Aggressive diversity programs on campus now come with harmless-sounding names such as “sustainability,” “social justice” and the need for good “dispositions.” The latest in this series is “intergroup dialogue.” Who can oppose “intergroup dialogue”? Many of us, if the real meaning of the term is excavated.
“Intergroup dialogue” is the new euphemism for the oppression confrontations that used to be conducted sub rosa at freshman orientations and have now been spreading across the country as formal programs for almost a decade. The goal of an oppression confrontation is to put enough pressure on white males to convince them they are racists, homophobes and sexists. Role reversal is a conventional part of the program. Whites are asked to pretend they are black, straights part the part of gays. Insults and catcalls are supposed to sensitize the whites and reveal that they are living lives of unearned privilege in a system based on oppression. White guilt, the erosion of traditional values and a strong emphasis on identity politics are the conventional results sought in these exercises. In Blue Eyed, a filmed racism awareness workshop used at many orientations, white students, in the words of Alan Charles Kors, cofounder of FIRE, “are abused, ridiculed, made to fail, and taught helpless passivity to that they can identity with a person of color for a day.”
According to a July 16th report by Peter Schmidt in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Intergroup Dialogue deliberately stirs up conflict to expose students to different perspectives. The oppressiveness of American society is taken for granted in these programs and the “web of oppression” is one common exercise. Twelve to eighteen students from two or more identity groups take turns holding a web of string draped with labels that bear racist or sexist jokes or other statement “intended to spark discussions of power and discrimination.” “Talking about these topics can blow up if you don’t do it right,” said Patricia Gurin, professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan.
Gurin wrote the report on the educational benefits of diversity, seized on by Justice Sandra O’Connor, that tipped the Supreme Court toward accepting racial preferences in admissions at the University of Michigan law school. Her presence is a major figure in the Intergroup Dialogue movement shows that the program has the function of further justifying preferences.
Signs of resistance have appeared. Some students refused to be pigeon-holed in racial and ethnic categories, and are excluded from the program. And the National Association of Scholars has spoken out in opposition. Peter Wood, executive director of NAS said Intergroup Dialogue program is “overtly political” means of trying to indoctrinate students to see oppression all around them. (Since the Chronicle did not put Intergroup Dialogue in quotes or capital letters, it made Wood sound like a crank condemning all dialogue—one of the advantages of using a gassy euphemism for a pseudo-therapeutic oppression exercise.)
A nine-college collaborative is pushing Intergroup Dialogue—the University of Michigan, Arizona State, Occidental, Syracuse University, the University of Maryland, the University of Texas, the University of Washington, the University of Massachusetts and the University of California at San Diego.