MSU Dialogues Prepares Students to Bridge Differences

May 1, 2018

During the Spring 2018 semester, approximately 100 MSU undergraduate and graduate students participated in MSU Dialogues—a series of facilitated conversations and exercises focused on race and culture sponsored by the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. 

"MSU Dialogues is designed to help participants deepen their understanding of their own identity, understand other's experiences, and ultimately take action to bridge differences," said Dr. Donna Rich Kaplowitz, director of the MSU Dialogues program and an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education. 

MSU Dialogues has three goals for students: 

  1. Increase personal awareness and raise consciousness about privilege and oppression.
  2. Improve intergroup understanding, and build relationships across difference through storytelling and listening.
  3. Explore ways of working together toward greater equity and justice, and strengthen capacity to create social change.

Participants were divided into six groups—three groups of graduate students and three groups of undergraduate students—and met for 90-minute dialogue sessions over eight weeks. Each group was balanced to include equal representation of majors, identities, backgrounds and ethnicities. 

Spring 2018 Participants in MSU Dialogues

"We initially thought we'd have around 30 student participants, but we had more than 130 students to sign up for the program," said Kaplowitz. "No matter what fields our students enter, it will be important for them to be able to work across difference. This is something that all employers are looking for right now."

Kaplowitz developed the MSU Dialogues program after teaching individual courses on dialogue facilitation in the Residential College for Arts and Humanities and in the Teacher Education program. She also trained MSU undergraduates to facilitate dialogues in high school classrooms, reaching a population of nearly 1,000 high school students. 

MSU Dialogues was created, in part, through research by Dr. Patricia Gurindiversity researcher and pioneer in intergroup dialogue. Gurin is the Nancy Cantor Distinguished University Professor and the Arthur Thurnau Professor Emerita at the University of Michigan. Gurin served as the keynote speaker at an MSU Dialogues event at the Kellogg Center in March 2018. 

"It is what institutions do with structural diversity that matters," said Gurin during her presentation. "This type of project is what universities do to ensure the engagement of diversity and not just mere tolerance. Students learn from each other and spend time with each other across demographic differences."

Paulette Granberry Russell, director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives (left) and Dr. Patricia Gurin (right) listen to questions from the audience during Dr. Gurin's presentation on intercultural dialogue 



Paulette Granberry Russell (left), director, Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, and Dr. Patricia Gurin (right), accept questions from the audience during a special MSU Dialogues session at the Kellogg Center, March 2018 


Exit surveys and initial data from Spring 2018 participants point to success.

After participating in MSU Dialogues, 55 percent of respondents indicated they strongly agreed with the statement, “I challenge others on derogatory comments and jokes” compared to 18 percent who strongly agreed before participating in the program. Forty percent of respondents strongly agree with the statement, "I intervene when I hear or see bias," after participating in MSU Dialogues. At the start of the program, only 7 percent of respondents agreed with the statement. 

The Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives plans to host the MSU Dialogues program for students and faculty in the 2018-2019 academic year. Topics will focus on race and gender. Students are encouraged to apply for the Fall 2018 MSU Dialogues by September 5, 2018 using the form available at There will be opportunities for students who are new to the MSU Dialogues program as well as students who participated or facilitated sessions in Spring 2018.

"It is clear from our first experience facilitating dialogues on campus that our students are hungry to learn across differences, and this is one low-cost, high impact program that transforms lives," said Kaplowitz.  

Faculty members who are interested in participating in Spring 2019 should contact Dr. Donna Rich Kaplowitz at or (517) 432-0663.