Intergroup Dialogue: History
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Intergroup dialogue is a "face to face facilitated conversation between members of two or more social identity groups that strives to create new levels of understanding, relating and action." This process promotes conversation around controversial issues, specifically, in order to generate new "collective visions" that uphold the dignity of all people. Intergroup dialogue is based in the philosophies of the democratic and popular education movements. It is most commonly used on college campuses, but may assume different namesakes in other settings.

  • social identity
  • popular education
  • intergroup

1. History

Intergroup dialogue is rooted in "philosophical and cultural traditions that have valued dialogue as a method of communication and inquiry" to explore shared concerns.[1] These traditions heavily influenced 20th century movements for democratic education, which included intergroup dialogue as a core objective. The application of dialogue in education was a core tenet of the democratic education movement, drawing on the work of public intellectuals like John Dewey who envisioned "schools as social centers" that "educate youth for democratic citizenship." [2] Dewey and other advocates of democratic education at the time envisioned dialogue as "the practice of deliberative democracy." [3] Civic engagement, experiential learning and student-centered learning are also products of this movement. For example, Paulo Freire, a core figure in popular education, adopted a theoretical approach to intergroup dialogue that emphasized the importance of people's own experiences, and need to build dialogue capacity to enable people to "analyze their situation and take action to transform themselves and their conditions.” Myles Horton, another popular education thinker, co-founded the Highlander Research and Education Center (1932) - one of the earliest U.S. mainstream examples of a community center that offered dialogue, "popular education and a means of promoting civic participation and social action organizing." [4]

The intergroup education movement in the 1940s and 1950s built upon the idea of "dialogue as liberatory educational practice," also drawing from feminist, antiracist and critical theory as well as the Intergroup Contact hypothesis. This movement was a response in some capacities to 20th century U.S. political turmoil. The Great Migration, the rapid internal movement of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial north, contributed to considerable social unrest within the United States. Similar effects were felt in the Southwest with the mass migration of Mexican Americans following World War II.[5]

Intergroup education was the foundation for "antibias, antiracist, multicultural, [and] social justice education" that sought to address this unrest, primarily in college campus settings.[5] In the 1980s, the University of Michigan inaugurated its Program on Intergroup Relations, which inspired similar models at a number of universities throughout the U.S. The growing popularity of intergroup dialogue programs on college campuses coincided with other shifts in higher education, including, for instance, the integration of Critical race theory as academic discipline in law and other fields.

2. Methodology and Approach

2.1. Intergroup Dialogue Goals

Intergroup dialogue is intended to build relationships amongst participants with different social identities through the use of personal storytelling, empathetic listening and interpersonal inquiry.[6] It integrates three core educational goals: "consciousness raising, building relationships across differences and conflicts, and strengthening individual and collective capacities to promote social justice." [7] Intergroup dialogue distinguishes its approach from other dialogic methods such as debate and discussion.

Dialogic Goals

Debate: To clarify pros and cons of issues, to develop critical thinking skills

Discussion: To generate different perspectives on issues, to consider decisions among different options

Intergroup Dialogue:To increase critical self and societal awareness, to increase intergroup communication, understand and collaborative actions[5]

2.2. Intergroup Dialogue Approaches

In debate we... In discussion we try to.. In dialogue we...
  • Succeed or win
  • Defend our opinion
  • Stress disagreement
  • Deny other's feelings
  • Discount the validity of feelings
  • Listen with a view of countering
  • Judge other viewpoints as inferior, invalid or distorted
  • Use silence to gain an advantage
  • Disregard relationships
  • Present ideas
  • Enlist others
  • Persuade others
  • Acknowledge feelings, then discount them as inappropriate
  • Listen for places of disagreement
  • Achieve preset goals
  • Avoid silence
  • Retain Relationships
  • Broaden our own perspective
  • Express paradox and ambiguity
  • Find places of agreement
  • Explore thoughts and feelings
  • Listen with a view to understand
  • Challenge ourselves and other's preconceived notions
  • Honor silence
  • Build relationships
  • Ask questions and invite inquiry

2.3. Multi-Partiality

Intergroup dialogue draws the work of Freire whose work focuses on consciousness raising, a process through which members of an oppressed group come to understand the history and circumstances of their oppression.[8] Intergroup dialogue further aims to raise the consciousness of all participants, including those from advantaged and disadvantaged groups, through the use of multi-partial facilitation. This approach was developed by Janet Rifkin, Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as a method of conflict resolution, and was adopted by the Program on Intergroup Relations as a method of facilitating dialogue across difference of social identity.[9]

A multi-partial approach to facilitation differs from both a neutral or impartial approach, as well as a model in which the facilitator acts as an advocate, such as in many feminist models. Multi-partial facilitation acknowledges the presence of “dominant narratives”, within dialogue, or sets of assumptions and beliefs based on socialization and cultural values. If the facilitator were to be impartial and neutral in moments of conflict between dialogue participants, the dominant narrative would affirm the experiences and voices of the dominant group members and further marginalize the experience of marginalized participants. A multi-partial facilitation approach differs from facilitator-advocate approaches in that it is equally invested in the participation and growth of all dialogue participants; it encourages self-reflection and awareness through engagement rather than direct confrontation, an approach based on the belief that “people who are not feeling threatened are more open to discussing their feelings and interests and are more open to discussing the effects the conflict is having on both groups.”[10] Rather than directly confronting a group member’s bias, a multi-partial facilitator “pursues” the dominant narrative and encourages group members to share their experiences, while simultaneously encouraging a critical analysis of the underlying assumptions and narratives at play.

3. Presence on College Campuses

Universities worldwide offer intergroup dialogue programs to their students. Intergroup dialogue programs are frequently launched as part of larger campus diversity and social justice initiatives seeking to address tensions and conflict related to social identity, most centrally, race. Campuses vary in their approach to intergroup dialogue, "tailor[ing] to the specific needs of the campus, school, academic department or student affairs unit that it serves." [11] Dialogue groups are generally housed in on-campus organizations or academic departments, included as course offerings in Social Work, Sociology, Psychology, American Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies and Education. Students enrolled in intergroup dialogue coursework are typically required to complete supplementary readings, reflections, papers and in some cases, field work.[12]

4. Evaluation and Outcomes

Research shows that Intergroup dialogue has positive impacts on participants' understanding of diversity and social justice issues.[13] After conducting a qualitative interview study with dialogue participants,[14] Anna Yeakley found that "connecting through a depth of personal sharing" has been shown to play a significant role in creating positive dialogue outcomes, while participants who "disconnected in response to hurtful intergroup conflicts" reported negative outcomes. Yeakley highlights the importance of facilitator training, and finds that five facilitation skills are essential to promoting positive outcomes: ( 1 ) creating a safe space, ( 2 ) recognizing signs of negative processes, ( 3 ) encouraging and supporting depth of personal sharing, ( 4 ) engaging conflicts as teachable moments, and ( 5 ) attending to identity differences in awareness and experience.[5]

The content is sourced from:


  1. Schoem & Hurtado (Eds.). Intergroup dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community and workplace. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. pp. 306–327. 
  2. Benson, Harkavy (July 2009). "The Enduring Appeal of Community Schools". American Educator. 
  3. Trifonas, Peter (2000). Revolutionary Pedagogies: Cultural Politics, Instituting Education and the Discourse of Theory. New York: Routledge. pp. 252. 
  4. Minkler, Meredith (Ed.) (2012). Community Organizing and Community Building for Health and Welfare (3rd ed.). New Jersey: Rutgers Press. p. 65. 
  5. Zúñiga, Nagda et. al. (October 13, 2011). Intergroup Dialogue in Higher Education: Meaningful Learning About Social Justice. John Wiley & Sons. 
  6. Kim, Joohan; Kim, Eun Joo (2008). "Theorizing Dialogic Deliberation: Everyday Political Talk as Communicative Action and Dialogue". Communication Theory 18 (1): 51–70. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2007.00313.x.
  7. Zuniga, Ximena; Nagda, Biren; Chesler, Mark; Cytron-Walker, Adena (2007). Intergroup Dialogue in Higher Education. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.. p. 9. ISBN 9780787995799. 
  8. Freire, Paolo (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826412769. 
  9. Roger, Fisher. "Multipartiality". 
  10. Stephan, W (2008). "Psychological and Communication Processes Associated With Intergroup Conflict Resolution". Small Group Research 39 (28): 28–41. doi:10.1177/1046496407313413.
  11. Zúñiga, Ximena. "Bridging Differences through Dialogue". About Campus. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  12. Zúñiga, Ximena. "Fostering Intergroup Dialogue on Campus: Essential Ingredients". Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved February 20, 2015. 
  13. Alimo, Craig; Kelly, Robert; Clarke, Christine (2002). "Diversity initiatives in higher education: Intergroup Dialogue Program student outcomes and implications for campus radical climate: A case study". Multicultural Education 10 (1): 49–53. 
  14. Yeakley, Anna (1998). "The nature of prejudice change: Positive and negative change processes arising from intergroup contact experiences.". Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 
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