How can we help diverse students learn from each other and gain the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly multi-cultural and socially-stratified landscape? That’s the urgent question that School of Social Work Professor Biren “Ratnesh” Nagda and his two coauthors seek to answer in their new book Dialogue Across Difference: Practice, Theory, and Research on Intergroup Dialogue published by the Russell Sage cover

Institutions of higher education in the United States are growing more diverse as immigration and greater racial and ethnic inclusiveness change campus demographics. This demographic shift holds both promise and peril: increased inter-racial and inter-ethnic contacts could lead to a more dynamic learning environment. On the other hand, social identity and on-campus diversity remain hotly contested issues, which often raise tension or reinforce stereotypes.

Intergroup dialogue brings together equal number of students from different groups to share their perspectives and learn from each other so that they may collaborate for equity and justice. To test the impact of this approach and to identify best practices, Dr. Nagda and his colleagues incorporated different theories from social work, social psychology, higher education, and communication studies to design, implement and evaluate a standardized curriculum in nine universities. The authors traced the effectiveness of intergroup dialogue using a mixed-methods approach, including longitudinal surveys, content analyses of student papers, student interviews and videotapes of sessions.

“The results of [this] rigorous, multi-university field experiments are dramatic “, says Hazel Rose Markus, a Stanford University professor in behavioral sciences. “With well-facilitated dialogues come intergroup insight and empathy, positive relations and outreach, and a commitment to social justice.”

Adds coauthor Nagda, who is also the Director of the Intergroup Dialogue, Education and Action (IDEA) Center at the University of Washington School of Social Work: “The practice, theory and empirical evidence presented in this book offer a useful and exciting model for actively engaging diversity and improving relations among different groups not just in the university setting  but in K-12 schools and in local and global communities.”

The book’s co-authors are Patricia Gurin, professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan and Ximena Zúñiga, associate professor of social justice education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The Russell Sage Foundation is devoted to research in the social sciences. The Multi-University Intergroup Dialogue Research project was funded by the W. T. Grant Foundation and the Ford Foundation as well as institutional funding from collaborating universities and colleges.