a positive impact was identity
engagement: a student's ability to think and learn
about his or her group identity and its relationship
to perspectives that the student and other group members
tend to hold.
Intergroup Relationships: Dialogue
increased students' positive intergroup relationships.
In contrast to students in both the control and comparison
groups, dialogue participants showed significantly
greater motivation to bridge differences and greater
increases in empathy. These effects were consistent
across both gender and race/ethnicity dialogues.
Intergroup Collaboration and Engagement:
Assessments of how dialogue fosters intergroup collaboration
toward personal and social responsibility revealed
consistent positive effects. Dialogue participants,
more than students in the control groups and comparison
classes, expressed increased motivation to be actively
engaged in their post-college communities by "influencing
social policy," "influencing the political structure
through voting and educational campaigns," and "working
to correct social and economic inequalities." Dialogue
also increased students' confidence in taking action
and their actual behaviors. After completing the dialogues,
students indicated greater personal responsibility
for educating themselves about "biases that affect
their own thinking" and about "other groups." They
also showed greater responsibility for "challenging
others on derogatory comments made about groups" and
for participating in coalitions to address discrimination
and social issues. All these results were greater
for the students participating in the dialogues than
for those in comparison classes.
1: Effects of intergroup dialogue across time
Developing and acting on a sense of personal and social
responsibility are lifelong endeavors. Our work with
intergroup dialogues, both through practice and evidenced
in our research, confirms that higher education institutions
can support students as they develop these capacities.
Through sustained dialogue with diverse peers that integrates
content learning and experiential knowledge, intergroup
dialogue encourages students to be intellectually challenged
and emotionally engaged. These facilitated relationships
influence students' understanding of their own and others'
experiences in society and cultivate individual and
collective agency to effect social change.
Yet if intergroup dialogue is an effective learning
practice, assessments that confirm its worth and explain
its mechanisms are also essential. Educators and researchers
must continue to provide evidence of the value of educational
diversity as we strive to strengthen the role of higher
education in building just futures. This article has
emphasized evidence relating to some selected predicted
outcomes of intergroup dialogue. Further evidence related
to the whole theoretical model will be presented in
forthcoming articles and a book expected in summer 2009.
Association of American Colleges and Universities.
2002. Greater expectations: A new vision for learning
as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: Association
of American Colleges and Universities.
Chang, M. J., D. Witt, J. Jones, and K. Hakuta. 2003.
Compelling interest: Examining the evidence on racial
dynamics in colleges and universities. Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press.
Dovidio, J. F., S. L. Gaertner, T. L. Stewart, V. M.
Esses, M. ten Vergert, and G. Hodson. 2004. From intervention
to outcome: Processes in the reduction of bias. In W.
G. Stephan & W. P. Vogt (Eds.), Education programs
for improving intergroup relations: Theory, research
and practice, 243-265. New York: Teachers College
Gurin, P., E. L. Dey, S. Hurtado, and G. Gurin. 2002.
Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on
educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review
72 (3): 330-366.
Nagda, B. A. 2006. Breaking barriers, crossing boundaries,
building bridges: Communication processes in intergroup
dialogues. Journal of Social Issues 62 (3):
Zúñiga, X., B. A. Nagda, M. Chesler,
and A. Cytron-Walker. 2007. Intergroup dialogues in
higher education: Meaningful learning about social justice.
ASHE Higher Education Report Series 32 (4).
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
1: Participating institutions were:
Arizona State University, Occidental College, Syracuse
University, the University of California-San Diego,
the University of Maryland-College Park, the University
of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Michigan-Ann
Arbor, the University of Texas-Austin, and the University