Bridging Differences: How LVC is Making a Change Through Intergroup Dialogue

Lebanon Valley College is a campus that has always strived to spark creative thinking in an inclusive environment. And when it comes to social justice, much of the LVC community takes the opportunity to get together and get involved. To facilitate a focused, goal-oriented program that infuses the LVC culture with issues of social justice, the Intergroup Dialogue was created, and it is helping students, faculty, and staff make a difference.

First developed at the University of Michigan, the Intergroup Dialogue aims to create discourse that bridges differences in higher education, which include issues of race, gender, ability, and more. During a time of tension on the LVC campus, Dr. Catherine Romagnolo, chair and associate professor of English, and Venus Ricks, former director of Multicultural Affairs, found that the concept of Intergroup Dialogue could help better the education and discussion about social justice on campus. Once they proposed an Intergroup Dialogue course and applied for a President’s Innovation Grant, they were able to receive the funds necessary to send several faculty and staff to Michigan to be trained in these dialogues.

LVC has now had multiple semesters of the Intergroup Dialogue course, focusing on race. Each class has two facilitators who represent different perspectives from the topic of the course—even the class itself aims to equally diversify its students so that a fair dialogue can take place. There are also year-long evening dialogues that have tackled topics such as police violence and masculinity. 

Both the class and evening dialogues have helped make a difference in the way the LVC community talks about these issues, adding emphasis to the effectiveness of dialogue over discussion. 

“The difference with dialogue is that you want it to be an encounter with the other person,” said Dr. Matthew Sayers, associate professor of religion. “It’s about engaging, it’s about understanding, and it’s about mutual respect. So the goals are different, the mode is different. If we come in with respect, we come in trying to actually listen to what the other person is saying.”

Instead of exchanging information in a discussion-like environment, dialogues offer the opportunity to engage and understand someone else’s perspective, ideally in a sustained conversation. And setting these types of goals in the Intergroup Dialogues have opened the doors for “action projects,” which the students carry out to show the common misperceptions—and sometimes unconscious, problematic thinking—in today’s society. 

The Intergroup Dialogue has so far proved to be a success among students, faculty, and staff, but it needs to be a continued, repeated occurrence in order to be truly successful. 

“I very much hope to expand the program to include multiple courses each semester as well as the evening dialogue programs,” Dr. Romagnolo said. “I believe that infusing the strategies and structures of dialogue into our campus culture could prove to be transformative. The more people we train to facilitate dialogue, the stronger we will be as a community.”

The Intergroup Dialogue course is taking place again in the Spring semester, focusing on issues of race, and three evening dialogues are planned under the topics of femininity, mental health, and intersectional identity.