The Impact of Intergroup Dialogue Program on Students' Recognition and Interruption of Microaggressions


Mary Senyonga

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Research concerning microaggressions is a new and developing area. The literature on the topic began in 1974 with Chester Pierce's description of 'assaults to black dignity and black hope' as persistent and increasing (Pierce, 1974). Microaggressions are verbal and nonverbal actions that convey prejudiced views to individuals based upon a marginalized group status (Sue et al., 2007). While it is easy to identify acts such as physical assault and the use of derogatory language as obvious forms of racism, racism has taken on a new face and is found in more covert actions than overt actions. People of color endure a new form of oppression as a result of microaggressions and are often kept silenced by the mainstream's desire to preserve the status quo (Sue, 2010). Constant encounters with prejudiced actions can cause people of color to internalize the negative messages communicated through such actions (Ortiz and Jani, 2010). The additive experiences with microaggressions from daily interactions can wreak havoc on the emotional stability and self-esteem of people of color (Sue, 2010). Creating an environment that is welcoming for people of color starts with teaching others how to acknowledge and oppose microaggressions. The pedagogy used within IGD courses activates students? empathetic understanding through readings of historical contexts of oppression, encouragement of active listening and perspective taking, testimonial reading in which students are encouraged to suspend their viewpoints and engage the material, as well as role-playing exercises (Stephan and Finlay, 1999). As Stephan and Finlay explain, 'empathy leads to prosocial behavior and it can be enhanced through training [and] has been incorporated into many intergroup relations programs' (1999). Increased empathetic understanding can cause participant to be more ready to take social action in the face of oppression. IGD courses offer a unique space for empathetic growth as well as intellectual understanding. As Nagda and Gurin articulate, 'The communicative possibility embedded in intergroup dialogue provides an understanding of societal divisions and inequalities but also demonstrates that we are neither confined nor destined to remain static in social estrangement' (2007). Participation in IGD courses is hypothesized to increase students' ability to recognize microaggressions as well as readiness to take action in the name of social justice.


Jaclyn Rodriguez




Mary S. Caswell Endowment

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