Tchet Dereic Dorman
Keeping it Safe versus Keeping it Real: A Comparative Analysis of Intergroup Dialogue and Transformation Social Therapy
On Saturday, December 12, 2009, I woke up to the sound of three gun shots, “pow, pow, pow,” right outside my house, and the screeching sound of a car pulling away. I laid in my bed hoping it was just a car backfiring. But given the reality of my neighborhood, rich in ethnic, racial, and class diversity, though full of neglected citizens, I decided to at least look out my window to determine what happened. What I came to discover some 15 minutes later was not only that those were gunshots, but, in fact, one bullet had come through my living room window.
During the few seconds when I had hoped for a car backfiring, a frightening vision had occurred to me that it could’ve been a bullet that struck me or maybe even one of my children. That image brought me out of my stupor to finally deal with reality.
As we examined the living room to determine where the bullet had landed, during the 90 minutes before the police finally arrived, I was reminded of the reality of violence that surrounds me on a daily basis. Given that my two young nieces had slept in the living room that night, abruptly awakened to gun shots at 6:50am, I contemplated the consistent danger extant all around me, not only perpetrated by my oppressors but also my brothers.
This morning, I did not fear that the bullets leaving a hole in my window were put there by some racist European American men. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the deaths that almost occurred, and could easily have occurred, would have been the result of the actions of other African Americans.
While I recognize the systematic injustices based on race and class inflicted on African Americans unequivocally results in hopelessness, despair, and violent behaviors, this morning’s incident was not only not surprising to me and the other young children in my home, it also caused minimal immediate alarm. African Americans, especially those living in America’s urban enclaves, even those with $300,000 houses, respond rather matter-of-factly to violence within their neighborhoods, schools and even families.
My biological brother is serving a twenty five year sentence for burglary, armed robbery and assault. When asked by others why he’s in prison, I usually don’t mention the rape because of the shame I feel for my brother, family and especially me. When he first told me of the assault, some fifteen years ago, I still can recall his denial that the assault had occurred.
As today’s events brought to light the reality of the possible death that surrounds me, the constant reality of actual and perceived violence, and the understanding that societal inequity continues to produce brothers just like mine I become more conscious of the burning need to change the world.
I am also reminded of the connections between the bullet that lies somewhere in my house (we never found it), the crimes of my brother, the crimes committed against my brother (by educators, police, and even his father), the person my brother robbed and raped (how does one ever recover from rape?), the women who work down the block from my house to earn a living by selling their bodies, the little boys and girls who live in the twenty story housing project two blocks from my house; the two gay couples (one comprised of two young European American men and the other comprised of late fiftyish Asian American man and European American man who are parenting an African American teenager attending one of the best private high schools in the country) who live across the street from me because, ironically, the neighborhood is safer and more accepting of them than other places they’ve lived; and the many more contradictions, ironies, and maladies that comprise the world I live in.
My world is replete with the ill effects of living with racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, religious intolerance, sizism, ageism, ablism and the list goes on and on. We live with this reality every day, yet do not claim it. We do not possess this reality as our own, except when we display our hatred and our violence with others, whether consciously or unconsciously, or are victimized by the violence of others.
As I struggle with the reality of the shooting experience, I am confronting the importance of my role in changing the world. The idea of bringing people together to dialogue about social justice, oppression and creating an equitable society has been at the core of my existence since I was a child. However, until the summer of 2008, when I discovered intergroup dialogues, I had yet to truly find my path.
To move society beyond the violence, societal change must occur that forges alliances among people based on a shared sense of the place of all individuals and groups in the construction and maintenance of the world. The despair that besets my family and neighborhood is connected to the various ways that oppression impacts each individual within society.
As a strategy for building bridges across groups, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability and religion, individuals and groups must begin to create a common understanding through dialogue and community building. The examples provided above are intended to provide a real world context for discussing the merits of two divergent, yet complimentary approaches to intergroup dialogue and action, the Michigan Model for Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) and Transformational Social Therapy (TST).
The Intergroup Dialogue Movement represents a major advancement in the institutionalization of multicultural education in higher education. Since the 1960s, various groups have fought to create spaces within academia for the inclusion of curricular and co-curricular educational programs that promote multiculturalism and social justice. The movements for ethnic, women’s, gay/lesbian/queer, disability, and class studies have had a significant impact on the fabric, culture, and knowledge of American education from elementary school to graduate and professional education. Concomitantly, the enormous expansion of the diversity of groups extant in higher education has impacted the co-curricular life of most universities, fostering a need to institute numerous multicultural educational programs.
However, the integration of multiculturalism throughout higher education has been met with major obstacles from mainstream academics, politicians, and policy makers. Fortunately, the enormous amount of work achieved since those earlier struggles have provided invaluable opportunities for advocates of the multicultural agenda to conceptualize and implement educational programs that are yielding significant results and parallel the impetus of most institutions to include multicultural education as a part of its mission and strategic planning.
The Michigan Model of Intergroup Dialogue advances the idea that bringing divergent groups together to dialogue about important issues of social identity enhances the learning environment and prepares students to be better citizens (Zuniga). Gurin argues that “students who interact with diverse students in classrooms and in the broad campus environment will be more motivated and better able to participate in a heterogeneous and complex society” (Gurin 19). Gurin argues that higher education institutions must create curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities for students to learn to “think in pluralistic and complex ways, and to encourage them to become committed to life-long civic action” (Gurin 33).
The Intergroup Dialogue Movement represents an important step forward in the Multicultural Education Movement by providing an innovative educational program that can be viewed as foundational in the education of all students. As Zuniga state “Intergroup dialogue shares common goals with other diversity education efforts in higher education, yet it is distinctive in its critical-dialogic approach to addressing issues of social identity and social location in the context of systems of power and privilege. Unlike efforts that emphasize content knowledge about group inequality or prejudice reduction through personalized encounters, intergroup dialogue strives to balance intimate, interactive, and reflective encounters among diverse participants with cognitive, affective, and active approaches to learning about diversity and social justice” (Zuniga p. vii-viii). Other attempts to advance diversity, inclusion and multicultural education often lack the systemic approach that the IGD model offers.
The Michigan Model, which serves the major example for this discussion defines intergroup dialogue in the following manner:
While continuous efforts need to be made to effectively implement IGD programs throughout academia, an examination of the profound impact that Transformational Social Therapy (TST) can have to the larger movement for multicultural education must be explored. Given the interdisciplinary nature of IGD, as well as the various political movements that have fostered its existence, TST should be viewed as an emergent theory and practice that can contribute to furthering democratic values and intergroup relations.
One of the important distinctions between IGD and TST is the quality of the TST approach on several levels: strategies for engaging participants, depth of engagement, purpose of the dialogue, framing the dialogic-engagement process, dialogue content and curriculum, goals of the dialogue/engagement, role and place of conflict, and the role of the facilitator.
Charles Rojzman argues that TST is quite distinct from traditional dialogue models.
While IGD has effective cognitive and affective goals and a coherent curriculum design, TST’s psychoanalytic approach offers to forge a deeper, more psychical approach to healing the wounds that separate groups. Though IGD shares many similarities with TST in terms of ultimate goals, willingness to engage participants to challenge societal issues related to identity and oppression, the framework in which they operate differ greatly.
IGD is outwardly about social justice education. Participants are asked to engage in a process where the context is structured towards social justice learning objectives. As Griffin and Ouellett state the role of facilitators is to “help participants build resilience and internal resources that enable them to think critically and tolerate ambiguity and complexity so that they can choose behaviors and attitudes that are congruent with their commitments to social justice” (Griffin 107).
While TST can be utilized for the same purpose, the orientation is towards solving the problems and addressing the issues of each individual participant to create collective action within the context of an institutional framework. The issues of inequality and social justice are addressed, but the centering of the process on the participants creates a unique positional, almost ontological, perspective for participants.
The expectation that one will be “committed to social justice” because they participate in an IGD course is questionable and problematic. TST is the liberation of the individual, as both victimized and victimizer, to encounter and uncover their role in society in the exploration of their problems with those considered the enemy. As Rojzman explains “Only this in-depth work allows people to talk about the ‘real problems’ and come out of powerlessness and victimization, in order to finally create solutions out of their ‘collective intelligence,’ solutions that, for example, will improve schools, institutions, and the police” (Elkouri).
The focus on the real, lived experience of participants provides a unique context for organizing for collective action. TST’s more authentic approach in requiring participants to literally be themselves, with all their hatred and violence, portends to reach beyond the bounds that IGD is based on. The emphasis on creating a safe space, respectful dialogue, and searching for commonalities, as one explores the societal conflicts, is central to the IGD model.
IGD is an advance in the implementation of multicultural education in higher education, reflected in a conceptual movement away from the teacher-as-expert model by focusing on “active engagement, cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic” and “assumes that participants have valuable knowledge and expertise from which both peers and teachers can learn” (Griffin 89). While representing this advancement over traditional educational programs to foster intergroup relations and understanding, the niceties of IGD are consistent with past curricular and co-curricular programs in its ethos. TST’s inclusion of individual participants in the construction of knowledge reflects a more participatory and democratic approach to engaging participants in an intergroup learning process.
Though one of the more intensely engaging aspects of IGD is the section called hot topics, it pales in comparison to TST’s more direct and honest approach to the creation of group identity and bonding. In the phase of TST called the “harmonization of motivations”, participants are required to “express the negative” in order to bring out “information we need to know about real needs and suffering” of participants in order to know what is required to motivate people to change” (Keith, Notes, 2).
A central distinction between the two approaches exists in TST basic assumption that change only occurs then the individual changes themselves. Rojzman argues that “We can’t change people, but people will change if they are motivated to do so” (Keith, Notes, 2). Rojzman says that TST is not about changing people or relations, but to raise “awareness of the lack of trust, fears and prejudices, so that people will become willing to change themselves in ways they themselves determine” (Keith, Notes, 4).
The goals of IGD include the development of a “consciousness about social identity and social group differences” by examining individual and group identities, behaviors and power relationships and “forge connections across differences and conflicts by building caring and reciprocal relationships” where participants can “learn to listen and speak openly, engage with one another seriously, take risks, explore differences and conflicts, and discover common ground” as well as build coalitions for social action. (Zuniga viii).
Admittedly, IGD’s objectives are quite ambitious relative to the general discourse on intergroup relations, though it significantly differs from TST because it does not involve the intense focus, acceptance or belief that the dialogue process will facilitate individuals changing themselves. Informing this argument is the level of structure, established content and curriculum, and pedagogy that ensure that very specific goals are met which are outlined at the beginning of the process. The approach is founded on the idea that the institutions, facilitators, and program architects know what is wrong with the participants, what will allow participants to be successful in this endeavor and how the engagement should proceed.
While IGD allows for a consistency in the approach and ensures that the “right” information will be covered, the role of the individual to freely engage the process in an authentic manner is minimized as compared to TST. Keith argues that TST’s inclination for free expression allows TST to create “a special kind of group” (Keith, Urban), ensuring that the group identity provides a context for collective action. As Rojzman says TST is “not work on the people but with them” (Keith, Notes 24).
IGD remains an innovative, vital approach to multicultural education in that it fosters a sense of self-discovery in participants who are provided with a unique opportunity to explore social identity by dialoguing about important issues with people different form themselves. However, TST offers not only a method of engaging but requiries participants to “enter into co-operation with each ohter. But for that you have to agree to hear the other’s feelings of fear and hatred" (Rojzman 3).
Additionally, the mediating factors of the IGD curriculum, facilitator, and emphasis on “safe space” provide a striking contrast to the natural, more realistic approach offered by TST. Rojzman argues that the genuine, honest expression of negativity, violence and hatred that exist between people must not only be explored within the dialogue, they are crucial in order to move to the level of group development and societal transformation. The otherness that exists in society is the result of the otherness that exist on a daily basis for other oppressors and oppressed. Being the oppressor is simply a sign of one’s own wounds. He states:
The turmoil that oppression creates within social structures and relationships is also symbolic of the need to heal. Rojzman states that “I am not just preaching to the converted. For my approach does not start off simply from good intentions but, on the contrary, from the consideration that racism and violence are the keys to transformation” (Rojzman 203).
There have been various other forms of intergroup dialogues that conform to the standards of the Michigan Model. Richard Chasin and his colleagues discussed the Public Conversations Projects that promote intergroup dialogue also makes the creation of a safe space and structured dialogue fundamental to the success of the process. With the Public Conversations Projects initial steps were “usually highly structured” and the rules included making “no attempt to persuade, speaking for oneself and not as a representative of a group, sharing air time by adhering to limits on speaking time, and using respectful language” (Chasin 332). Contrary to TST, this method requires participants to negate the reality that brought them into the dialogue in the first place. They believe agreeing to certain ground rules can “encourage the expression of even more intense feelings in a manner that is authentic but not attacking” (Chasin 338).
Griffin and Ouellett argue that establishing clear guidelines is essential to the IGD experience. They say that establishing “a safe environment in which participants can discuss ideas, share feelings and experiences, and challenge themselves and each other to reevaluate opinions and beliefs is one of the primary facilitation responsibilities” (Griffin 95).
At the same time, Chasin’s model insists on using personal stories to bring conflicts within the group by aiding participants in connecting to one another “as unique and interesting human beings, not as spokespersons for sides of an issue” (Griffin 335). Unfortunately, when compared to the TST model, these participant’s stories are seen as censured. While intense dialogues emerge and are support by the IGD model, and create a “safe yet communal space to express anger and indignation about injustices” (Dessel 303), the notion of safety is overemphasized to the extent that it minimizes authentic expressions.
In IGD the structure of the dialogue is also informed by coherent sequencing organizers that are common to many multicultural education programs utilizing proper content to facilitate cognitive understanding and ensure affective growth. The content-related sequencing include moving from the personal to institutional for individuals, and diversity to justice sequencing for groups (Zuniga 24). On the affective level, the sequencing moves from lower to higher risk to respond to “participants’ need for feel safe so they can openly engage and examine deeply held beliefs, feelings and confusions” (Zuniga 24-25).
While affect is a key component of the IGD model and occurs at all four stages, the focus on safe space limits the most conflictual aspects of the process until the third stage. In stages one and two, facilitators focus on “creating a safe space for participants to share their thoughts and experiences. They begin to lay the groundwork for future sessions by attending to group building as well as introducing participants to the meaning of dialogue” (Zuniga 26).
Stage three is focused on exploring and dialoguing about controversial topics that bring attention to the major tensions between different identity groups (Zuniga 29). This stage has its foundation in the trust that has been developed in the group and fostered by a sense of consciousness raising and relationship building (Zuniga 30).
One of TST’s contributions to the Intergroup Dialogue Movement could be to assist practitioners in overcoming their own fears of authentic expression. The overcompensation for safety, along with the various rules and procedures governing it, limit the participants from fully engaging themselves, as themselves, in the process of collective action.
Rojzman argues that:
Rojzman views the engagement of the other by exploring fears as the means to developing trust. He states that this work is not “psychotherapy, not to heal somebody” but an approach to “make connections between people, in order to build the group” (Keith Notes 7). He believes that exploring the major problems, fears, and concerns with other participants will enable them to go beyond their masks by making connections on the commonalities of their wounds.
Rojzman argues that the authentic self must be revealed by participants sharing their true identities, emotions, frailties, flaws, and prejudices. By removing their masks, reflecting their true humanity, then participants will be able to discuss issues related to racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and etc (Keith Notes 7).
For Rojzman “participants’ emotions and their shadow side need to surface in order to remove common blocks to open dialogue. This permits the circulation of information that is usually kept secret or is heard only by trusted in-group members, and creates a ‘collective intelligence.’ The TST process involves maximally diverse groups, whose knowledge, once tapped, can produce a creative and productive synergy” (Keith Urban).
Rojzman argues that in TST there is a focus on fears “because it helps to build trust in the TST group. It is especially important if you want to go deep with the group and speak about real problems and not superficially, as is common” (Keith Notes 9). However, IGD sees itself as a movement that invites conflict and desires authentic dialogue, its position contrasts greatly with that of TST. In Intergroup Dialogue in Higher Education, Zuniga states:
While the above may be true theoretically, in IGD the conflict expressed in the meetings are carefully constructed, encouraged and presented through the expertise of the facilitator and the design of the curriculum. As Zuniga explains
Contrary to IGD, the formation of the group’s collective identity in TST is the central task for engaging in deep dialogue and constructive action. While the structured exercises of IGD have value in engaging participants to discuss pre-programmed topics through structured activities, TST argues that participants’ real lives are sufficient to foster authentic engagement if allowed. As was the case with the shooting in my house, and the many, varied, and omnipresent forms that oppression takes can be revealed if participants are allowed to truly be themselves by sharing their daily struggles.
TST’s focus on the authentic representation of the self and the requirement that each participant’s needs be sought and included, fosters a sense of ownership of the dialogue process. Unlike other approaches to intergroup relations that focus on either improving “relationships between groups through personalization, building acquaintances and friendships, and engaging in cooperative projects” (Zuniga 7) or providing education programs that expose participants to the histories and cultures of diverse groups, the IGD dialogic framework does have the “potential to bring individuals and communities together, help them identify social problems, and lead to social action” (Dessel 313).
Additionally, a major theoretical distinction revolves around the nature of the inclusion of conflict within the two models. As outlined previously, IGD is “designed to involve individuals and groups in an exploration of societal issues such as politics, racism, religion, and culture” while striving to “avoid unproductive language, foster new listening skills, improve communication patterns, value differences, and develop shared meanings” and “fostering an environment that enables participants to speak and listen in the present while understanding the contributions of the past and the unfolding of the future” (Dessel 303-304).
However, as valuable of an approach as IGD is, it is almost antithetical to TST in terms of the place and the expression of the self in the group. In IGD it is important for the facilitator to maintain a certain amount of control over participants in order to create the desired safe space. TST questions the very value of safe space, positing that groups can’t build together unless they’ve gone deep enough for serious change to occur. Rojzman explains that in
Rojzman argues that the social change will not occur if we don’t allow individuals to confront the violence, hatred and fears that constitute who they are as members of an oppressive society. He believes that TST provides a framework for the expression of the authentic self, which can be hateful, aggressive, angry and violent, in order to “create positive environments that help the best in ourselves come out, rather than hatred and fear" (Elkouri).
Rojzman says that the “goal of this work is also to help people become conscious of their own violence and also their own responsibility” (Keith Notes 6) in order to co-construct new ways of engaging people who are different from themselves. He argues that divisions must be broken down and “to do that, you have to actually force people who do not want to, to sit together, giving them a ‘space for conflict’ that will reduce their fears” (Elkouri).
Rojzman defines violence as anger, aggressiveness and most importantly as viewing the other as “as someone who is (a) totally bad: (b) inferior (not a human being like me, but like an animal); (c) responsible for doing things to me. Violence is thinking that the other is not a human being like me and cannot be a partner” (Keith Notes 11). Rojzman argues that this dichotomy must be fought; that the other must not be seen as “enemies from beyond the pale who have come to exterminate us” (Rojzman 207), but they must be learned from. He argues that we resemble our enemies, share their fears, cruelty, and sadism, and share the responsibility for what they are and what they do (Rojzman 207-208).
For Rojzman, peace can only come about when groups move from violence to conflict. For him, conflict is a natural, normal part of life because of the diversity of experiences, thoughts, practices and ideas. People are violent, when conflicts are not able to express themselves in a peaceful manner. He argues that “in order to avoid violence, we should stop avoiding conflict. In practical terms and in terms of practice, this means creating encounters between people who no longer meet one another, who, as a result, come to have paranoid fantasies about ‘others’” (Elkouri).
In intergroup dialogues “participants are asked to suspend assumptions, confirm the unfamiliarity with each other” and are “encouraged to collaborate willingly, be vulnerable, and believe in the authenticity of all participant” (Dessel 304). For this to occur effectively, participants are asked to ignore the reality of their lives and sublimate themselves to the dialogue process. While IGD requires facilitators to assist participants in navigating the various “hopes, fears, expectations, and needs” (Zuniga 55), they do so by mediating the reality of the participants. Chasin argues that in dialogue people “speak openly and listen respectfully and attentively;” it excludes “attack and defense and avoids derogatory attributions based on assumptions about” the other (Chasin 325). In effect, this is dialogue without authenticity.
Keith argues that empowerment from TST comes from the realization that connections among participants can only come from experiencing the other through the communication of fears.
This process will assist participants to “stop themselves from seeing the other as [the devil], and acquire the capacity to see how their own behavior contributes to the violence” (Keith Hebdo). Therefore in order to avoid violence, participants must stop avoiding conflict (Elkouri).
While IGD is based on individuals from different identity groups participating in the dialogue, the model does not center the dialogue on individual participant needs except as representatives of a group. The basis of TST is the group. As a group-centered process, the core of TST revolves around motivating participants around their true needs as individuals who share their individual and group issues, problems and concerns (Keith Notes 9).
IGD is about providing individuals with a certain awareness, knowledge and skill that will enable them to be better advocates for social justice and contribute to collaborative action with others. While the curriculum, activities and exercises create a dialogic experience that assists in the development of participants, the model does not consciously ensure that the individual needs, barriers and challenges are integrated into the process. Zuniga states that
Rojzman argues that building genuine cooperation among participants occurs after exploring the others’ fears, wounds, and pains. This process creates a sense of community and people will be able to “build a group with diverse people
Rojzman argues that basing collective action on the genuine issues of groups in conflict through a process of authentic engagement of participants produces a collective intelligence. This collective intelligence, with participants as experts in their lives, struggles and communities, where they link personal, historical, and institutional sources of violence, creates the framework for the collective intelligence of all parties to solve their problems (Keith Urban).
IGD is distinct from other multicultural education programs that focus on advantaged groups learning about the history and struggles of the oppressed. It focuses on “raising the consciousness of all participants, not only those who are members of the less-advantaged groups. For a genuine dialogue to occur, it is just as important for members of privileged groups to understand how they and other have been affected by privilege as for members of less-advantaged groups to understand how they have been affected by subordination” (Zuniga 9).
In TST while the primary goal is not only for people to understand issues but it is centered on truly learning to work with someone who has been or is an enemy. TST provides a healing of wounds by allowing for the emergence of new ways of working with real people with historical conflicts. Rojzman says that the “goal is not to heal all the wounds of people; it’s to help them do something together, to speak freely about an issue, to try to live together” (Keith Notes 12).
Both TST and IGD recognize that significant growth can only occur when the contact is consistent, enduring and deep. The IGD model “relies on extended meetings among participants to develop deeper intergroup understanding (even if it is about how there is conflict between the groups), mutual respect, and empathic connection between participants” (Zuniga 13-14).
While TST group work changes participants, it “is not oriented to group therapy but to civic engagement and community change” (Keith Urban). However, the change occurs because of the trust and bonds that have been developed within the group (Keith Notes 10). Rojzman notes that the main purpose of TST is
As we entered the second decade of the 21st century with enormous opportunities to forge new alliances to solve the world’s problems, the history of the previous century still haunts us. The Philadelphia Inquirer of Sunday, December 13, 2009, included a story, “Schools chief to address South Philadelphia High tensions,” which outlines the conflicts between African Americans and Asian immigrants in South Philadelphia High School. As the author denotes the tensions are racially motivated. The story even recounted how the school officials and city human relations agencies have been working on a process to engage students in dialogue to improve intergroup relations.
One of the many unfortunate aspects of this story is that administrators, community leaders and politicians have not normalized intergroup educational programs as part of education, civic and community activities. The various forms of violence that have invaded my home, family and community are ever-present for all of us.
The Intergroup Dialogue Movement proposes solutions that directly challenge oppression, mediate conflicts between disparate groups, forge alliances for common understand and social change and contribute to the actualization of democracy. As the IGD Movement will continue to expand with various strands evolving, continuous assessments and evaluations of the models must be made. It is obvious that major distinctions between the Michigan Model of Intergroup Dialogue and Transformation Social Therapy exist. There are numerous differences related to structure, content, leadership, and participant roles that impact theory, process and outcomes.
However, as Rojzman would argue, institutional context creates the possibilities that emerge. The formality of IGD is consistent with the practices, methodologies, pedagogy and temperament of higher education. Aspects of TST may emerge at institutions with a more progressive mission and administration. As practical approaches to enhancing multicultural education in higher education, both methods should be viewed as advances yet to take hold in any significant way, though sorely needed.
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