Spring 2015 is the last semester that Occidental’s Intergroup Dialogue Program (IDP), in which students discuss controversial social issues in peer-led classes, will be offered for credit. Psychology Professor and founder of IDP Jaclyn Rodriguez cited the decline in departmental and institutional support as reasons for the end of the program.
Rodriguez’s choice, though disappointing to some, is supported by the psychology department, according to Department Chair Brian Kim.
“My biggest concern in terms of making sure that we continue to be successful is making sure the program is sustainable,” Kim said. “That requires a lot of effort on [Rodriguez’s] part, and she’s done an amazing job over the years, but it’s a heavy burden to put on any one faculty member.”
According to Rodriguez, IDP courses challenge students both intellectually and emotionally and provide them with the support necessary to have discussions beneficial to a mutual understanding between people of different backgrounds.
“Participants think more complexly about identity and power, are more motivated to bridge differences and actually work within and between groups to create change,” Rodriguez said.
But in recent years, departments other than psychology have stopped offering the classes for credit toward their major. Now, only the politics department even lists IDP as a suggested class.
Although understanding of Rodriguez’s decision to end the program, Kim is concerned that without IDP, students will not as actively engage in and discuss social issues.
“If there’s going to be a void that’s created by the program ending, I would hope that the college would, in their commitment to diversity, provide some kind of other resources to address that,” Kim said.
IDP originated at the University of Michigan in 1988 as a social justice education program, and is known there as the Program on Intergroup Relations. Rodriguez, who directs IDP with the assistance of Professor Kenjus Watson, introduced the program to Occidental in 2002.
“[Occidental] had a fairly diverse student body, some faculty diversity and coursework devoted to examining long-standing social divides,” Rodriguez said via email. “What was missing were intellectual opportunities for students to talk honestly about the lived impact of what they were learning; about social identities.”
Rachel Buckner, who has both participated in and facilitated IDP courses, describes IDP as taking a more personal approach to social issues than what students might encounter in other classes.
“In a lot of other classes you might talk and critically engage with issues of race, gender and sexuality, but it’s from a very academic standpoint,” Buckner said. “Not to say that Intergroup Dialogue is not academic, but what it does is it really puts an emphasis on your personal experiences and your personal beliefs.”
Although the initial purpose of IDP was to give students an opportunity to discuss identity, difference and privilege among diverse groups, the program has been critiqued for occasionally diverging from its original goal.
“It can foster this space in which you’re talking more about individual people’s identities, more than you’re really reflecting critically on the issues at hand,” Buckner said.
Regardless of critiques, both students and professors alike agree that IDP is a worthwhile program. Art History & Visual Arts Professor Amy Lyford, who also serves as associate dean for curriculum and academic support, is among the proponents of IDP.
“From my perspective, the program has been important in creating a community of difference at the college, and several of my advisees have benefited greatly from their participation in the program,” Lyford said via email.
Damien Mendieta (senior), an IDP participant, advises students to take advantage of the program while they can.
“I would encourage as many people as possible to apply for [IDP], just because it is probably one of the most treasured memories I will have of Occidental College,” Mendieta said.