Inter- and Intragroup Dialogue and Assessment as Partners for Diversity

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 20–21, 2009

Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College
Atlanta, Georgia

At a time when colleges are being forced to substantially decrease their budgets, how can we continue to promote and embrace the diverse classroom as an educational opportunity?

Introduction and Project Summary

Racial diversity is the buzz word within predominately White higher educational institutions; in recent years, many colleges have striven to recruit student bodies, faculties, and staff that more closely reflect the country’s racial demographics. Less attention, however, has been paid to the positive curricular and pedagogical interventions that help students thrive within these institutional contexts. We must further explore: What pedagogies facilitate sustained racial identity development and effective communication across and within racial groups? And what are the observable student learning outcomes related to these approaches? In order to better prepare all students for an increasingly diverse society, it is crucial that colleges find innovative ways of integrating race into the curriculum. This project seeks to assess two curricular models at Skidmore College, inter- and intraracial dialogues, in an effort to understand the educational benefits of this pedagogy and its impact on student outcomes (generally) and the experiences of White students and students of Color (specifically).

The quantitative and qualitative data confirm existing studies’ findings that the intergroup dialogue pedagogy is demonstrably effective in attaining desired student learning outcomes related to racial identity development and social justice. Further, the intragroup dialogue data reveal important, identity-specific learning for White students and students of Color. Finally, this project demonstrates the importance of developing comprehensive assessments for high-impact pedagogical practices. The consequence of this collaboration is that decisions are being informed by rich data, and, more importantly, goals for student learning and development are being met.

Curricular Model: The Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR)

Intergroup Relations (IGR) is a nationally recognized social justice program that originated at the University of Michigan in 1988 as a means of addressing racial tension; its primary goal is to support student learning and competencies around inter- and intragroup relations, conflict, and social justice. (For more, see: Since then, it has expanded to a number of colleges and universities across the United States – including the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Maryland, and Occidental College.

In 2008, Skidmore College supported the development of a four-course pilot program, adapted from the Michigan model, to meet our Strategic Plan goals focused on intercultural and global understanding to better prepare students to live in an increasingly diverse and global society. The series consists of: (1) Race and Power, a 200-level introductory course, 4 credits; (2) Racial Identity Theory and Praxis, a 300-level advanced training course for students interested in facilitating race dialogues, 4 credits; (3) Peer-Facilitated Race Dialogues, a series of topical inter- and intra-group courses facilitated by graduates of the training course, 1-credit; and (4) Practicum for Peer-Facilitated Race Dialogues, a 300-level course that provides ongoing support for peer-facilitators, 3-credits. In the spring of 2009, we piloted four peer-facilitated dialogues on race: (1) Intergroup: People of Color / White People Dialogue for First-Years; (2) Intergroup: People of Color / White People Dialogue for Sophomores; (3) Intragroup: People of Color / Multiracial Identity Dialogue; and (4) Intragroup: White Racial Identity Dialogue. These courses combine readings in social identity theory, engaged learning, and dialogue facilitation skills to promote understanding of inter- and intragroup relations across race and other social identity markers (e.g., gender, sexuality, religion).


A mixed-method comparative approach was implemented in this pre-test / post-test design to quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate student learning in the race dialogues at Skidmore. Standardized closed-ended questionnaires, adapted from socio-psychological measures and developed for IGR assessment across different demographic and institutional contexts (Multi-University Intergroup Dialogue Research Project Guidebook), were administered at the beginning and end of the semester to assess the following domains: students’ understanding of race, racism, and racial identity; feelings about racial tension; attitudes concerning race-related policies; experiences with inter- and intraracial interactions; and involvement in social justice work. In addition, a qualitative content analysis of two written 6-8 page assignments, a preliminary paper due in Week 2 and a final paper due in Week 14, examined changes in students’ views (e.g., nuances of racial understanding; level of emotionality; self-reflexivity; critical thinking skills).

Sample Demographic Information

In 2008-2009, 67 of the 70 students in the race dialogues (or 96%) elected to participate in this study. The demographic breakdown of the sample by gender and race is as follows: approximately 70% self-identified as women, 30% as men; and nearly half of the participants self-identified as students of Color (African-American/Black, Asian-American/Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino(a)/Hispanic-American, and Arab/Arab-American) and half as White/European- American.1

In addition, participants represented a range of other group and social identities, including differing class years (first-years through seniors), nationalities (e.g., dual citizen; U.S. citizen); religious affiliations (e.g., Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Agnostic, Spiritual, Non-Religious); sexualities (e.g., gay, bisexual, heterosexual); and social classes (e.g., working, middle, and upper).

Summary of Results2

It was the first time in four years that I made valuable friendships and genuinely engaged with people outside of my own race. This was the most valuable and important course I took at Skidmore College and I think it should be mandatory for all students. If the school wants to increase its diversity and have a more active (less apathetic) student body, it needs to begin with education, specifically social justice courses. – White student

Concurrent with national IGR initiatives, various methodologies are being utilized to monitor its effectiveness (Nagda & Zuniga, 2003). Like the Multi-University IGR research results, on a smaller scale, the data at Skidmore College suggest a number of attitudinal and behavioral changes in students enrolled in the inter- and intragroup dialogues, including:

Increased self-reflexivity about issues of race, identity, power, and privilege. Students are better prepared to

  • Recognize target and agent social identities
  • Examine their stereotypes, prejudices, and biases
  • Progress through the racial identity development stages

Heightened awareness of the institutionalization of race and racism in the U.S. Students are better able to

  • Understand the socio-historical context of race relations as well as relevant terminology
  • Recognize structures of power, privilege, and oppression in their own life (or the lives of others)
  • Understand overt and subtle -isms

Improved cross-racial interactions. Students are more willing to

  • Listen to perspectives that differ from their own
  • Develop inter- and intraracial friendships, connections, and allies

Enhanced ability to engage productively in race-related dialogues. Students are more equipped to

  • Utilize newly developed skill sets (e.g., practice empathy, listen actively)

Diminished fear about race-related conflict

Heightened appreciation for the educational benefits of a racially diverse campus

Increased participation in social change actions (e.g., taking ownership for actions; building alliances; challenging derogatory comments; recognizing how to intervene)

Improved confidence in creating social change – individually, interpersonally, and structurally.

Additionally, in congruence with Goal II of Skidmore’s Strategic Plan – focused on Intercultural and Global Understanding – which states that we will “increase global awareness across the community in order to sensitize all Skidmore students to a complex, diverse, and interdependent world4,” the majority of students (n=64) report being more sensitive to others (92%); concerned about the world (92%); confident that interracial groups can work together in productive ways (94%); thoughtful about social issues (97%); and self-aware (97%) after completing an IGR course. To that end, one student of Color states, “I am leaving for home this summer an educated soldier, fighting for truth and justice, my weapons being the knowledge I gained from class. I can fight racism and prejudice with the theory of color-blind racism, my skills as a facilitator and my increasing passion and dedication towards social justice work around the world.”

IGR & General Education Learning Goals

Student learning in the dialogues dovetails with the learning goals outlined by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in their LEAP Project’s Essential Learning Outcomes5. Among the goals related to students’ learning about diversity, the LEAP project emphasizes that students must not only learn content, but also be able to put that knowledge into practice in various ways and contexts. One of the outcomes’ clusters relates directly to students’ learning in the IGR dialogues. For the third goal (of four), quoted here in its entirety, LEAP proposes students should learn:

“Personal and Social Responsibility, including

  • Civic knowledge and engagement – local and global
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence
  • Ethical reasoning and action
  • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning

Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges.”6

In locating “active involvement with diverse communities” within an applied local and global framework of personal and social responsibility, civic engagement, cross-cultural proficiency, and ethical reasoning, the LEAP project implicitly places a high priority on students’ abilities to communicate and collaborate effectively and practically across differences in race and other social identities.

It is not enough, of course, to establish such ambitious goals; we must also determine whether we are meeting them. The LEAP project encourages colleges to make the fullest possible use of “high-impact educational practices,” presenting George Kuh’s (2008) work and arguing that these approaches (e.g., collaborative projects, service-learning, internships) have been shown to promote student learning. Kuh himself also contends that learning about diversity and “‘difficult differences’ such as racial, ethnic and gender inequality” is in itself a high-impact practice, especially when enhanced by experiential pedagogies7. On the basis of the assessment results summarized above, we believe that IGR curricular dialogues maximize students’ learning, most particularly in acquiring the competence to practice effective intercultural skills in response to real-world challenges. Further, these assessments, as well as our own direct observations in the dialogue settings, confirm that students develop greater empathy and awareness, learn how to listen better and speak more effectively about difficult race-related subjects, and often commit to social justice action at the conclusion of the course. Reflecting on the dialogue, one student underscores this point: “Looking back on this experience, I can see how much of a journey we have all embarked on. It has been a long one, but one that is never finished. It’s sort of like going hiking – you have to acquire the tools (and learn to use them) before you can actually begin the climb. We have tools and use them, and we’re climbing; we have all climbed a great deal. However, with everything, we will take on more complicated tools and learn how to use them as our journey continues.”

IGR & Goals for Student Learning and Development at Skidmore College

In December 2009, the faculty of Skidmore College endorsed a set of Goals for Student Learning and Development that in some ways resemble the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes. Skidmore’s Goals grew out of our Strategic Plan and other documents, and are intentionally holistic: they address student learning not only in the curriculum but throughout the students’ college experience. The Goals include several bullets that relate directly to the LEAP project goals above and speak more specifically about diversity and social justice. Students are expected to

  • Understand social and cultural diversity in national and global contexts
  • Interact effectively and collaboratively with individuals and across social identities
  • Interrogate one’s own values in relation to those of others, across social and cultural differences.

These three bullets appear in the Goals under separate headings, so that each of the first three major headings (Knowledge; Intellectual Skills and Practice; Personal and Social Values), respectively, includes a goal related specifically to matters of diversity and intercultural competence. All of these Goals appear in a context in which we expect students to “[a]pply learning to find solutions for social, civic, and scientific problems.”8

Clearly, again, these assessment results indicate that this dialogue pedagogy is effective in meeting the institutional Goals stated above: In these courses, students not only gain new knowledge about and understanding of social and cultural diversity, but most importantly, they learn to interact effectively and collaboratively within and across social identities; and just as importantly, they learn to interrogate their own values in relation to those of others, across social and cultural differences. Moreover, students in the intragroup dialogue on Whiteness make great strides in their understanding of White identity, power, privilege, and personal accountability; and students in the People of Color / Multiracial Identity Dialogue show significant growth in their understanding (and subsequent embracing) of the complexities and contradictions of U.S. racial categories and constructions. Both the intragroup and the intergroup dialogues demonstrably serve to help the college to take full pedagogical advantage of our student body’s diversity-for all of our students-and to help make the case for sustaining and increasing its diversity as an institutional priority.

Partnership between IGR & Assessment

In sum, the pilot IGR dialogues at Skidmore College have provided a high-impact pedagogical practice that deepens student learning in areas that correspond directly to goals established by the college and endorsed by the faculty. Our assessments demonstrate these results: by bridging theory and practice, students learn to understand race and identity, collaborate effectively within and across social identities, and critically examine their values in relation to others.

The partnership between IGR and assessment at Skidmore is proving to be valuable for the college. It is allowing us to make substantial progress in an area that the college has established as a priority, and we anticipate that the assessment results will enable the college to make informed decisions about pedagogy and curriculum. In a time of constraints on resources, more than ever, innovations must be accompanied by evidence. When the innovations allow us to meet major institutional goals, and the evidence shows that they do, the benefits to all are clear.


1These categories are not mutually exclusive as some Bi/Multiracial students identified with more than one race.

2Dr. Ford is in the process of analyzing the quantitative and qualitative 2008-2009 data; the results presented in this article are thus preliminary. More detailed analyses will be forthcoming in an institutional assessment report and subsequent articles on inter- and intragroup dialogue pedagogies and identity-specific student outcomes. Requests for more information regarding methodological approach or substantive findings can be directed to

3For more, see: Nagda et al (2009).


5See for the full set of Essential Learning Outcomes and accompanying materials on Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).





College Learning for the New Global Century. (2007.) A Report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities.

Kuh, George D. (2008.) High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Multi-University Intergroup Dialogue Research Project Guidebook. Unpublished Document.

Nagda, R., Gurin, P., Sorensen, N., & Zuniga, X. (2009.) Evaluating Intergroup Dialogue: Engaging Diversity for Personal and Social Responsibility.” Diversity & Democracy. 12(1): 4-6.

Nagda, R., & Zuniga, X. (2003.) Fostering Meaningful Racial Engagement through Intergroup Dialogues. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. 6(1): 111-128.

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