Courtesy of Cornell University

The Intergroup Dialogue Project program, required for all freshmen, pushes students to explore their identities as well as those of their peers.

September 13, 2018

Inaugural Intergroup Dialogue Program Requires Freshmen to Confront Diversity Across Divides

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Replacing prior diversity training, all incoming freshmen students were required to participate in a three-hour, student-facilitated session led by the Intergroup Dialogue Project to gain insight about themselves, others and learn active listening and communication skills across different identities.

IDP was originally created in 2012 as one undergraduate course in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and has since evolved to include more courses, a graduate program and workshop series.

Groups on campus can request a workshop or extended workshop series from IDP, led by student facilitators, which the project hopes allows individuals to “gain practical skills for making their offices, classrooms, and student groups more inclusive environments,” according to IDP’s website.

During Orientation Week this August, each freshman participated in one of these IDP sections, which were designed to help them “learn more about themselves and each other, as well as for practicing skills and tools for communicating across difference both inside and outside the classroom,” said Adi Grabiner-Keinan, IDP director.

According to Grabiner-Keinan, President Martha Pollack and other senior Cornell officers agreed to sponsor the inclusion of these IDP sessions in orientation as part of the early recommendations that emerged from the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate in June.

Throughout orientation, the IDP ran 169 individual sessions for all 3,325 freshmen, who were separated into groups of 20. Each session was facilitated by two upper-level undergraduate or graduate facilitators.

Within each session, facilitators began with an explanation of main concepts and personal identifiers, such as race and gender identity. Students were then asked to reflect on their own identities and rank which ones they relate to most.

Henry Lavacude-Cola ’22 described the sessions as “a little uncomfortable” at first due to the fact that he didn’t know anyone in his group, but he said that by the end, he felt “more comfortable sharing” aspects of his identity.

Within the three-hour session, there were several discussions, between the whole group, small groups as well as one-on-one conversations in order to encourage dialogue between individuals with different backgrounds and identities.

The discussions ranged from “how we can best listen to everybody” to “the various backgrounds people might have that you may not be aware of,” Lavacude-Cola said.

Freshmen are in the process of completing surveys about the workshops, but Grabiner-Keinan said that the feedback IDP has received so far has been positive.

“Students were actively engaged during the sessions and were excited to explore issues related to identity and communication across difference,” Grabiner-Keinan said, based on preliminary reports from IDP facilitators.

She also said that they are working to incorporate any ideas students have for future workshops. For example, Grabiner-Keinan said that several students have expressed that they would prefer more small group discussion time rather than large group interaction.

There will be two mandatory follow-up sessions for freshmen which will aim to allow them to reflect on their first few months at Cornell and continue the dialogue started during their Orientation sessions.

Grabiner-Keinan said that IDP plans to continue their role in orientation and incorporate feedback from students to improve the sessions in order to “strive for a more inclusive campus.”