Last fall, 16 students of varying backgrounds and racial identities met at 30 College for seven Monday nights to engage in a dialogue about race and racism. Beginning this Monday, a group of only white-identifying students will congregate for the College’s pilot Intragroup Dialogue on race, specifically designed for white students.
According to Kate Stern, associate dean of students for inclusion & diversity and director of the Center for Sexuality, Women and Gender, this new model, adopted from a similar program at the University of Michigan, offers white students committed to learning about and tackling racism the chance to talk about issues surrounding racism.
“It’s similar to … groups of men getting together to talk about healthy masculinity and gender specifically in a way to combat sexism and misogyny,” said Eduardo Pazos, director of religious and spiritual life. Stern and Pazos, who led the Intergroup Dialogue on Race in the fall together, see the intragroup dialogue as one of several useful tools on campus for students interested in exploring and dismantling racism.
The intragroup dialogue structure is a little different from the intergroup dialogues, which are usually led by one facilitator who is white and another who is a person of color. This group will be moderated by Ryan Telingator ’21 and Emily Oleisky ’20, two white-identifying students who have participated in an intergroup dialogue on race and who have led Real Talks on Race, a series of guided discussions on race for first-year students. The group will meet for the next four weeks for facilitated discussions, sometimes with assigned readings or short video clips to stimulate conversation.
“We know that Bowdoin students are very busy with their coursework, so we don’t want it to feel like another class or for that to be a barrier,” Stern said. Through the pilot program, facilitators will be able to fine-tune the topics of discussion, learn which focus areas students have the most interest in addressing and choose materials resonate most with participants.
In addition, student participants are encouraged to get meals and coffee dates with each other, continuing the dialogue outside of the four scheduled sessions. Stern hopes that students participating in and graduating from the program will find ways to integrate their newfound knowledge and skills into their daily lives, initiating conversations about race with friends and teammates.
“I hope that there is learning, self-reflection and some clear intentional steps of what people can do—both inside our community and outside—to tackle racism,” Stern said.
Stern explained that there is currently a “solid group” of participants, but she noted that a few spaces are still open and invites students who are interested to reach out. Stern explained that offering both programs will allow students to choose a level of engagement that feels right. She hopes some students will choose to participate in intergroup dialogue after engaging in intragroup dialogue.
“Both go hand in hand quite well together,” she said. “It can be really powerful and people have the opportunity to do both.”
The intragroup dialogue is one of several organized dialogues occurring this semester—similar programs centering around religion and class will be taking place in addition to a pilot dialogue on political differences. For Stern and Pazos, helping students learn how to talk to each other about issues that can feel difficult to bring up is an invaluable skill both at Bowdoin and in the world at large.
“In a time in our country when we talk a lot about being polarized and being in each person’s corner, [it’s important] for us to have an ongoing set of four or five different dialogues that are happening every single week,” said Pazos. “[We went] through almost the whole first year class [in Real Talks on Race] in the bricks, [and] people [were] engaging with each other and talking to each other and sometimes disagreeing with each other—and that’s okay, too! But people [were] actually talking to each other.”