Posted by Layla Lakos
The Intergroup Relations (IGR) program, brought to the school by Dr. Kristie Ford, associate professor of Sociology, is now offered as a minor after the Curriculum Committee approved the program last spring.
The IGR program addresses issues of racism, identity and social justice in American society, dealing with different levels of institutionalized racial perspectives. By employing an innovative dialogue-based pedagogy, the program seeks to bridge gaps in understanding race and personal experiences both interracially and intra-racially. The program is comprised of three dialogues: People of Color/White People, Multiracial Identity and White Racial Identity. These dialogues are capped at ten students, as well as two peer facilitators who assist the dialogue as neutral guides and moderators. The alternative course offered under the IGR program is titled "Race and Power," and is a foundation course for the minor.
The IGR program was developed in 1988 in the University of Michigan. In 2008, with the help of Ford, it was brought to the school as a pilot program. Ford worked in observing the dialogue process and developed her skills as a teacher of IGR during her time at the University of Michigan. "I had no intention to create an IGR program at Skidmore," Ford said. "I only decided to integrate some of the IGR process pedagogies into the 'Race and Power' course." She found students were engaged, receptive and interested. "It pushed students to critically grapple with race and identities," she said. Ford described the school as a trailblazer in terms of having established the IGR program as an academic minor.
The courses incorporate a vast spectrum of readings dealing with history of oppression and racial identity. "People who are unaware of the course don't fully understand that it is not just an anecdotal class with reading, or it's like we talk about our experiences as if we are complaining," Ronell Evans '15 said. "There is a dual process; you have to go through the emotional process with the theoretical frameworks of race."
Evans was involved with a dialogue last springs and is currently enrolled in "Racial Identities: Theory and Praxis," with the intent to become a facilitator for the spring semester. When asked how the IGR program has helped in terms of understanding race, Evans stated, "You know as soon as you hear someone saying, 'This is how race has affected me.' Then you know its real."
With the shift in recent years favoring the dialogue process, Ford said more scholars recognize that the IGR program is not just a "touchy feely program" with no cognitive backing.
"It is a rigorous and academic program that engages students on an array of different levels and leads to substantive application, not only in how students think about certain issues, but then their actions in terms of how they interact," added Ford. "For some reason, there is a link between dialogue and engaging as a productive means of creating change." She attributes this toward the further diversifying of universities and the better education of teachers and students.
One student, who asked to remain anonymous, recounted their experience with the IGR program as a positive one, however, one unlikely to be utilized by all: "Although we live in a community that promotes tolerance of 'the other,' there are still prejudices that are ingrained. Unfortunately, the first step to addressing those prejudices is through something similar to the dialogue process which IGR offers."
Ford encourages students to become involved in dialogue. "It should not be required," she insisted. "Regardless of the benefit for different social identities and perspective, political perspective, there has to be a willingness to engage. That's not to say that students don't come resistant, because some definitely do, but there is a choice that they have made that they want to be there."
There will be two IGR Information Sessions held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17 and Oct, 25 at the Tisch Learning Center. For more information on the IGR program, visit their web site at /www.skidmore.edu/igr/.