In a school made up of students from a wide array of backgrounds, it’s sometimes difficult to bridge cultural gaps.
With this challenge in mind, the Program on Intergroup Relations will continue its mission to educate students on the diversity of cultural and personal identities by conducting special events throughout 2013, the 25th year of the program.
IGR brings together students and faculty members to share stories and broaden an understanding of social-justice and social-identity ideals. By conducting a wide variety of academic courses and workshops, IGR attracts students with a passion for global complexities.
The program was instituted when differences between varying identities, races and cultures were causing rifts in the University community, said Adrienne Dessel, the program’s co-associate director. IGR was created to provide a platform to tackle these issues.
“There was a sense that there needed to be more understanding,” Dessel said. “Dialogue was a way of having conversation with people across identities that could produce more intergroup understanding.”
Monita Thompson, assistant dean of students and a co-director of IGR said when IGR first began, it was a limited program with non-credit classes conducted within residence halls and other schools within the University.
She added that the expansion of the program was a mandate given the growing needs of students.
“There’s a need for being able to talk across identities; there’s a need and a want to understand differences,” Thompson said. “(Students want to) be able to discuss issues that are important to them around diversity, identity and social justice.”
The courses offered under the IGR umbrella include Intergroup Dialogues, a two-credit forum that combines active and personal discussion with academic reading; Intergroup Conflict and Co-Existence, a course that examines the sources of social coalition and conflict; and an IGR Capstone, which focuses on University seniors and their social encounters.
Thompson said intergroup courses differ from other University lectures and classes aimed at increasing multicultural awareness.
“Our courses tend to use an experiential teaching method where we look at both students’ real life experiences as well as the literature,” Thompson said. “I think this creates a different atmosphere in the course.”
IGR has worked to increase its presence on campus through collaborations with student organizations, fall orientation programs and University housing.
But in its 25th year, the program will reach out to its alumni base. In early fall, an event will invite IGR alumni to campus, showing students that “once they graduate, there will be a group of people still committed to the issues of intergroup relations that they can also connect with,” Thompson said.
IGR will also hold a symposium in the fall to discuss their findings on how their pedagogy can contribute to the academic literature on the subject.
Thompson said IGR has a lot of potential to grow across schools and colleges in the University and in K-12 education in the Ann Arbor community.
IGR has also demonstrated its power to affect individual students.
LSA freshman Shang Chen, a participant in an intergroup dialogue, said he registered for the course as a requirement for his learning community, the Michigan Community Scholars Program. As an international student, he said the program provided an open platform for communication.
“Unlike other classes (with only) lectures and discussions, the Intergroup Dialogues course provides participants with more freedom to speak and more opportunity to be really engaged in dialogue,” he said.
Interacting with multicultural students and reflecting on experiences are a key part of the course, and Chen said students with a passion for “multicultural experiences and international conversations” would find the class most fruitful.
Dessel said IGR has received positive student feedback due to its intimacy in communication and the available guidance of peer facilitators. She said the courses tend to be small, which contributes to the safety that students are looking for.
“Students find that these courses provide a safe space for them to talk about difficult topics, such as social identity conflict,” Dessel said.
—Follow Amrutha Sivakumar on Twitter at @xamrutha.