So, how do colleges address and encourage natural experiences and dialogue? Some colleges are attempting to address discrimination through offering intergroup dialogue classes, sessions, and even entire majors devoted to intergroup relations. Some goals of intergroup relations programs are to foster spaces for students to interact. Intergroup dialogues are intended to be spaces to connect students through broadening their understanding of those who they perceive to fit into some different groups. This strategy is consistent with Allport’s Contact Hypothesis which emphasizes the value of positive contact in decreasing negative stereotypes (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2013).
The University of Michigan offers several intergroup dialogue classes for students to participate in. Once students are approved to participate in a 3-credit class, they are placed into a specific “topic placement such as race, ethnicity, SES, Gender, etc.” (Michigan State, 2018). The dialogues are facilitated by trained students who encourage dialogue and discussion in response to reading materials (Michigan State, 2018). A goal of these dialogues is to encourage and foster a culturally diverse community where students are treated respectfully and equally. This program focuses on rich and meaningful conversations with intentionally diverse groups.
Villanova University offers something a little different to Michigan state, as they offer up to three, 1-credit intergroup relation courses to their students as free electives. Noting that “One credit IGR courses are designed to prepare students to create dialogues in situations where understanding and listening are needed” (Villanova, 2018). A goal of this initiative is to encourage and equip students for authentic and respectful interactions. This program defines intergroup relations as an “educational experience about issues of social justice” (Villanova, 2018). These classes are structured to better understand differences among group members through dialogue, exercises, and readings. Each class focuses on a specific topic such as gender, racial identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status and students are encouraged to take more than one course.
Intergroup relations groups encourage participation and thoughtful responses to topics related to various stereotypes and biases. They aim to address issues within society, colleges, and even personally. Colleges are addressing conflict resolution through contact hypothesis by providing spaces for students to find commonalities by interacting with one another (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2013). Consistent with Allport’s hypothesis, intergroup relations aim to address perceived inequalities and foster a space for understanding where all participants are treated equally (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2013). Through providing opportunities for students to positively interact with one another equally and respectfully, colleges are aiming to encourage a stronger community.
Colleges are taking a variety of approaches to address inequality, discrimination, and diversity. In my opinion, colleges have a responsibility to give their students opportunities to learn from one another. I am not certain what approach is the best to take and I would assume that people have different experiences and perspectives of what approach is most appropriate to encourage a healthy and diverse community. However, it is extremely important that educational settings make connecting people and breaking down barriers a priority. Colleges must address discrimination directly and offer learning opportunities for students while also ensuring a safe and healthy community for all students.
Schneider, F. W. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
University of Michigan. (2018). Intergroup Dialogues. Retrieved from The Program of Intergroup Relations: https://igr.umich.edu/article/intergroup-dialogues
Villanova University. (2018). Office of the Provost. Retrieved from Villanova.edu: http://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/provost/diversity/igr.html