The University of Arizona

The Making of Social Justice Advocates

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications | November 26, 2012
The UA Intergroup Dialogue Program was first introduced during fall 2010 to inform students about racism, discrimination and injustice. It has grown into a 13-week program that is offered for one unit of undergraduate credit.
The UA Intergroup Dialogue Program was first introduced during fall 2010 to inform students about racism, discrimination and injustice. It has grown into a 13-week program that is offered for one unit of undergraduate credit.

Intergroup Dialogue is a one-credit UA program that trains students about social justice, then involves them in program facilitation with their peers.

As part of the UA Intergroup Dialogue, students engage in interactive communication, cross cultural communication and listening with empathy, said Maria Moore, who helps oversee the program. (Photo courtesy of UA Intergroup Dialogue)
As part of the UA Intergroup Dialogue, students engage in interactive communication, cross cultural communication and listening with empathy, said Maria Moore, who helps oversee the program. (Photo courtesy of UA Intergroup Dialogue)

Start a list: What are all of the tools and products you used to get ready this morning?

For Ashley Grove, the list included an alarm clock, a cell phone, shower, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, lotion, hair products, makeup and more. Others participating in the University of Arizona Intergroup Dialogue Program with her came up with comparable lists.

The exercise was part Grove's training in the program, which informs students on why the need for social justice exists for populations of people around the globe.

"It was really important because we all had this long this of things, and it helped us to learn about our ability status, cultural status and privilege," said Grove, a UA a journalism junior who went on to serve as a student facilitator in the program.

"It made us step back and take a look at how many products and other materials that Americans use, and I remember it being very shocking," she added. "It opened my eyes to other problems besides the ones I had been working on and helped me to see in a broader perspective what social justice really means."

Modeled after a program developed at University of Michigan in the late 1980s, the UA's Intergroup Dialogue Program is now a one-credit program designed not only to teach students about systems of privilege and oppression, but also to take action.

"It's about how conflict happens across cultures. It's what changed my life. It taught me about my own privilege," said Hannah Lozon, the UA Residence Life coordinator of social justice education who was involved in the training during her undergraduate years at Michigan.

"We're teaching students cultural skills while engaging in diversity," Lozon said.

Maria Moore, who helps oversee the UA program, noted that intergroup dialogues work by connecting individuals from different social identity groups in a facilitated learning environment. Within that environment, participants explore issues of diversity, inequity and also personal and social responsibilities.

Feelings of shock, confusion and discomfort are typical and necessary for the process, indicating that participants are opening up to learning and growing, she and Lozon said. 

"It's was great, but also difficult," said Moore, program director for African American Student Affairs who also received prior training in the program.

All of this occurs in an environment that allows for open discussion, an emphasis on existing literature, the sharing of experiences and time for critique and reflection, Moore said. 

In the spring, Moore and Lozon will serve as supervising instructors, working with two students designated as peer facilitators for the semester. Currently, the team is recruiting 45 University students, and the dialogues likely will focus on issues around race, gender and sexual orientation.

In the program, students learn about social identities and how individuals within those groups experience life within the context of their identities.

"These are topic areas about things that are happening and need to be understood, on our campus and in our state," Lozon said.

The teachings are grounded in the literature, with students required to complete weekly readings and journal about what they learn and experience. Also, students engage in exercises and other activities that inform them about their own identities.

After successfully completing the Intergroup Dialogue Program, some students participate in the Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator training program in preparation to serve as peer facilitators. 

"They have to be role models about what it means to unlearn," Moore said. She and Lozon noted that unlearning is a process by which a person begins to recognize what misconceptions and biases they hold, then begin to unravel them.

"The messages we receive are often from the dominant paradigm," Lozon said.

They include the belief that men are better suited to lead than women; that disabilities manifest within the individual, rather than the environment or social conditions; that low-income people or people of color are underachieving, she and Moore said.

"We're asking students to examine their misconceptions and to uncover how they inform their interactions with other people," Moore said.

Grove said the entire process was life-changing.

"Getting involved was one of the best life choices I have ever made. It's changed who I am and how I see things," Grove said.

Today, Grove interprets social justice to mean actively working to create an equiable world while celebrating differences among individuals and groups of people. For that reason, she encourages other UA students, no matter what their social identity or academic background, to get involved in the program.

"For many people my age, this is a vital time of learning and exploring who you are as a person," Grove said.

"It wasn't an easy process. You do learn a lot of things that are upsetting and hard to take in," she said. "It's like the Matrix. Once you take that pill, you can never go back. It's hard, but it's worth it."

Contacts

Maria Moore

UA African American Student Affairs

520-621-3419

moorem@email.arizona.edu

 

Hannah Lozon

UA Residence Life

520-626-4855

lozon@life.arizona.edu