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Thomas Walker Highlights Dialogue and Changing Intergroup Relationships on Campus

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Conflict Resolution Institute

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A university campus should be a space where new skills and ideas are learned and engaged in that can be applied throughout life. A particularly important skill in this regard is being able to actively engage across divides and differences. It is becoming more and more clear that engagement of this nature, whether it is across race, religion, class, sexual orientation, gender, (dis)ability, age, or political beliefs, is seriously lacking at all levels. The necessity for these abilities has been taken seriously by the University of Denver and it has begun to implement programs to assist in their development; not only amongst students, but also amongst the faculty and staff.

On Friday, Sept 23, 2016 the Conflict Resolution Institute hosted Thomas Walker, PhD, the Director of Inclusion and Equity Education at the University of Denver, to talk about the use of dialogue on campus to reduce tensions and change intergroup relationships. Dr. Walker has been engaged in the diversity and social justice field for more than two decades, including working with the University of Michigan-based Multiversity Intergroup Dialogue Research Project. A lot of the concepts and approaches that he discussed and is implementing came out of his work with this research project.

Walker is proactively working with other DU partners like CRI on the DU campus through a multi-layer approach to the ever-widening divides between groups. One of the key ways of directly bringing the divided groups together for positive change is through the use of Intergroup Dialogue. Thomas Walker explains this as, "a face-to-face, sustained and facilitated meeting between 12-20 participants from two or more different social groups (typically with a history of conflict or potential conflict) who engage in a semi-structured process to explore commonalities and differences, intergroup conflicts, and possibilities for alliance and coalition-building for social justice action." The word alliance brings out an important aspect of this type of dialogue process. The aim is not to convince either group that they are wrong, necessarily, but instead to be able to come to a point where the groups understand each other and are able to then work together on how to move forward.

The Inclusion and Equity Education program at DU encourage this type of intergroup engagement through a number of initiatives. In order to do this well they have developed strong partners in the work, one of which is the Sustained Dialogue Institute. They will be working together to develop facilitator and participant trainings. They are also looking at ways to incorporate intergroup dialogue skills and knowledge throughout the DU campus. To encourage this dissemination, they are working at both the faculty/staff level as well as incorporating it into the curriculum for the students. They will offer courses in Intergroup Dialogue through the communications department, but will also incorporate dialogue into other curricula, programs and events. At the staff level, they will expand the utilization of Peacemaking Circles for staff development, as well as promote monthly dialogue-related events campus dialogues that will be open to the entire DU community. 

If you're interested in these programs, please refer to the Center forMulticultural Excellence website. 

~Samantha Haas, MA '16