March 17, 2014

Cornell Dialogue Group Wins Diversity Award

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By SLOANE GRINSPOON

The Intergroup Dialogue Project — a series of peer-facilitated courses that aim to raise awareness about social justice issues — was awarded the Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony last Tuesday.

The Intergroup Dialogue Project is a series of three courses offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — Education 2610, 3610 and 4980 — according to A.T. Miller, associate vice provost for academic diversity.

The prize — awarded by the Office of the Dean of Students — recognizes the student, faculty, staff member or program making the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of university community while respecting the values of racial diversity, according to the University’s website.

“It is an experiential learning course that works with the personal experiences of the individuals in the course as well as the societal context in which we live and how does the individual experience fit into the societal context.” —E-Chieh Lin

Katelyn Fletcher ’15, who helped facilitate a dialogue section on socioeconomic status last semester, said the goal of the course is to create a safe space where students “can learn about their social identities.”

“[They can also learn] the social identities of others as well as practice the skills they need to communicate successfully with individuals across differences,” she said.

Fletcher added that the courses are subdivided into several sections, which include topics such as race, gender, socioeconomic status and religion. Two undergraduate students facilitate each section, which consists of approximately 10 to 12 students, according to Fletcher.

“[The course] culminates in students creating original projects to promote social justice on campus,” she said.

According to E-Chieh Lin, co-facilitator, program coordinator and co-instructor for the dialogue project, the program was selected for the prize because of its expanding enrollment, which in turn “affected different people each semester [and] created the greatest effect on the Cornell population.”

The award consists of $5,000 — which will go towards furthering the course and expanding its scope — according to Miller.

“The prize money will help to increase the capacity of the [project] to provide dialogue experiences beyond the classroom for staff and faculty, as well as to obtain materials to train facilitators, get more classroom materials and help to promote the program,” Miller said.

Though the course has been rising in popularity, it still has room to expand, Miller said.

“In our first semester, [fall 2012], there were two student course dialogues. This semester there are seven,” Miller said. “This semester, nearly 100 students are enrolled. A fully developed program would have about 200 students every semester in about 14-15 dialogue groups.”

The project also plans on expanding its scope. In 2013, they began working with residential programs, according to Lin.

“We are working on putting together a faculty dialogue, staff dialogue and non-academic workshops for the Summer College. Although our program has begun as an academic endeavor, a part of our goal is to have a continual non-academic component to the program,” Lin said.

According to Lin, the course is unique in that it does not follow a lecture-style format.

“It is an experiential learning course that works with the personal experiences of the individuals in the course as well as the societal context in which we live and how does the individual experience fit into the societal context,” Lin said.

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