Intergroup Dialogue program featured in "Bringing Theory to Practice"


Bringing Theory to Practice is a newsletter produced in partnership with the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The Syracuse University Intergroup Dialogue program received one of 29 Psychological Well-Being Initiative Grants to study the impact of the program on its participants.

Measuring Socioemotional Well-Being of Students in Intergroup Dialogue Program

Principal Investigator: Gretchen E. Lopez, Director, Intergroup Dialogue Program

Dellareese Jackson, a student participant in the Intergroup Dialogue programProject Summary: The Syracuse University (SU) grant project measured facets of socioemotional well-being for students enrolled in three courses that illustrate SU’s commitment to educating the whole student and that draw students from across disciplines. The courses included Intergroup Dialogue, Personal and Social Responsibility, and Cognitive Behavioral Approaches to Stress Reduction. Faculty who led these courses share a commitment to experiential learning that addresses self-inquiry and critical thinking, empathy and perspective-taking, personal and social identities, agency, and civic engagement. The three courses served as the basis for the development of survey instruments and interview protocols to better understand the impact of engaged learning on college students’ well-being.

Final Report: “In gathering qualitative data, we were interested in capturing student narratives about engaged learning and well-being. These data provided the opportunity to explore questions such as: Do these courses inform students’ understanding of their education as a whole? Do they affect social relationships outside of academic or class settings? Do these courses inform students’ thinking about future careers and/or participation in diverse democracy? Based on previous assessment and research, we anticipated vivid examples of application and construction of knowledge from students’ involvement in the courses. Indeed, video-recorded interviews captured student reflections about critical educational spaces and engaged learning.”

Follow-up Questions:

Do you think the project affected faculty or staff engagement and/or well-being? How?
“Admittedly, given how strong the sense of community was in these courses (at least as described by the students interviewed in this project), it does give me pause as a faculty member. I found myself asking why such community—from which one can grow (and reach others) as a whole student or being—is described as such a rarity.”

What emphasis did your project place on practical examples of how well-being is made manifest in the lives of students? What did you gain?
“We interviewed students at the end of the semester or academic year and asked open-ended questions about their learning through dialogue (specifically, intergroup dialogue academic courses). Given that we didn’t ask explicitly about how dialogue-based learning impacted ‘well-being,’ it was eye-opening and inspiring for us—as faculty/facilitators of these courses—to see how often dialogue students connected their course learning with their broader lives. They eagerly shared how dialogue shaped who they are becoming as people ... and engaged citizens on and off campus. They talked in ways that helped us understand how dialogue, and the design and educational and personal challenges of these courses, support their interactions and ‘meaning making’ in higher education. That is, they described feeling listened to and respected, and moved to deep thinking not only about persistent social issues and seemingly intractable conflicts, but also about themselves.

The students describe in detail the sense of community created (or cocreated) in these courses/classrooms and how that reverberates through their educational and social interactions on campus. For example, some students describe the significance of writing frequent critical reflections that analyze and integrate readings, group processes in the classroom, and personal understandings and questions. Students link this to the growing confidence they have in speaking up and/or speaking out in other classes or on campus. They describe this writing as preparing them to be both open and strong in sharing their perspectives, their stories, and their positions in other contexts. They say dialogue strengthened their self-insight, voice, and willingness to put themselves ‘out there.’ Students also frequently refer to how dialogue-based learning has affected their family as well as peer relationships. They see more things, express a critical awareness, and they also express (or share examples of) being more willing to question or even interrupt/disrupt conflicts that reflect unequal power relations. Such agency, in the descriptions of their lived experiences and even most personal relationships, appears to come from and to extend a sense of well-being.”

Original article from the Bringing Theory to Practice Fall 2016 Special Issue