Improving Campus Climate

Collin Young, Maroon-News Staff

On Monday, October 16,  an event titled “Institutionalizing Intergroup Dialogue to Improve Campus Culture” was held in Love Auditorium. This event was a part of Stages of Change, a day-long symposium that promotes dialogues across and about difference through meetings, forums, workshops and sharing research about best practices to improve campus climate. Stages of Change refers to the four stages of intergroup dialogues.

The event itself was composed of a panel of scholars who discussed institutional change and the commitment required to support intergroup dialogue. The panel consisted of Gretchen Lopez, director of the Intergroup Dialogue Program at Syracuse University, Kristie Ford, professor of Sociology and founder of the Intergroup Relations Program at Skidmore College and Khuram Hussain, an associate professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and co-founder of Tools for Social Change in Geneva.

During the event, Colgate Professor of Sociology Carolyn Hsu asked the panelists about the effectiveness of intergroup dialogue. Intergroup dialogue (IGD) helps exercise skills in empathy, which has become especially relevant post-election, as people on both sides of the political aisle tend to develop a one track mind and are not willing to acknowledge the other side’s arguments. 

Next, the panelists discussed the structure of intergroup dialogue and what it looks like in terms of groups and policies. Dialogue is practiced in the IGD model to sustain conversation in times of stress. Lopez agreed that the IGD model is effective because of its multi-pronged aspect in the sense that it contributes to interpersonal, affective and cognitive learning.

“People don’t realize that you need both emotion and content. If you don’t engage in emotion, how deep is the learning?” Lopez said. 

The IDG model educates people on terms one should know in a liberal arts education, such as institutional power. The panelists stressed that IDG is one of many methods of intervention used to combat racism. 

At this point Ford mentioned a book she wrote, titled Facilitating Change through Intergroup Dialogue: Social Justice Advocacy in Practice. Ford’s book discusses the lasting impact that the intergroup dialogue model holds even after students graduate from college.

Hsu then asked the panelists what challenges they faced in creating IDG programs at their respective institutions. The consensus among the panelists was that gaining legitimacy and getting faculty on board were the toughest issues. They mentioned that IDG was seen as less intellectually rigorous and more emotional, leading to it being viewed as less legitimate.

Sophomore Kerr Abadinas felt that the event was educational.

“I learned a lot from the event,” Abadinas said. “I had never heard of the intergroup dialogue model prior to the panel but it sounds like a very effective mode.”

Some members of the audience, such as junior Tianyi He, felt the IDG method would be worth trying out.

“I think it would be interesting for an IDG based model to be held at Colgate,” He said. “It is something worth testing out.” 

Contact Collin Young at [email protected].