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The Multiversity Project
Experiments in Diverse Democracy
A Multi-University Research Evaluation of the Educational Benefits of Intergroup Dialogues
Evidence provided to the Supreme Court in the recent higher education affirmative action cases demonstrates that students who have curricular and co-curricular experiences with racial and ethnic diversity are more intellectually engaged and better prepared to be leaders in a diverse democracy. This evidence on the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity, summarized in expert testimony and in other social science research in amicus briefs offered on behalf of the University of Michigan, made clear that students benefit the most when they actually interact with diverse peers in classes and in the informal campus environment. Like other educational resources (an excellent library or an outstanding faculty), racial and ethnic diversity is a resource that must be utilized, through innovative courses and other academic initiatives, to produce effects on students.
One such academic initiative that has had demonstrable effects at the University of Michigan is the Program on Intergroup Relations, and we here at the University of Maryland offer a similar program. An intergroup dialogue is a face-to-face meeting between members from two different social identity groups that have a history of conflict or potential conflict. The groups are broadly defined by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, socio-economic class and other social group identities. Participants engage in a semi-structured process to explore commonalities and differences between and within social identity groups and to recognize, negotiate, and learn from intergroup conflicts. The dialogues, which occur over an extended period of time and are led by trained facilitators, give students an in-depth opportunity to acquire and practice skills that are needed in a diverse democracy.
Developed at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s, intergroup dialogues are now part of undergraduate and graduate education at numerous colleges and universities. Their educational effects and the processes by which these effects take place have not yet been thoroughly examined at all of these institutions, nor has the external validity of the Michigan studies been evaluated in other institutions. University of Maryland, along with University of Michigan and four other public universities that now have intergroup dialogues, are proposing to do an extensive evaluation, and the Multiversity Project is our attempt to do just this.
These seven universities have agreed to:
This is a genuine multi-university collaboration that has grown out of prolonged and deep discussion across the six institutions. These discussions have produced agreements on the standardized educational intervention, research design, measures of effects and processes, and the on-going multi-university oversight of the project.
- collaborate in standardizing critical features (readings, assignments, classroom exercises and discussion processes, size, contact hours) of two intergroup dialogues, one focussed on race and one focussed on gender, per term over a two-year period;
- evaluate their effects using a pre-post, comparison group research design. (Although students cannot be randomly assigned to be participants and non-participants in intergroup dialogues, this research design comes as close to approximating true experimental control as is possible in natural educational settings.)
- study the group dynamics and individual cognitive/emotional processes through which the effects of intergroup dialogues may take place by video-taping and analyzing the tapes of the third, seventh, and tenth sessions of each dialogue.
Here are links to the other programs and institutions involved in this project:
Dialogue, Education and Action at the University of Washington
IRC: the Intergroup
Relations Center at Arizona State University
IGR: The Program of Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan
PIR: the Program
on Intergroup Relations at the University of Illinois
SJE: Social Justice Education
at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
--text from the University of Michigan program, modified for UMD.