Social science evidence submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of affirmative action for Grutter v. Bollinger, Gratz v. Bollinger, and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, as well as research conducted more recently support the view that experience with racial/ethnic diversity in education has positive effects on engagement in learning and preparation for citizenship. However, much less is discussed in that research literature on what kinds of initiatives provide effective education about identity, inequality and social justice to foster mutual learning and collaboration among diverse students.
This paper presents one unique approach -- Intergroup dialogue. Intergroup dialogue brings students from two identity groups together in small-group, co-learning environments. Over a sustained period of 10-12 weeks under the guidance of trained facilitators, students of color and white students in a race dialogue, and women and men in a gender dialogue, explore their own and the other group's identities, analyze how power and inequality affect their groups, and examine ways to bridge intergroup differences. It was hypothesized that participation in intergroup dialogue would increase empathy, motivation to bridge differences, awareness and structural understanding of inequality and frequency of collaborative action.
The present research offers the first outcomes from a randomized controlled evaluation of a dialogue-based intergroup relations intervention in higher education. With funding from the W. T. Grant and Ford foundations, a team of collaborators across nine universities conducted 52 randomized experiments and 26 social science course comparison groups involving more than 2000 participants. Participants who applied to take a semester-long course on intergroup dialogue were randomized to take an intergroup dialogue or to a waitlist-control group. All participants completed a pretest and posttest survey, and another survey one year after the course was completed. We present the effects of intergroup dialogue between pretest and posttest for three sets of outcomes important for leadership in a diverse society: intergroup understanding (e.g. awareness of and structural attributions for inequality), relational motivation and skills (e.g. empathy and motivation to bridge differences), and collaborative action (e.g. confidence and frequency of engaging in intergroup collaboration).
Overall, we find significant treatment effects for all three sets of outcomes and present a structural equation model documenting how intergroup dialogue produces its effects through pedagogical, communication and psychological processes. Effects in most cases are not moderated by the topic of dialogue or the identities of participants. Moreover, although participating in a social science course on race or gender issues produces positive outcomes as well, effects are larger for intergroup dialogue.
By demonstrating effects of intergroup dialogue that cannot be attributed to selectivity (student predispositions to participate in the course) and that cannot be achieved through exposure to content on race and gender in traditional social science courses, we advance intergroup dialogue as a model to improve intergroup relations. We also present implications for social work education and practice focusing on issues of inequality through consciousness-raising, dialogic relationship building and/or collaborative community change.