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Intergroup dialogue sparks conversation on campus

November 1, 2019

Every Monday night for the past five weeks, 16 members of the Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) on race gathered at 30 College Street. Through dialogue, rather than debate, participants aim for honest understanding across racial identities.

Facilitated by Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Eduardo Pazos and Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Inclusion and Diversity and Director of the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center Kate Stern, the program is designed to allow students of various racial backgrounds to come together to discuss issues of race on campus and in society at large.

“[We hope to] give students the ability to engage in conversations about race that often either don’t happen or don’t happen intergroup,” Stern said. “To have the ability for students of color and white students to talk together about race—we’ve heard from students over and over again—is rare.”

The program also includes intragroup dialogue sessions during which students of color and white students split up and talk among themselves. The group also discusses weekly readings.

The program, which is in its sixth year, is offered both semesters, and each cohort meets for seven weeks. Students of all classes are welcome to apply, though this semester’s cohort is predominantly sophomores.

Roughly half of them identify as students of color, which is both intentional and integral to the program.

“When you take a look at the group dynamics, it is absolutely essential for Intergroup Dialogue [to be] as close as possible to a 50/50 split between one group and the other group,” Pazos said.

While IGD on race has been facilitated by different trained faculty members in the past, this year it is run by Pazos and Stern, who happen to be the two directors of the program Bowdoin Dialogues.

Stern said that a group of faculty and students brought the integrative dialogue model to campus in hopes that it would change what prompted campus discussion on race.

“There was a lot of conversations related to race on campus that were reactionary,” Stern said. “And we really looked to see what that proactive way [would] be to have a conversation that wasn’t reactive to something happening on campus.”

Students participating in IGD are excited about this opportunity to be proactive about issues of race on campus. Noa Schumann ’22, a white-identifying student, says Bowdoin students need to find ways to openly talk about diversity.

“It’s sort of this gray area that everyone knows is an issue but no one actually does anything to talk about it. So I think this opportunity is great,” Schumann said.

Other participants reported a variety of reasons for joining IGD. Manny Coleman ’22, who identifies as biracial, said his racial identity usually surprises people who assume he is white. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, it is something he has long grappled with and hopes to come to terms within the structured setting of the IGD on race.

“I think I did IGD more for myself,” Coleman said. “It’s kind of just a sense of more control over what I perceive my race to be, kind of more peace with my race.”

Tess Huckaby ’22 said that when she came to campus as a first year, she became increasingly aware of her identity as a student of color.

“I found myself having moments of struggle as a student of color on this campus. I think growing up I never really had to feel like the minority in a way. Coming here made me more aware of my race than I ever had been before,” Huckaby said. “I’ve really enjoyed IGD so far. I think it’s something that’s really important for people to be involved in. As much as it can be hard at times during the discussions, I think it’s a good way to push myself out of my comfort zone.”

Students who complete the program can also opt to be trained as IGD facilitators and lead similar dialogues throughout Bowdoin, such as talks in the College Houses, on the floors of the first-year bricks and with sports teams.

“I think this is a really important way that I can begin to start the conversation about race on campus,” Schumann said. “It’s not the oppressed’s job to give information to the oppressor. It’s everyone’s job to educate themselves about race.”


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