Posted by Julia Leef
[Editor: When originally published this article incorrectly stated that the IGR courses would be held in the spring of 2011. They will be held in the spring of 2012. The article has been corrected.]
In the upcoming spring semester, students will be able to register for IGR (Inter-Group Relations) classes, which include four peer-led dialogues on race. These courses will be administered by Kristie Ford, assistant professor of sociology and IGR Relations program director; Peter McCarthy, field coordinator in social work; Lei Bryant, assistant professor of music; Nate Richardson, residence hall director; and Michael Ennis-McMillan, associate professor of anthropology.
Approximately 15-20 students from a variety of years and majors attended the information session regarding these courses at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6 in TLC 203. There was another session the previous day at the same time and place. The courses will be capped at 10 students and are peer-led, while the faculty coaches will observe the dialogues and are responsible for grading all student work.
The four courses are composed of two "inter-group" dialogues titled "People of Color" and "White People," and two "intra-group" dialogues, "White Racial Identity" and "Multiracial Identity." They have been offered since the start of the IGR program.
A graduate student at the University of Michigan, while pursuing her doctorate, Ford became involved in an inter-group relations program which has since won several awards. Now, teaching courses in Race & Ethnicity, Gender & Sexuality and Social Justice, Ford brings her experience in IGR to the college.
The IGR program began in 2008 as the result of a sociology course titled "Race and Power" Ford taught. "Students seemed eager to engage in more courses like that," Ford said, "and there weren't a lot of opportunities for dialogue-based learning."
Due to the popularity of the course, Ford said that she was looking to expand the course offerings. "Last semester, we had a wait list of 50 students, and then we stopped counting," she said.
"Race and Power" serves as the first pre-requisite for students training as facilitators. After completing this course, students may then register for "Racial Identity Theory and Praxis," in which they must earn a B or higher to be considered as a candidate for facilitating. "Students talk about it as a transformative experience," Ford said. "We're committed to give everybody who wants to be involved the chance."
"I'm a therapist by trade, and this is the safest, most supportive environment I have ever experienced," McCarthy said in relation to the White Racial Identity group, one of the dialogues offered by IGR. "Open yourself up to learning about yourself. How do you learn about whiteness when whiteness is invisible?" McCarthy also teaches "Practicum and Facilitating," a course that facilitators take while involved in a dialogue.
Peer facilitators Josi Orlandella '14, Kali Block-Steele '13 and Regina Ellis '13 spoke about their experiences through IGR courses at the college. "I have less fear of bringing up race outside of the classroom," said Orlandella, "where in the past, I felt I did not have the knowledge or ability to do so."
According to Ford, the main goal for the year is to train more faculty, staff and students to expand the IGR program. There are currently a total of 40 spots available for students for the spring dialogues. The IGR program also offers annual faculty and staff workshops for those who are interested in becoming IGR "coaches."
"It connects to the college's strategic plan of intercultural and global understanding," Ford said.
Ford publishes about the progress of the college's IGR program in academic research journals, which have been used as models for other institutions. She has traveled to other colleges to consult with them about starting their own IGR programs.