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2013 Spring Issue 1 (April 12, 2013)

Talking About Diversity

April 15, 2013
By Adriana Estill and Joe Baggot

On a recent episode of Go On, a sitcom about a sportscaster dealing with the death of his wife (that, yes, manages to be funny), Ryan (Matthew Perry) and his friend / boss Steven (John Cho) have been bonding over the film Sixteen Candles. Discussing the film’s treatment of the character “Long Duk Dong,” Ryan suddenly voices, “how did we not realize how racist that was?” Beat. Then Steven replies, “some of us did.” Steven’s gentle reminder of the subtlety of racism—its everyday microaggressions–and Ryan’s surprise as he moves out of a privileged blindness—serve as a perfect metaphor for the complicated dialogues and growth that can happen in Intergroup Dialogues.

The Intergroup Dialogue program at Carleton (IGD) mirrors a growing number of national programs that aim to provide an additional space in which students practice engaging in difficult and sustained conversations with each other across boundaries of class, race, gender, and sexuality in ways that acknowledge, address, and “sit within” those uncomfortable interstices. At a time when the mass media promotes a sense of postracial achievement with mixed race casts and a post-Ellen acceptance of queer relationships, IGD seeks to foster open and honest conversations about what diversity actually means: how to talk about class disparities; how to confront structural racism; how to deal with the unsettling differences that interrupt our fantasies of group unity.

In a study of ten IGD programs (all at big universities), Nancy Cantor found significant effects for those students who participated. A year after their time in IGD, they had higher levels of intergroup empathy, better understandings of structural inequality, and more consistent and sustained intergroup collaboration and action than fellow students in a control group. Arguably these results emerge from the way that IGD combines intellectual and theoretical analysis with experiential learning, personal risk-taking, and storytelling.

“Talking about diversity”—the fall term IGD course—is necessarily, then, practicing how to listen closely and empathetically to others. It works to create more spaces and opportunities for social justice so that conversations like the ones begun here at Carleton may have a ripple effect from classroom to the larger campus and beyond.

If participating in IGD (and joining this National conversation across differences) sounds thrilling and vital to you like it does to us, we invite you to apply for the fall term course, IDSC 203, which prepares students to facilitate peer-led sections in the winter. (See our forthcoming website for more information: http://go.carleton.edu/IGD).

In a more informal vein, we also invite you to join us for screenings of North Country and Pariah during the spring term and participate in guided conversations with other students about the films and our collective and individual relationships to their representations of class, gender, race, and sexuality. Have questions? Please feel free to contact us.

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