Our first post comes from Ione T. Damasco, Coordinator of Cataloging & Professor at the University of Dayton Libraries. Learn more about our guest authors on our Featured Authors page.
The words equity, diversity, and inclusion get used a lot these days, in our libraries, in our professional associations, and in higher education. Sometimes these words get lumped together as a catchall phrase—or its “EDI” shorthand. But there is one more crucial phrase missing from this string of connected concepts: social justice. What is social justice? Education scholar Lee Anne Bell defines social justice as both a goal and a process.1 As a goal, social justice is the “full and equitable participation of people from all social identity groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs.” As a process, reaching that goal should be “democratic and participatory,” respectful of human diversity and difference, inclusive and affirming of our capacity to collaborate to create change.
Achieving socially just outcomes requires the ability to engage across differences in honest, authentic, and meaningful ways. But we live in an era of divisive rhetoric, superficial one-way monologues on social media (asynchronous message threads, 140-character strings, and anonymous posts), and a 24-hour news cycle that provides a barrage of information—often biased—with little depth or context. How can libraries play a role in facilitating the kind of engagement that can lead to socially just outcomes for the communities of which we are a part? In order to do this work at an institutional or systemic level, what kind of self-work at the individual level do we need to do? Current initiatives at ALA such as the “Libraries Transforming Communities: Models for Change Initiative” demonstrate how academic libraries can develop dialogue-based programming to increase community engagement, especially during politically charged and socially divisive times. The LTC initiative focuses on the model of deliberative dialogue, but I would like to introduce another dialogue model, intergroup dialogue (IGD), that explicitly connects dialogic praxis to social justice outcomes.
Intergroup dialogue (IGD) was originally developed in the 1980s at the University of Michigan during a period of heightened racial tension on its campus. IGD encourages intergroup communication as a means of mitigating conflict that occurs as a result of social group identity differences.2 IGD also brings people from different social identity groups together in sustained, facilitated learning experiences in order to advance social justice, equity, and peace. IGD is unique among other dialogue frameworks because it intentionally surfaces issues of power, privilege, and systemic oppression around social identities as being central to both the content (what we talk about) and process (how we talk about it) of dialogue. In other words, who we are matters—our identities shape the ways in which we communicate, the dynamics of how we relate to one another, and how certain issues show up in our lives.
Formal implementation of IGD (at the University of Michigan and other colleges and universities) has often occurred in the form of a semester-long course for college students who self-identify as holding specific social identities. For example, an IGD course focused on race would have roughly equal numbers of students who identify as white and students who identify as persons of color. Over the course of the semester, these participants are guided through a process of experiential learning within group dialogue settings where they examine their individual social identities, then situate those identities within the larger dynamics of systemic and structural privilege and oppression that create stratification among social identity groups. Along the way, participants develop dialogic skills such as active listening and affirmative inquiry that allow for sustained communication even in the face of challenging topics. By the end, the hope is that participants from seemingly oppositional social identity groups develop alliances to find ways to resist and undo oppressive structures and systems that have been identified as part of their learning experience.
Much has been written about IGD, and there are many resources that provide thorough description of the four stages that comprise the formal IGD framework, as well as numerous case studies of IGD use in curricular and co-curricular programs. While developing a credit-bearing course focused on IGD might not be a viable option for you at your institution, there is much we can adapt from the IGD framework that can be incorporated into the work we do in libraries. At my institution, the University Libraries hosted a half-day professional development workshop that gave library employees the time and the space to explore their own social identities, and then make connections among power, privilege, and oppression. We used small group and large group discussions to engage in authentic dialogue around our different lived experiences. These conversations were challenging and at times uncomfortable, but creating a dedicated space with skilled facilitators conversant in issues of equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice encouraged everyone to think about privilege and oppression at the individual level, the institutional level, and finally at the larger systemic and societal levels. We closed the workshop with a prompt for everyone to consider: Now that we have a foundational understanding of identity, power, privilege, and oppression, what can we do as individuals, as a work group, and as a library to ensure we are making our campus more inclusive and equitable?
These are not conversations typically had by librarians and library workers, which is ironic, considering how often we host programs for the public that touch upon these issues. How often do we partner with units on campus like those in multicultural student services, or campus diversity offices, to host events such as film screenings and discussions on diversity-related topics? But we often don’t take the time to do the work on an individual level to understand the very same topics we offer to others for consideration. In order to make changes at the systemic level (and this is the heart of social justice work), we have to start with understanding ourselves. We have to make the time and space to be reflective, to be challenged, to listen to those who have been oppressed, and to strategize ways to be real allies in resisting oppression to ensure equity for all.
1Bell, Lee Anne. “Theoretical Foundations for Social Justice.” In Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. Third edition. Edited by Maurianne Adams and Lee Anne Bell, 3-26. New York: Routledge, 2016.
2Zúñiga, Ximena. “Bridging Differences through Dialogue,” About Campus: Enriching the
Student Learning Experience 7, no. 6 (January–February 2003): 9. https://doi.org/10.1177/108648220300700603