Race. Ethnicity. Immigration. Culture. Nationhood. Borders. Change-making.
These were just some of the topics that floated about the classroom, where I, along with 18 undergraduate students, and my fellow graduate student facilitator had gathered for our final week of our 8-week seminar. We had come together for two hours each week and explored the complexities of identity, the history of nation building, power, privilege, the development of borders, immigration, citizenship and other current global social issues. We reflected together and we challenged one another. We started off as a group of 20 strangers but left as a team ready to create change in the world.
What made this possible? What brought us all together? The NYU Intergroup Dialogue Program.
The NYU Intergroup Dialogue Program began in 2007 as a partnership between the NYU Center for Multicultural Education & Programs (CMEP) and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Behavior. The program was created by Marcella Runell Hall who was trained by Ximena Zuniga at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The program is now jointly sponsored by CMEP and the Center for Spiritual Life, supported by the NYU Silver School of Social Work, and the Assistant Vice-President for Student Diversity in the Division of Student Affairs, Monroe France.
NYU IGD brings together small groups of students from diverse backgrounds to share perspectives and gain new knowledge about diversity and social justice. This credit-bearing academic course is open to all NYU undergraduate students and is facilitated by trained and experienced graduate students in order to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere where members of the group can speak candidly about their experience with diverse cultures and their own personal and social identities
Each dialogue focuses on a specific lens through which students discuss different social justice issues. The dialogue I helped to facilitate was brand-new and examined the world through the context of National Origin. Some past dialogues have included: Race & Ethnicity, Gender, Bi/Multiracial Intragroup, Spirituality, Sexuality, Jewish/Muslim, Arts- Based Race, Faith and Sexuality, Women of Color & Sexuality, and Dis(ability) and Jewish/Black. Many of these dialogues have sprung up because of student initiative. For example, the Faith and Sexuality dialogue – came about by students leaders within faith based communities, the LGBTQ community, and students that were active members across both communities expressing an interest in developing opportunities to forge greater understanding of each other (and is now one of our most popular dialogues).
If you witnessed firsthand the participants of the National Origin dialogue you would see that the demographic make up of the group was intentionally made to ensure that we there were a myriad of voices and opinions in our space. I identified as a U.S. citizen born of immigrant parents, my co-facilitator was a recent immigrant from Germany, and the students had a broad range of identities including U.S. born, international and third-culture. This careful construction of the group is a hallmark of the NYU IGD program and IGD pedagogy in general. The NYU IGD program acknowledges that while communication across different social identities can be difficult and psychologically and emotionally challenging, sustained and intentional dialogue in an equitable space is necessary and enables participants to work through these obstacles in order to form safe and socially just environments.
During the 8 weeks of the course, our students participated in a myriad of activities such as the Name Story, Social & Personal Identity Wheels, Fishbowls, and Life Mapping. These self-reflective activities helped students not only to gain a better understanding of how National Origin played out in their lives but also allowed the students to build a sense of community and trust, leading to more open and honest conversations. Current events and other media were brought in to help ground our discussion in issues of citizenship, immigration and culture.
In addition to anecdotal and personal experiences, we also discussed academic theory such as Harro’s ‘Cycle of Socialization” and the “Cycle of Liberation” (1982). These self-reflective activities and readings assisted participants in developing in four distinct stages, as described by Zùñiga, Nagda, Chesler, and Cytron-Walker (2007):
Stage 1—Group Beginnings: Forming and Building Relationships
In the first stage, the focus is on establishing the foundation for creating an environment conducive to honest and meaningful exchange.
Stage 2—Exploring Differences and Commonalities of Experience
During the second stage, social identity–group commonalities and differences are explored.
Stage 3—Exploring and Dialoguing About Hot Topics
The third stage of intergroup dialogue involves dialogue about controversial topics or hot-button issues that cause tension between people of different social identity groups.
Stage 4—Action Planning and Alliance Building
The final stage of intergroup dialogue builds on the prior stages but also shifts the discussion from reflection and dialogue to taking individual and group actions with others.
In our National Origin dialogue, we discussed a variety of topics including the experience of undocumented immigrants, the differences between individualistic and collectivist cultures, and who decides what is considered a country or not. While we discussed these topics, there were two themes that served as the foundation – action planning and allyship. This translates into alumni of the program who want to engage in change-making work on many levels. We see that many IGD alumni get involved in events like NYU Ally Week, participate in various social justice theme clubs and organization, and some even change their academic aspirations to reflect a new sense of social responsibility including starting their own non-profits or coaching future dialogues. Many of the National Origin dialogue students have already applied to return to participate in another dialogue!!
One of our last activities in our dialogue was called “Build Your Model Ally”. Participants broke into small groups and created a visual representation of what they considered as the “model ally.” They incorporated bits and pieces of all the conversations we had to create inspiring artistic representations of what it means to be an ally. Using these visual representations as a model, our participants then created personal action plans for themselves. These plans outline concrete steps that they wanted to take incorporated ideals from the “model ally” and lessons learned from our conversations in the classroom to the world beyond it.
That is one of most effective aspects of NYU IGD – not only the opportunity to give participants the space to discuss critical issues in a safe environment but also to come up with practical ways for them to make meaningful change, large or small, in their lives. One of the students in National Origin dialogue reflected on their experience in the following way, “I really valued the honesty and openness of my peers, and the willingness to explore controversial topics such as immigration and single-story explanations and the incorporation of media into the classes. I am eager to continue conversing and exploring my thoughts on national origin with others, and I hope to engage in this dialogue with anyone who is interested in social identity and social justice.”
Additional stories highlighting the impact of IGD on its students can be found in a short video on the NYU IGD website: http://tinyurl.com/igdnyu
Mark Anthony Florido is a Graduate Student Employee at the NYU Center for Multicultural Education & Programs and a second year masters students in the NYU Steinhardt Higher Education & Student Affairs program. He earned a BA in Psychology from Boston College. Prior to NYU, Mark Anthony worked for One Million Degrees a non-profit in Chicago that empowers low-income, highly motivated community college students to succeed in school, in work, and in life. He recently co-facilitated the National Origin section of NYU Intergroup Dialogue, a NASPA award-winning, nationally recognized 1-credit course that brings together small groups of students from diverse backgrounds to share their experiences and gain new knowledge related to diversity and social justice. You can reach Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.