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Updated 3:00 PM May 2, 2005




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U-M program role model for aiding group relations

The Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) has been asked to help metro Detroit high school students improve their dialogue skills so they can have better conversations about race and diversity.

The Detroit-based Skillman Foundation recently awarded the University a $125,000 grant to support the first year of a program to reach high school students throughout metro Detroit. The students selected will attend seminars at U-M beginning this summer.

"In dialogue, they learn by really listening. The goal is to understand rather than to convince," says program co-director Charles Behling. "The goal is to establish dialogues between groups that have a history of conflict and develop the ability to understand. We have a method that matters in the real world, where the potential for conflicts or unfairness is real."

In addition, IGR recently received a $605,000 grant from the W.T. Grant Foundation to help support a three-year research project to evaluate the effects of race and gender dialogue courses at 10 universities across the United States.

IGR is a joint venture of LSA, involving the psychology and sociology departments, and the Division of Student Affairs.

At U-M, the program's lessons are taught in a two-credit course on intergroup dialogues where students learn the art of communicating with groups they aren't a part of, Behling says. This might mean someone from a different racial, gender, religious, cultural or income group. The goal is to learn ways to share ideas, even when it's clear the two parties don't—and maybe can't—agree on a subject.

Former President Clinton's Initiative on Race cited IGR as one of 14 "Promising Practices"—and one of only two related to higher education—that successfully bridge racial divides in American communities.

For more on IGR, visit

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