9. The Marriage of Affirmative Action and Transformative Education

Tom Wood

How Many Delawares?  Part 9.

Editor’s Introduction

This paper is a breakthrough.  It represents an important new insight into how the advocates of racial preferences in American higher education are attempting to build a new kind of legal and institutional defense for admitting students to college by race.  And it lays out—I believe for the first time among critics of the progessivist near-monopoly of American higher education—the ways in which the racial preference agenda has been woven together with the “social justice” initiatives on campus. 

That the two are connected seems, at a distance, to be intuitively obvious.  Tom Wood, however, takes us deeper into the movement, which aims to make politically and culturally radical positions seem normal to campus life and uncontroversial.  Anyone who wants to understand the phenomenon of political correctness as it is today, rather than as it was five or ten years ago, should pay close attention to this analysis.

This paper is the ninth contribution (and the seventh by Tom Wood), to the NAS’ series, “How Many Delawares?”  HMD began as an effort to determine how many other American college campuses have residence life programs like the one that went off the rails at Delaware.   We soon found, however, that we were on the track of a larger and more complicated phenomenon. 

The ideological force-feeding of undergraduate students that characterized the University of Delaware’s residential life program had numerous components:  radical environmentalism, an attempt to stigmatize traditional moral sentiments, foregrounding questions of sexual orientation, efforts to promote deep distrust of American society, promotion of identity politics, and an aggressive focus on racial grievance.  As we looked at other colleges and universities, we found this combination of themes to be widespread, but organized in a variety of ways.  Residence halls aren’t the only venue.  Many campuses have a contingent of administrators whose job seems to be to turn late adolescent social anxieties into radical alienation from American society, but who has licensed these professional resentment-mongers and to what purpose? 

In this essay, Tom Wood offers an answer based on his close examination of a Student Affairs/Residence Life program at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor called the Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR).  The Michigan IGR stands out as not by being more radical than similar programs but by being better and more fully documented.  Tom Wood gives us a four-part account:  his synthesis of IGR and related programs; a skeletal anatomy of the IGR program; a more detailed view of IGR assembled from extracts of its own website (along with some materials from a partner program at the University of Maryland); and a fuller analysis of what all this means. 

This investigative report marks a turning point for How Many Delawares? Now that we better understand the beast we are tracking, we hope to provide an even better account in future installments of our series. 


An investigative report
On the road between Ann Arbor and Newark

by Thomas Wood

A new educational agenda has been established at many leading universities and colleges. It has been formulated by its proponents as a direct challenge to the view that race is not relevant to higher education. According to its proponents, the view that race is not educationally relevant is a privileged, elitist, white male view that needs to be directly challenged in the classroom and in peer-facilitated student dialogues that also take place in venues outside the classroom, like the dorms.

The notion that one of the purposes of a college admissions office is to put together a color-coded student body that “looks like America” has always been a hard sell, both on and off campus. On its face, the claim is implausible. To learn math or science, one doesn’t need a critical mass of racial and ethnic minorities on campus or in the classroom. It is also implausible—though this is apparently more controversial—that one needs such a mix to learn about culture, history, literature, or even race and ethnicity in the classroom. If I am a student in a class studying race and ethnicity in America, I am in no worse position in reaching conclusions about where the country has been, where it is now, where it is likely to be in the future, or what the options are for dealing with problems of race in this society if I am in a class consisting entirely of whites, blacks, Latinos, or Asian Americans than I am if I am in a class that is racially heterogeneous. It is precisely for this reason that proponents of affirmative action have started emphasizing non-traditional pedagogies. This is what the Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) at the University of Michigan represents:  it offers a pedagogy of facilitated “peer group dialogues.” Peer group dialoguing on campus, proponents are convinced, can give them the traction on the affirmative action issue that traditional classroom instruction and learning haven’t and can’t.

Proponents might concede that having a mix of blacks and others in a classroom does not in itself confer any educational benefits. However, color-coding the dorms and other venues outside the classroom might have some benefits, especially if the campus can successfully foster group dialogues across racial and ethnic lines. And it might be particularly efficacious to have such dialoguing organized and led by people who are trained in such things, rather than by faculty who have been trained in the traditional, old-fashioned way. It might be an especially good idea to have the dialogues facilitated by student peers instead of university faculty or staff.

In this way, proponents argue, it should be possible to provide a new and possibly very promising rationale for the controversial and unpopular policy of race preferences in university admissions. On this view, college admissions offices that fail to use preferences to the extent necessary to achieve a critical mass of minorities on campus aren’t just racially and socially retrograde and insensitive. They are that, but even more significantly, they are at fault for failing to recognize the full scope of the mission of higher education. Higher education isn’t just about learning things from books or laboratory experiments or the development of skills in science, scholarship, or critical thinking. It is also—and perhaps most importantly—about undergoing personal transformation through direct, personal experience in group dialogues with people of other identities on campus—including, very importantly, students of other racial and ethnic identities. And it is one of the most important tasks of the admission office on a campus to make this invaluable kind of educational experience possible.

It is also important to note that the alliance that is being forged in this way between the proponents of affirmative action and Res Life and Student Affairs professionals is a mutually advantageous one. Affirmative action stands to benefit from the enthusiastic support and participation of Res Life professionals interested in promoting group dialogues in their dorms, because the collaboration might be able to convince the courts that diversity “works” and is essential to American higher education.

But Res Life professionals also stand to gain, because they can now feel that they have something to do that is more important than anything they have done in the past. What they are offered is a mission, a goal, a great purpose, and an agenda that has powerful backing on and off campus. Now it is not a matter of programming the next Friday night film or the next pizza party: it is a matter of transforming the individuals in their charge in the very places where they sleep and live, and making them better citizens. Could there be a more attractive proposal than that?

These are people who need each other. It is a marriage made in heaven.  Let’s visit the wedding reception.


The program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was apparently the first program in the country to aim at promoting affirmative action and other political agendas through peer-facilitated student dialogues, and it is arguably the most highly regarded of these programs by those who share its goals.

The educational agenda and philosophy espoused by IGR at U Michigan consists of a number of different elements. Arguably, at least some of these components have a legitimate place on campus—provided that they are handled by competent people and kept properly balanced with other components of the curriculum and co-curriculum. The concern about IGR, and programs like U Delaware’s Res Life program, is that it is all very imbalanced. In these programs, individual elements that might be legitimate and even valuable in the right hands are combined in a cocktail that may potentially be quite harmful and explosive.

The main elements to be considered are these:

• The focus on sensitive issues of personal identity, including race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and sexual identity and preference.

• The emphasis on change, and the imperative to create change agents.

• The commitment to a liberal/progressive agenda of social justice.

• Group dialogues are often facilitated either by students or by Res Life and Student Affairs staff. None are members of the faculty, and none have the academic qualifications required to teach any of the courses in the regular curriculum.

• Group dialogues are not facilitated by people who have qualified themselves as psychologists or psychotherapists to work with such groups.

• The programs advance a pedagogy that is regarded as essentially different from and independent of the standard pedagogy of the classroom—and arguably even better than the latter, at least for the purposes of transforming the lives of individuals and getting them committed to the goals of social justice.

• The group dialogues are often placed in residence halls and other venues outside the normal classroom setting.

• Programs are often run by student affairs and res life people on campus, and by residence assistants (RAs) and other students trained by this staff, with little or no input from the faculty, and with little or no accountability to the faculty.

• The program sponsors and group facilitators need to produce measurable results that might justify the cost of such programs.

• The program sponsors and group facilitators need to produce measurable results that can justify racially preferential forms of affirmative action in admissions—policies that are themselves high controversial, and also quite unpopular, on campus.

It doesn’t require much knowledge of one’s fellow human beings, organizational behavior, or the politics of campus life these days, to understand that a combination of elements like this is a bomb just waiting to explode—which is exactly what happened at U Delaware.

Below, we consider some of the elements of this cocktail in more detail.


Here is how IGR describes its program:

The Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) is a social justice education program on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus. As a joint venture of the College of Literature, Science, and Arts and the Division of Student Affairs, IGR works proactively to promote understanding of intergroup relations inside and outside of the classroom. Multidisciplinary courses offered by IGR are distinguished by their experiential focus, teaching philosophy, and incorporation of dialogical models of communication. On this site you will find information on academic and co-curricular initiatives, program history and philosophy, and resources related to social justice education.


The History page on the IGR site gives more details about the “joint venture.” We learn here that IGR began as an academic initiative, but then found its home eventually as a division of Student Affairs on campus. The relationship that the program has with the academic sector on the campus and in particular with the faculty senate (called the Senate Assembly at UM) is murky. This is an issue that will be covered in more detail in Part III of this paper.

The Program on Intergroup Relations was founded at a time of heightened racial and ethnic tensions at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus in 1988. It was originally conceptualized as an academic initiative fully integrated with student life. IGR was supported by Presidential Undergraduate Initiative funds awarded to the Pilot Program, a living-learning program for first-year students, and the Program on Conflict Management Alternatives, a research development center of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

IGR's initial philosophy was to advance student understanding of and respect for diversity and to augment student skills in the area of intergroup relations and managing conflict between social identity groups. The central goal of the program was, and still is, for students to be engaged proactively to learn about the complexities of living in a multicultural society.

In 1989, the program established intergroup dialogue as its signature focus and contribution to the University undergraduate community. In 1994, IGR was instituted as a unit in the Division of Student Affairs and began collaboration with the Departments of Sociology, Psychology, and American Culture to offer intergroup dialogue academic courses.

In 1999, IGR was further institutionalized and now operates as a unit in the Division of Student Affairs in full partnership with the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Currently, the program offers a variety of intergroup dialogues as well as courses on intergroup relations and social justice, co-curricular programs, and consultation services.


The IGR Course Sequence page promotes a number of courses on campus that IGR encourages students to take. All these courses are for-credit courses offered by departments of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). None are taught by IGR itself, which does not offer a major. There is a strong emphasis in this list of recommended courses on social justice and social activism. This emphasis raises issues that are also discussed in Part III of the paper (“The Mantra of Change and the Emphasis on Producing Agents of Change”).

IGR describes the course sequence it recommends as follows:

The course sequence in Intergroup Relations is designed for students with special interests in social diversity and social justice. Intergroup Relations courses offer experience in both analyzing and understanding issues of diversity and justice, and building practical skills to deal with these issues in the "real world."

Students may find this sequence useful in preparing for careers in social work, law, medicine, clinical psychology, education, business, and other diverse workplaces. Students may also use this sequence to enter graduate programs in social justice, become community organizers, or engage in other professions directly relevant to social action. Additionally, students study this sequence not merely for professional reasons, but also to refine and actualize their own values as individuals and community members.


There are three main emphases in IGR and the related programs at other campuses. First, there is an emphasis on the various dimensions of self-identity, particularly those that are important to a progressive political and social agenda. Second, there is an emphasis (already noted) on social justice. Third, there is an emphasis on intergroup dialogue as a means of addressing issues of self-identity and social justice.

All three aspects are discussed in more detail in Part III this paper. Before proceeding to that discussion, however, it is useful to let the program speak for itself in more detail about these three aspects.

1. The commitment to social justice

 FIGs: First Year Interest Groups

IGR’s commitment to a liberal/progressive agenda of social justice emerges clearly from the following “Sampling of First Year Interest Group courses” that IGR gives on its web site:

• Democracy, Diversity, and Community
• Breaking Gender and Race Barriers in Brazil
• Race, Racism, and Cultural Diversity in the Francophone World
• Social Inequality: Race, Labor, and Detroit
• The Politics and Culture of Race in the United States Since World War II
• Critical Moments: the Psychology of Negotiation and Conflict Transformation
• Justice For All? Difference and Oppression in U.S. Society
• Deconstructing Whiteness: Alternative Perspectives on Race, Class, and Gender in the American Experience
• Race Underground: Prejudice in America
• Writing and Speaking about Cultural Communities, Ethnicity, and Imposed Categories (Race, Gender, Class, and So Forth)
• Psychology and the Study of Racial Differences
• Black Multiculturalism
• I Too Sing America: A Psychology of Race and Cultural Diversity

2. The various dimensions of self-identity

The Message From The Directors page on the IGR site lists the different kinds of self-identity that are of concern of the program:

We teach and learn about social group identity, social relations, intercultural communication, and social justice. We encourage students, staff, and faculty to learn about differences and similarities, to embrace them and to find commonality in the human experience. To this end, we focus on gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion, ability status, socioeconomic class, and nationality.

Note that the list includes many aspects of social and personal identity besides race and ethnicity. This is typical of such programs. Sexual orientation and sexual preference, in particular, figure prominently in IGR and related programs. In many calendar of events for these programs, in fact, events and programming around sexual orientation are more frequent and more prominent than those around race. So far, the “How Many Delawares?” series has not looked at the role that issues of sexual identity play in such programs, because it was not an issue in the public controversy that was ignited by Shakti Butler’s Residence Life training program at Delaware. But a similar firestorm in the future at Delaware or some other campus could just as well be provoked by a training program focusing on sexual identity and sexual orientation.

3. The emphasis on intergroup dialogue

As Part III of this paper will discuss in some detail, a hallmark of the IGR and related programs is its emphasis on work with groups, or with what it calls “intergroup dialogues.” The emphasis is on communication, and on the “experiential focus” that is made possible by these groups.

Given below are some excerpts from various pages on the IGR web site at UM that mention this important feature of the program. The following excerpts are taken from the pages on: (1) the IGR’s overview of its programs; (2) IGR’s Intergroup Dialogue Institute; and (3) the Institute's Growing Allies program.

The IGR’s overview of its programs

Multidisciplinary courses offered by IGR are distinguished by their experiential focus, teaching philosophy, and incorporation of dialogical models of communication. On this site you will find information on academic and co-curricular initiatives, program history and philosophy, and resources related to social justice education.

The Intergroup Dialogue Institute

The Second Annual Intergroup Dialogue Institute
The Program on Intergroup Relations
The University of Michigan
October 18-20, 2007

We are delighted that you will be joining us for the Second Annual Intergroup Dialogue Institute. We look forward to working with you. During this Institute we plan to share with you materials about the Intergroup Dialogue Program and how we use various concepts and experiential activities related to matters of social identity, social justice, privilege and oppression, intergroup communication and interactions, etc., - all of which are central to intergroup dialogue work.

The Growing Allies program

Growing Allies is a program of the Division of Student Affairs, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The Growing Allies Training is unlike any other training offered at U-M: You will examine your multiple identities Small groups will dialogue on how to be active as allies in multiple communities The retreat engages you in an experiential, reflective format You will have the opportunity interact and exchange ideas with a wide range of identities and experiences You will learn about the shared experience of allyhood in personal spaces and in the wider community

October 13-16, 2007
Michindoh Conference Center
Participation is free
for more information:
robbie routenberg [email protected]
to apply, visit :
last chance to apply:
sept 28, 12 noon


A crucial feature of this program is the use of undergrads as peer-group facilitators. IGR dialogue groups are facilitated by students who have taken a practicum and a training course. These courses are cross-listed in the psychology and sociology departments.

A page on the IGR site (“Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation”) tells us what the program is looking for in students who apply to become facilitators:

Training Processes for Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation: Psych 310/Soc 320/UC 320

Practicum in Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation: Psych 311/Soc 321/UC 321

Intergroup dialogue facilitators are trained undergraduate students who lead a group of peers through a semester of intergroup dialogue. Facilitators are trained in dialogic communication, group building, conflict surfacing and de-escalation, and social justice education. They work in pairs to facilitate dialogue, not simply as teachers, but also as learners with dialogue participants.
Anyone can apply to become a facilitator. The most important requirement is a commitment to 2 semesters, the first for the training course and the second for facilitation. Facilitators receive 3 credits for training and 3 credits for facilitation. ... The experience is eye opening at the very least and often transformative.

Apparently, completion of these two courses is the only formal requirement to become a student facilitator. In particular, none of the courses that IGR lists in its recommended set of first-year courses and in its recommended full course sequence seem to be required as pre-requisites for becoming an Intergroup Dialogues facilitator.

One learns from the current online catalog and schedule of classes that Charles Behling (Psychology Department), a co-director of IGR, is listed as an instructor for the Training Processes course (Psych 310/Soc 320/UC 320), and that Kelly Maxwell (Psychology Department) is listed as an instructor for the Practicum in Intergroup Dialogue Facilitation (Psych 311/Soc 321/UC 321).
The course description for the cross-listed course SOC 320 / PSYCH 310 in the online catalog says that admission is by application; that it is a "letter-graded" experiential course; and that it requires junior standing and PSYCH 122 or SOC 122. It also says:

This course is designed to give students a foundation in awareness, knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to effectively facilitate multicultural group interactions including structured intergroup dialogues. The topics of this course include social identity group development; prejudice and stereotyping and their effects on groups; difference and dominance and the nature of social oppression; culture, cultural cues and judgments; basic group facilitation skills and their applications in multicultural setting. There is a weekend retreat that is required for this course.

There is an application process to be admitted to this course. Please go to www.igr.umich.edu for application materials and for more information.

The course description for the cross-listed course PSYCH 311/SOC 321  - Practicum in Facilitating Intergroup Dialogues - says:

This practicum follows PSYCH 310 and requires applied work in facilitating intergroup dialogues. Students participate in weekly seminars for their own continued development in social identity and multicultural issues. Students are required to attend supervised consultations with instructors and/or peers in addition to weekly planning sessions with their co-facilitator. Discussion of effective facilitation skills for the on-going dialogue groups incorporates theoretical learning and practice of group dynamics observation, conflict intervention skills, intergroup communication and community building. As part of this work, students will do additional readings on issues of identity and community through assigned readings and course text.

Go to www.igr.umich.edu/ for more information about the course. Permission of instructor is required for admittance into this course.

The cross-listedPSYCH 122/SOC 122, which as we have seen is a pre-requisite for the two facilitator training courses, has usually been taught by Patricia Gurin, the research director of IGR. Its course description includes the following information:

Other Course Info: May not be used as a prerequisite for, or included in a concentration plan in Psychology.

In a multicultural society, discussion about issues of conflict and community are needed to facilitate understanding between social groups. In this intergroup dialogue, students will participate in semi-structured face-to-face meetings with students from other social identity groups. They will discuss relevant reading material and they will explore their own and the other group's experiences in various social and institutional contexts. Participants will examine narratives and historical, psychological and sociological materials that address each group's experience within a U.S. context. Students will participate in exercises that will be debriefed in class. They will learn about pertinent issues facing the participating groups on campus and in society. The goal is to create a setting in which students engage in open and constructive dialogue, learning, and exploration concerning issues of intergroup relations, conflict and community.


Although virtually every page on the IGR web site mentions social justice and race, references to affirmative action are infrequent. But when IGR materials do refer to affirmative action, it is very clear that a desire to preserve affirmative action is one of the principal motives of the program. It is certainly one of the principal motivations behind IGR’s ambitious research program. This appears quite clearly in the “Experiments in Diverse Democracy” page (given below) on the IGR site, which describes the Multi-University Research Evaluation Project on the Educational Benefits of Intergroup Dialogues that was initiated some years ago by IGR. It also appears very clearly in the description of the Multi-University Research Project on the University of Maryland web site (given below), and in the list of research publications on matters of interest to it that IGR gives on its web site (also given below).

IGR gives the following overview of its research program:

From its beginning, The Program on Intergroup Relations has conducted evaluation studies to assess its impact on students and the processes by which that impact takes place. Using a variety of methodologies -- field experiments, survey research, content analysis of student papers, and intensive interviews -- faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate researchers have published peer-reviewed journal articles, monographs and doctoral dissertations. IGR is currently collaborating with other universities to document common and unique effects of intergroup dialogues on different campuses.

More detail on the research program is given on the “Experiments in Diverse Democracy” page on the site:

A Multi-University Research Evaluation of the Educational Benefits of Intergroup Dialogues
Experiments in Diverse Democracy

Major Questions. The Supreme Court ruled in Grutter. V. Bollinger that educational benefits of racial/ethnic diversity provide a compelling governmental interest that justifies the use of race as one of many factors in student admission to higher education institutions. The most important question is what kind of academic initiatives that utilize diversity as a potential educational resource promote the educational outcomes that the Court deemed important? This project evaluates one such relatively new academic initiative, intergroup dialogues, and asks several major questions, the most critical of which are: 1) Does participation in a race or a gender intergroup dialogue have educational effects that cannot be attributed to selectivity, and 2) What processes that take place within dialogues account for demonstrated effects?

Rationale. The limited research on intergroup dialogues has been largely based on case studies in single institutions, focused nearly exclusively on cognitive outcomes, and mostly inattentive to processes that produce effects. In contrast, this project assesses effects in nine institutions (addressing the important issue of external validity), emphasizes a wide range of outcomes, and explores the impact of processes within the dialogues. Intergroup dialogues offer a new theoretical approach to intergroup relations. Their goal is intergroup understanding and collaboration based on dialoguing about issues that sometimes divide social groups. The distinctiveness of the separate groups is deliberately maintained while students learn to recognize both intergroup differences and commonalities, and to negotiate intergroup conflicts.

Hypotheses and Questions. Five major hypotheses guide the research, all of which concern predicted effects of intergroup dialogues in comparison to wait-list controls and other comparison groups, as well as predicted differential effects on cognitive and affective/action outcomes of course content and active learning processes.

Research Methods. Effects will be tested comparing: 1) students randomly assigned from applicants of intergroup dialogues either to a dialogue or to a wait-list, and 2) dialogue participants with students enrolled in small social science classes on race and on gender, living-learning programs, and community-service projects. Pre- and post-measures will be taken of participant and wait-list/comparison students. A one-year follow-up will be conducted to assess longer-term effects of intergroup dialogues. Both quantitative and qualitative methods of measurement and observation will be utilized.

Data Analysis. In addition to descriptive statistics, the project will use the inferential analysis framework of hierarchical linear modeling, which can handle the clustering that occurs due to university as well as the longitudinal aspects of the design.
Collaboration. This is a genuine multi-university collaboration that has grown out of prolonged and deep discussion across the nine institutions. These discussions have produced agreements on the standardized educational intervention, research design, measures of effects and processes, and the on-going multi-university oversight of the project.


The IGR page on the Multi-University Intergroup Dialogues Research Project says that nine universities are involved in the project. That page doesn’t identify the nine schools, and I haven’t found them identified anywhere else either. However, the University of Maryland web site has a page that discusses the project. Here U Maryland describes itself as a participant, and mentions U Michigan and five other schools involved in the research project: the University of Washington, Arizona State University, Occidental College, the University of Illinois, and U Mass Amherst. It is clear from Maryland’s description of the project that affirmative action, and producing evidence in support of it for the purpose of defending preferential policies in the courts, is very much a part of this research project for all the institutions involved.
- Experiments in Diverse Democracy (no date)

A Multi-University Research Evaluation of the Educational Benefits of Intergroup Dialogues 

Evidence provided to the Supreme Court in the recent higher education affirmative action cases demonstrates that students who have curricular and co-curricular experiences with racial and ethnic diversity are more intellectually engaged and better prepared to be leaders in a diverse democracy. This evidence on the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity, summarized in expert testimony and in other social science research in amicus briefs offered on behalf of the University of Michigan, made clear that students benefit the most when they actually interact with diverse peers in classes and in the informal campus environment. Like other educational resources (an excellent library or an outstanding faculty), racial and ethnic diversity is a resource that must be utilized, through innovative courses and other academic initiatives, to produce effects on students. 

One such academic initiative that has had demonstrable effects at the University of Michigan is the Program on Intergroup Relations, and we here at the University of Maryland offer a similar program. An intergroup dialogue is a face-to-face meeting between members from two different social identity groups that have a history of conflict or potential conflict. The groups are broadly defined by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, socio-economic class and other social group identities. Participants engage in a semi-structured process to explore commonalities and differences between and within social identity groups and to recognize, negotiate, and learn from intergroup conflicts. The dialogues, which occur over an extended period of time and are led by trained facilitators, give students an in-depth opportunity to acquire and practice skills that are needed in a diverse democracy. 

Developed at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s, intergroup dialogues are now part of undergraduate and graduate education at numerous colleges and universities. Their educational effects and the processes by which these effects take place have not yet been thoroughly examined at all of these institutions, nor has the external validity of the Michigan studies been evaluated in other institutions. University of Maryland, along with University of Michigan and four other public universities that now have intergroup dialogues, are proposing to do an extensive evaluation, and the Multiversity Project is our attempt to do just this. 

These seven universities have agreed to: 

• collaborate in standardizing critical features (readings, assignments, classroom exercises and discussion processes, size, contact hours) of two intergroup dialogues, one focussed on race and one focussed on gender, per term over a two-year period;
• evaluate their effects using a pre-post, comparison group research design. (Although students cannot be randomly assigned to be participants and non-participants in intergroup dialogues, this research design comes as close to approximating true experimental control as is possible in natural educational settings.)
• study the group dynamics and individual cognitive/emotional processes through which the effects of intergroup dialogues may take place by video-taping and analyzing the tapes of the third, seventh, and tenth sessions of each dialogue. 

This is a genuine multi-university collaboration that has grown out of prolonged and deep discussion across the six institutions. These discussions have produced agreements on the standardized educational intervention, research design, measures of effects and processes, and the on-going multi-university oversight of the project. 

Here are links to the other programs and institutions involved in this project: 

• IDEA: Intergroup Dialogue, Education and Action at the University of Washington

• IRC: the Intergroup Relations Center at Arizona State University 

• Occidental College

• IGR: The Program of Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan

• PIR: the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Illinois 

• SJE: Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst


The list of research publications given on the IGR web site also shows a concern with proving the educational benefits of intergroup dialogues. Establishing the educational benefits of diversity in order to justify preferential affirmative action policies isn’t the only concern, but it is clearly a very prominent one.

I give below a selection of research publications listed on this page of the IGR site. I have selected only those publications that have authors I can recognize as being affiliated with IGR, or has having been affiliated with it in the past, usually as graduate students at UM who were involved in the IGR program.

Gurin, P., Dey E.L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002). Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 330-366.

Gurin, P., Nagda, R., Lopez, G. (2004). The benefits of diversity in education for democratic citizenship. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 17-34.

Gurin, P., Gurin, G., Dey, E.L., and Hurtado, S. (2004). Educational benefits of diversity. In Gurin, P., Lehman, J., and Lewis, E. (Eds.). Defending diversity: Michigan's Affirmative Action cases. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Gurin, P., Peng, T., Lopez, G., & Nagda, B.R. (1999). Context, identity, and intergroup relations. In D. Prentice & D. Miller (Eds.). Cultural divides: The social psychology of intergroup contact.

Gurin, P. (1999) New research on the benefits of diversity in college and beyond: an empirical analysis. Diversity Digest, Spring, 5.

Gurin, P. (1999, September). The benefits of diversity: a theoretical and empirical analysis. College Board News, 28, 3.

Gurin, P., Dey, E.L., Gurin, G., and Hurtado, S. "How Does Diversity Promote Education?" Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol 27 (1) 20-29

Hurtado, S., Dey, E.L., Gurin, P. and Gurin, G. (2003). The college environment, diversity, and student learning. In J.S. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Vol. 18 (145-189). Amsterdam: Luwer Academic Press.

Hurtado, S. (2001). Linking diversity with educational purpose: How the diversity impacts the classroom environment and student development. In G. Orfield (Ed.), Diversity challenged: Legal crisis and new evidence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Publishing Group.

Lopez, G.E., Gurin, P., & Nagda, B.A. (1998). Education and understanding structural causes for group inequalities. Political Psychology, 19(2), 305-329.

Nagda, B. A., Gurin, P., & Lopez, G. E. (2003) Transformative pedagogy for democracy and social justice. Race Ethnicity & Education, 6(2), 165-191.

Nagda, B. A., & Z?, X. (2003). Fostering meaningful racial engagement through intergroup dialogues. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 6(1), 111-128.

Nagda, B. A., Kim, C. W. & Truelove, Y. (2004). Learning about difference, learning with others, learning to transgress. Journal of Social Issues, 60(1), 195-214.

Schoem, D., Hurtado, S., Sevig, T., Chesler, M., Sumida, S.H. (2001). Intergroup dialogue: Democracy at work in theory and practice, In D. Schoem & S. Hurtado (Eds.), Intergroup Dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace (pp. 1-21). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Thompson, M.C., Brett, T.G. & Behling, C. (2001) Educating for social justice: The program on intergroup relations, conflict, and community at the University of Michigan. In D. Schoem & S. Hurtado (Eds.), Intergroup dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community and workplace (pp. 99-114). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Vasques-Scalera, C. (1999). Democracy, diversity and dialogue: Education for critical multicultural citizenship. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.

Yeakley, A. (1998). The nature of prejudice change: Positive and negative change processes arising from intergroup contact experiences. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.

Zuniga, X., Nagda, B.A., Chesler, M., and Cytron-Walker, A. (2007). Intergroup Dialogue in Higher Education: Meaningful Learning about Social Justice. ASHE Higher Education Report: Volume 32, Number 4.

Zuniga, X., Nagda, B. A., & Sevig, T. D. (2002). Intergroup dialogues: An educational model for cultivating engagement across differences. Equity and Excellence in Education, 35(1),7-17.

Zuniga, X., & Sevig, T. D. (1997). Bridging the "us/them" divide through intergroup dialogues and peer leadership. Diversity Factor, 6(2), 23-28.

Zuniga, X., Vasques-Scalera, C., Nagda, B. A., & Sevig, T. D. (1996). Dismantling the walls: Peer facilitated inter-race/ethnic dialogues processes and experiences. PCMA Working Paper, No 49, The Program on Conflict Management Alternatives, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

Zuniga, X., & Nagda, B. A. (1993). Dialogue groups: An innovative approach to multicultural learning. In D. Schoem, L. Frankel, X. Zuniga, & E. Lewis (Eds.), Multicultural teaching in the university (pp. 233-248). Westport, CT: Praeger.


I have let IGR speak for itself at some length in this posting because its web site gives the clearest picture I have yet found for the educational agenda behind what happened at U Delaware. It is important for critics of U Delaware to understand clearly what this agenda is. When the U Delaware residence life facilitator training program is seen in the context of the theory and research initiated at U Michigan by the IGR, one has a much clearer view of what happened and why, and what the risks are that it will happen again, sometime, somewhere, either at U Delaware or at some other institution applying the same educational theory and methods.


There is no inherent contradiction in being committed to change and being committed to truth and objectivity. When Marx famously said that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it” (Theses on Feuerbach, #11), even he did not mean by this that understanding the world was unimportant or irrelevant. (Of course, whether or to what extent Marx got philosophy or the world right is a very different question.) What Marx meant, presumably, is that understanding or interpreting the world isn’t enough and that one shouldn’t stop there.

But there is obviously a danger that commitment to change can lead to bias and to a disregard of canons of truth and objectivity. (A similar observation, of course, can and should be made about conservatism and the proclivity to defend tradition and the status quo.) Whether there is an actual conflict between the two cannot be decided a priori. It must be decided on a case by case basis. One can expect disagreement about this by different observers. Where one person sees a glass that is half empty, another might see one that is half full. And so on.

One reason why I have let the proponents of IGR speak at length about their program is that it is important to decide how likely it is that IGR and affiliate programs at other universities involved in the multi-university research project are concerned with change to such an extent that they cannot be taken seriously as intellectually or academically respectable programs. For example, how good a job is IGR doing at understanding or appreciating—or to use Marx’s term, interpreting—race in America? Is its view fair, well balanced, and comprehensive, or is it partial, tendentious, and biased? Do its courses and dialogues strike the right balance between criticism of American society past and present on racial matters (needless to say, there is much to criticize) and admiration for what it has accomplished?

It is hard to answer this question without knowing a good deal more than we do at this point about the dialogues and the courses that are part of the IGR program. However, the list of thirteen FIGS courses given above hardly inspires confidence on this score. There is little or nothing in this list to indicate that its instructors are as interested in pointing out what is right about America on race as what is wrong. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this. That stance might seem perfectly appropriate for someone who is primarily interested in activism, in community organization, liberal causes, righting social wrongs etc. For such a person, tendentiousness of this sort might be perfectly legitimate. The point, though, is that while tendentiousness might be expected and even appropriate in an activist setting, it is never appropriate in an academic one.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to be enormously concerned about change, and to be equally concerned about being fair and objective in one’s assessment of the status quo. But any self-described “change agent” is likely to feel challenged by any defense of the status quo, if he sees that defense as making it harder to convince others of the need for change. Maintaining balance here requires qualities of mind and heart and spirit that are hardly universal. For that matter, they are not even universally admired. Do the people at IGR and its affiliated programs have these? Do they even want to have them? One may doubt it.


The University of Delaware is not, so far as I know, formally affiliated with IGR in the Multi-University Research Project, but it does have a Residential Curriculum Institute that is very much concerned with the same kinds of issues. This January, Delaware's Residential Curriculum Institute co-sponsored a national conference for Res Life professionals with ACPA's Commissions for Housing and Residential Life and Assessment and Evaluation. The seventh contribution to the present series ("Inside the ACPA Conference"), by Peter Wood, is about this conference.

Peter reports that one conference participant “blamed the UD student affairs directors for giving too much latitude to the RDs and RAs in carrying out programming.” On this view, what happened at U Delaware was simply an aberration. I believe this view is much too facile, for a couple of reasons.

First, there is no reason to think that the RDs and RAs at Delaware deviated from the prescribed programming. Shakti Butler's training manual proves that. All that the RDs and RAs did was to put into practice the theory and recommendations that can be found in black and white in Delaware’s training manual, which presumably had the approval of Kathleen Kerr, the director of Residence Life at U Delaware, and others on the staff.

Second, it is a misunderstanding to think that student involvement is an unimportant or inessential feature of these intergroup dialogue programs. According to the educational philosophy behind them, it is essential that students be involved as participants and facilitators. Proponents argue that we must move beyond the classroom model, where an instructor or teacher imparts information, wisdom, or anything else, to her students, to one where students’ lives are transformed by their own dialogues across the dividing lines of race, sexuality, and other forms of self-identity. This being the case, programs like the one at U Delaware cannot be reformed by removing the RAs or significantly reducing their responsibilities. If one did that, it would change the whole character and rationale for the programs.

As we have seen above, in IGR it is undergraduate students, not the staff or faculty, who are the facilitators. Two experiential, practicum-type courses are pre-requisites in order to become a facilitator. These courses are taught by faculty in the sociology and psychology departments, but the IGR-sponsored groups are not led by the faculty members themselves. For IGR, this is a key, absolutely essential feature of the program, just as it was undoubtedly regarded as a key, absolutely essential feature of the Res Life training program at U Delaware that blew up.

There is a page on the IGR web site entitled "Marketing Your IGR Experience” that shows just how important IGR regards this feature of its program. It was written by a former student facilitator in the IGR program, Aaron Traxler-Ballew, who is now on the faculty at UM. Traxler-Ballew lists a number of reasons why the experience of being a facilitator for IGR is important:

• It is unique. Very few undergraduate students get to lead a class, let alone one covering these issues. Because of this, employers and admissions counselors like to talk about this in interviews.

• It demonstrates communication skills, teamwork, and interpersonal skills -listed as 3 of the top five skills desired by employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

• It demonstrates care for one's community and sensitivity to diversity, two traits that are sought after in all walks of life.

As part of selling the program, Traxler-Ballew advises that one’s experience as a facilitator can be included by a student facilitator under either "education" or "experience" on a resume or job application. He then makes the following suggestions about what a student facilitator might say she had gained through the process:

• Promoted communication, conflict negotiation, and understanding among racial groups
• Gained facilitation and leadership skills by leading and managing difficult conversations
• Deepened own awareness of social and cultural diversity
• Planned and analyzed group sessions using teamwork and interpersonal communication
• Demonstrated mature and productive responses to conflict, controversy, anger, and tears
• Managed group interaction using immediate and reflective problem solving skills

Even so, when it comes to IGR facilitation, it is important to distinguish between classes that are offered by the university for credit and ones that are not. The Intergroup Dialogue facilitators are in fact facilitators for specific sections in Psych/Soc 122, which is actually taught by a faculty member. The student facilitators undoubtedly have a considerable amount of responsibility for leading the dialogues or discussions in the various sections. Nevertheless, responsibility for the entire class, including the student-led individual sections, remains with the instructor for the course.

It appears to be otherwise, however, for two other programs under the auspices of IGR: the Common Ground workshops and the Growing Ally or Growing Allies program. Unfortunately, the application form for the training for the Common Ground workshops is not available online. However, nothing on the UM web site, either on the IGR site or elsewhere, indicates that there are any specific course requirements in order to be a facilitator in Common Ground workshops. The same is true for Group Allies or Group Ally facilitators, for which an online application form is available.

The IGR page on Common Ground advertises Common Ground as a “co-curricular program” developed for students to learn about social inequalities and social justice outside the classroom. The Common Ground workshop program is also described as one way that “student organizations, residence halls, Greek life, classes, and other campus communities can request workshops on topics such as (but not limited to) racism, sexism, classism, or heterosexism.” The IGR brochure on Common Ground states that is workshops are designed around a 1.5 to 3 hour time frame, and that they are targeted towards “living-learning communities, student staff trainings, student organizations, Greek organizations, and academic courses.” Less information is available on the Growing Allies program, but it, too, seems to be aimed towards non-classroom venues on campus. Neither program appears to have any course requirements. Training seems to be confined to non-credit earning workshops and retreats.

This is important, because it appears to mean that IGR sponsors student-facilitated workshops outside courses that are listed in the class catalog and schedule and that are not the responsibility of any academic department on campus. IGR promotional materials invite interested parties to contact IGR to arrange for workshops. If I understand the arrangement correctly, these workshops and dialogues (unlike the ones associated with Psych/Soc 122) are not led by faculty or even by IGR staff members. They are led by students, who have been trained in workshops and retreats by IGR faculty and staff. Under this kind of arrangement, it is not at all clear where the responsibility, accountability (and conceivably even liability) for any such arrangement lies. However, since IGR handles the training and coordinates the arrangements, it is responsible to some extent, even if it is not exactly the kind of responsibility that a faculty member has for a course. In my view, this is a problem and a matter for concern.

Professionals who work in the field of intergroup relations and dialogue are expected to be trained and qualified for this kind of work. Besides a B.A. or B.S. degree, professionals who work in the field have advanced degrees (M.S.W., M.A., or Ph.D) in clinical psychology or a related field. It is really quite extraordinary to think that anyone might deem undergraduates to be qualified to do similar work after having taken only a workshop or two.

Moreover, the professoriate should be concerned that these programs are using students as facilitators in programs for which the university is ultimately responsible. It is arguable that one could expect undergrads to be no worse at this than any other relatively untrained person. However, being no worse than the population average—if that is what it amounts to—is hardly sufficient, as Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment in 1971 involving undergrads at Stanford shows.


The proponents of IGR and its pedagogy of peer-facilitated group dialogue are not reticent about their goals or their pedagogy. They are shouting it from the housetops. We should listen to them carefully, because what they are introducing into the academy represents a very radical departure from fundamental notions about appropriate pedagogy that have long been a part of university culture.

Evidence for this departure is not confined to program descriptions written by staff and faculty and articles in scholarly journals. It shows up in what student participants say about the programs.

A short introductory video by IGR on its program can serve as an example. The video contains a brief clip of one student who found the class such a “unique experience” that he had taken it twice. He says about IGR classes: “They're not like any other classes I have taken...You can't learn this from a textbook...You have to experience it, to be a part of it..."

We need to stop to reflect about comments like this. It is often said, of course, that what one can learn from a good teacher in a classroom cannot be learned from a textbook. The excitement and personal relationship with an instructor are often regarded as major advantages of the small classrooms, honors courses, and seminars in elite colleges that have low faculty-student ratios.

But that is not what is involved in the kind of paradigm shift that is involved here. The excitement that can be generated by a good teacher in a classroom setting is not detached from the world of books in the way that IGR student-facilitated group dialogue sessions are. These are not about books at all: they are about personal experience. Here, the medium really is inseparable from the message. The personal interaction in the group dialogue is the whole point, rather than a valuable add-on to the traditional educational experience. The claim is that the new kind of education is “transformative.” It involves a more personal and authentic, and more culturally and racially sensitive, mode of being and learning.

For the moment, let it be so. At least some students have found it to be so. But even if it is so, what business does it have in the university?

One would expect that the professoriate at large would be concerned about the introduction of a revolutionary new ideology and pedagogy like this into the academy. But is it?


The IGR-U Michigan web site does not say as much about the role of faculty vis-à-vis the program as one would like.

The History page on the site says that the Program on Intergroup Relations was "originally conceptualized as an academic initiative fully integrated with college life." After a one year program that involved a number of different but coordinated campus initiatives, the page says, IGR was established (in 1989) as a unit in the Division of Student Affairs, and "began collaboration with the Departments of Sociology, Psychology, and American Culture to offer intergroup dialogue academic courses.” In 1999, the same page says, IGR was "further institutionalized" by becoming a "full partner" with LSA. As we have seen, IGR currently describes itself as a “social justice education program,” and as a” joint venture of the College of Literature, Science, and Arts [LSA], and the Division of Student Affairs.”

It isn’t easy to envisage how this “joint venture” or “full partnership” between the academic College and the Division of Student Affairs actually works in practice. IGR is not listed as an academic unit in the College of LSA, though it is listed as one of the LSA Dean's Areas and Non-Instructional Units. The Dean of LSA, Terrence McDonald, reports to the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs (Teresa A. Sullivan), who reports to President Mary Sue Coleman. But what kind of relationship does IGR as a “Dean’s Area and Non-Instructional Unit” have with the university’s Senate Assembly, for example?

IGR does list a course called "Social Psychology in Community Settings” in its list of "IGR Courses" (see the left navigation bar of the main site), but this does not appear to be a credit-earning course at the university. IGR describes the course has having been “developed by IGR, University Housing Residence Education, and the Department of Psychology.” It is "provided exclusively for those students hired as staff in the University's residence halls." This is probably the same course as the one described as a course supported by the Residential Education division of the Housing Office on campus. Res Ed is a division of Student Affairs, not LSA, and there is no indication that "Social Psychology in Community Settings" is an IGR course. So here, too, IGR does not appear to have any genuine, independent academic standing in the university. It really is just a unit of Student Affairs, which is exactly how it describes itself.

This would seem to be a rather thin and tenuous connection with the academic sector for a program with such large ambitions and such an aggressive pedagogical agenda. Nevertheless, the weakness of this connection appears to be typical for such programs. If anything, it might actually be a stronger connection than exists at other institutions. Since the inception of the “How Many Delawares” project, I have spoken with faculty members at a number of different campuses who had only the haziest idea of what Residence Life actually was, and even less about the concept of “transformative education” or how it might fit into the affirmative action agenda at their institutions. As a result, the larger and deeper significance of the U Delaware program seems to have largely escaped them.

The fact that IGR is actually a program in the Division of Student Affairs that only collaborates with a division of the university in the academic sector (LSA) matters. For a recognized academic unit like a department, all matters involving research, curriculum, and instruction are within the purview of the faculty senate, not the administration—not even the dean or VP of academic affairs. But IGR (besides reporting to the Dean of Student Affairs) only reports to the Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts as one of the Dean's "Areas and Non-Instructional Units.” As one of these units, it is quite likely that it does not fall under the purview of the faculty senate at UM in the way that a normal department or academic unit does. It will be interesting to see whether similar programs at the other institutions affiliated with UM in the Multi-University Research Project on intergroup dialogues have the same murky, indeterminate academic status that IGR has at UM.

Proponents of peer-based group dialoging are aware that the pedagogy they are pushing is a revolutionary innovation in the academy, and they are not entirely sure that their colleagues will be entirely comfortable with the agenda or let them get away with it. Peter Wood reports that participants at the Second Annual Residential Curriculum Institute last January were defensive on this score:

A tag line began to emerge over the course of the conference: that res life officials are "equal partners" in higher education. No one said outright that res lifers deserve equal standing with the faculty, but that was clearly the idea. And it was often couched defensively. Said one speaker, "We are educators, and we do not need permission [from faculty] to educate, and we certainly do not need to apologize for it."

Thus a frequent topic of the conference was how to find "measurable outcomes" from the good work of res life. This was coupled with a troubled awareness that res life has gotten as far as it has with its revolutionary transformation of its role in college by keeping college administrations in the dark. One college official openly confessed that the Senior VP over his department doesn't really know what they are doing in Residence Life.

This state of affairs is troubling. The faculty need to be aware that an agenda is being energetically promoted right under their noses that holds that the kinds of things that faculty have done all their lives is inadequate to meet new needs and social and cultural imperatives, and that traditional pedagogy, if not abandoned altogether, must at least be supplemented with a heavy dose of something quite different.

Any program that purports to be curricular or co-curricular should be, ultimately, the responsibility the faculty senate on campus. Of course, the faculty (which might not have much taste for this sort of thing) might be inclined to argue that the new pedagogy is no concern of theirs precisely because it is non-traditional and does not involve the classroom or the faculty office. But that would be wrong and short-sighted. Faculty need to understand that co-curricular programming in Res Life is now very much an educational agenda. It is regarded by its proponents and theoreticians and by many students as an important and indeed essential part of the education that the university offers. That seems to me to be a good reason for thinking that the faculty should take responsibility for such programs, and that the faculty must be held accountable for them if anything goes wrong, as it clearly did at U Delaware.

This does not mean that the faculty senate or any subcommittee of it has to approve every showing of a film or every skit or every meeting or group sponsored by Res Life or Student Affairs. However, having the odd faculty sponsor or faculty member participants (which IGR does have at Michigan) isn’t enough. At least the broad contours and purpose of every curricular and co-curricular offering that is supported by a university is ultimately the responsibility of the faculty itself, which must have the authority to modify such programs as it sees fit. I imagine that most university governance policies read that way anyway. If they don’t, they should.


IGR, more than any other Student Affairs or Res Life program I have considered, shows that the “peer-facilitated intergroup dialogue” movement, if one can call it that, is a significant one. The movement is not going to disappear simply because critics inside and outside the academy have hurled angry, snide, or polemical remarks in its direction. The movement is well funded by large foundations like Ford and Hewlett; it is supported by powerful constituencies on and off campus; and it has a relatively well-articulated program. So it is unlikely that it can simply be dismissed. Instead, it must be engaged.

This educational proposal for transforming or at least extending the established norms for teaching and learning in the academy raises issues that transcend the concerns—important and legitimate as they undoubtedly are—about the repressive excesses of the Res Life training program at U Delware, and the concern that similar outrages might occur elsewhere. An equally important question is a more fundamental one: whether our prevailing standard pedagogies are inadequate and need to be significantly supplemented by something else, which can be and perhaps ideally should be in the hands of student affairs professionals, experts in facilitating group relations and communications, and others on campus rather than traditionally trained faculty.

A crucial part of engaging this agenda will be an assessment of the research. These pedagogues need to obtain measurable outcomes to support their work and the cost of their programs. So the question arises: How good is their research, and what does it show?

I will be writing about this soon. Stay tuned.


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