ASHE Higher Education Report

Cover image for Vol. 42 Issue 3

Series Editors Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel

Online ISSN: 1554-6306

Strengthening Individual and Collective Capacities to Promote Social Justice


The following is an excerpt from ASHE Higher Education Report, Volume 32, Issue 4, Intergroup Dialogue in Higher Education: Meaningful Learning About Social Justice

Strengthening Individual and Collective Capacities to Promote Social Justice

The third educational goal of intergroup dialogue, strengthening individual and collective capacities to promote social justice, is made possible by the other two. By supporting new ways of thinking about oneself and others and the social structure in which both exist, intergroup dialogue promotes thinking about and acting for social change. The capacity to act together rests on developing commitments to fellow dialogue members and a sense of shared responsibility for challenging discrimination and creating greater justice. The process of building bridges across and within differences in social identity groups provides a structure that can empower participants to improve intergroup relations on campus and to take more responsibility for promoting equity and social justice in society at large.

Action commitments in intergroup dialogue go beyond preparing members of privileged groups to become allies with members of disadvantaged groups or empowering disadvantaged groups to enact change. Members of privileged groups can also take action on their own to counter or disown privilege, and members of less-privileged groups can forge alliances with one another. Intergroup dialogue fosters a critical understanding and enactment of alliances across differences that challenge all forms of domination and oppression. Participants are encouraged to ask questions: How do my or our actions affect others or the other group? How are my or our actions empowering or disempowering others?

Intergroup dialogue can contribute to a more socially and economically just society by graduating participants who have a commitment to social change and the skills and dispositions needed to work with other groups to make positive changes. Participants become more aware, active, critical thinkers who value their own and other people’s voices. By engaging deeply with people different from themselves and by recognizing how their own identities and social locations affect themselves and others, participants learn to care about how people from both privileged and disadvantaged groups are affected by social injustice, to feel responsible for social injustice, to feel confident in their skills and abilities to develop and sustain relationships even when conflicts exist, and to feel hopeful about the possibilities of working together across differences toward a shared vision of social justice.

Toward these ends, participants in the dialogue are provided opportunities to explore actions they can take that challenge exclusion, discrimination, and institutional oppression. For example, participants are invited to examine their spheres of influence (self, friends, family, school, work, community) and identify actions they can take to intervene in unjust or hostile situations (Goodman and Schapiro, 1997). They may decide to band together with other groups to effect change, join a social justice organization on campus, take more courses on topics of identity and social justice or change, become a resident assistant to create a more inclusive intergroup climate on campus, educate members of privileged groups about their privileged location, or actively confront racism, sexism, and homophobia in their resident halls or in the local community. They can also prioritize actions and identify possible strategies and risks. Doing so moves the learning process from dialogue and reflection to visualizing actual steps to effect change. In some instances, participants practice intergroup collaboration through the planning and implementation of action projects (Zúñiga, 2004). Participating in a dialogue about these potential and real actions can help participants to reflect on the extent to which they feel ready to take action for social justice and to identify the kind of support they may need. In envisioning and then taking action, participants create opportunities to continue to learn and to carry the skills and commitments they have developed in intergroup dialogue to settings outside and beyond the dialogue.

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