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The Tilford Group

Managing Difficult Dialogues

Difficult dialogues at the simplest level involve approaches to discussing difficult and sensitive topics. The Ford Foundation has made major funding available to educational institutions for implementation of difficult dialogues programming. Being a facilitator of difficult dialogues requires anticipation of difficulties and substantial preparation by the educational leader at a minimum. Five links to websites or articles with brief descriptions of content are provided below for an introduction to difficult dialogues.

Allen Eason, PhD, former faculty member in American Ethnic Studies Department, Kansas State University

Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues Initiative

Difficult Dialogues is a grant program designed to promote academic freedom and religious, cultural, and political pluralism on college and university campuses in the United States. While all projects seek to prepare students to constructively engage with difficult and sensitive topics, the projects address a wide range of substantive areas. These include topics such as: fundamentalism and secularism, racial and ethnic relations, the Middle East conflict, religion and the university, sexual orientation, and academic freedom.

Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom

Sue, Derald Wing; Lin, Annie I.; Torino, Gina C.; Capodilupo, Christina M.; Rivera, David P.  Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Vol 15(2), Apr 2009, 183-190.

A qualitative study supports the observation that difficult dialogues on race and racism are often triggered by racial microaggressions that make their appearance in classroom encounters or educational activities and materials. Difficult dialogues are filled with strong powerful emotions that may prove problematic to both students and teachers. When poorly handled by teachers, difficult dialogues can assail the personal integrity of students of color while reinforcing biased worldviews of White students. The success or failure of facilitating difficult dialogues on race is intimately linked to the characteristics and actions of instructors and their ability to recognize racial microaggressions. Implications regarding specific education and training recommendations are presented.

Difficult Dialogues, Privilege and Social Justice: Uses of the Privileged Identity Exploration (PIE) Model in Student Affairs Practice by Sherry K. Watt

This article will introduce the Privileged Identity Exploration (PIE) Model. This model identifies eight (8) defense modes associated with behaviors individuals display when engaged in difficult dialogues about social justice issues. Implications for the model and ways it can be used to assist facilitators as they engage participants in discussions about diversity are discussed.

Bell, "Knowing Ourselves as Instructors," in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin. (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 299-310.

While much has been written about how to engage students in social justice courses, little attention has been paid to the teachers in these classrooms. Yet few teachers would claim that raising issues of oppression and social justice in the classroom is a neutral activity. Content as cognitively complex and socially and emotionally charged as social justice, is inevitably challenging at both personal and intellectual levels. In the social justice classroom, we struggle alongside our students with our own social identities, biases, fears, and prejudices. We too need to be willing to examine and deal honestly with our values, assumptions, and emotional reactions to oppression issues. The self-knowledge and self-awareness that we believe are desirable qualities in any teacher become crucial in social justice education.

Zuniga, X., Nagda, B. A., & Sevig, T. D. (2002).Intergroup dialogues: An educational model for cultivating engagement across differences. Equity & Excellence in Education, 35, 7-17.

A number of initiatives over the past decade have addressed issues of diversity and inclusion on college campuses (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pedersen, & Allen, 1999; Smith et al., 1997). These initiatives have been implemented as a result of the demands by students of color and other marginalized groups (Thompson & Tyagi, 1993), the innovative efforts of faculty and staff, and the emerging national consensus that diversity in higher education is valuable for preparing students for a diverse society (Peelle, 1999). This article describes one such effort, intergroup dialogues. Intergroup dialogues cultivate student engagement with diversity by encouraging and facilitating student interaction and learning across differences.