Digest No. 09 - September 2021

Enhancing Multicultural Education in the Classroom

Schmidt, C., D. Earnest, and J. Miles. 2020. “Expanding the Reach of Intergroup Dialogue: A Quasi-Experimental Study of Two Teaching Methods for Undergraduate Multicultural Courses.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 13 (3): 264–273.


While many universities have made significant strides in bolstering the structural diversity of their faculty and students as well as the representational diversity embedded in course curricula, a central problem remains: What practical, robust mechanisms exist for enhancing student interactional diversity? How can an institution equip its undergraduates to engage meaningfully and learn across differences? Intergroup dialogue has emerged as a potentially effective contributor to the development of interactional diversity skills; however, that dialogue is usually offered in co-curricular spaces. As a result, students usually must self-select into these experiences, and the skills provided by them are not always available when students encounter multicultural challenges in the curriculum. This single-site, longitudinal, quasi-experimental study examines whether the incorporation of intergroup dialogue with a multicultural curriculum provides an additional benefit to the development of culturally competent outcomes.

The goal of many courses on diversity is to develop critical consciousness among students. This development requires that students be willing to listen to the perspectives of diverse others, exchange in empathetic dialogue with them, and partner in social action to challenge oppressive systems. Intergroup dialogue provides facilitated contexts in which students can practice this dialogic thinking and may develop a sense of responsibility for shaping a more just society. Importantly, intergroup dialogue functions best when students are placed into situations in which diverse groups are relatively equally represented, cooperate to achieve common goals, and experience interactions that have the sanction of custom or authority.

This study examined the development of 112 undergraduate students enrolled in a range of multicultural education courses taught by a variety of instructors. Critically, the courses were placed into one of two conditions: a control group that taught multicultural curriculum in the traditional manner and an experimental group that received traditional pedagogy for the first half of the semester but incorporated intergroup dialogue into the course in the second half of the semester. Students completed online surveys at the beginning and end of each course, and their change scores were analyzed via split-plot analysis of variance (ANOVA).


This study provides suggestive evidence that the addition of intergroup dialogue to multicultural pedagogy accelerates the development of critical consciousness. Students enrolled in such courses demonstrated significantly more development in their degree of openness to diversity, awareness of privilege and oppression pertaining to race, and empathetic feelings for individuals with marginalized identities than students enrolled in traditional courses. Students demonstrated increased awareness of privilege and oppression in contemporary society, as well as increased cross-cultural anxiety—a pattern that is well-established in the multicultural education literature. Concurrently, students exhibited a decrease in their sense of multicultural self-efficacy, which may be due to feelings of guilt and shame that are often engendered by confronting one’s participation in various systems of oppression and privilege.


How to effectively provide developmental experiences for undergraduate students that enhance their multicultural competency, critical perspectives, and ability to function in a pluralistic democracy remains a challenging problem across higher education. This study indicates the potential benefits of incorporating intergroup dialogue, a traditionally co-curricular activity, into the standard pedagogy for diversity-related content. As universities look to the reinstatement of in-person learning and reimagine both pedagogical methods and the historical divisions between student affairs and academic curriculum, leaders should consider whether sequestering intergroup dialogue methods in the co-curriculum remains the best way to advance equity across the institution. Indeed, training faculty members in critical-dialogic approaches to working across difference may provide them with strategies to navigate challenging conversations around oppression within the institution as well as within the classroom.

About the Authors

Christa Schmidt is a professor of counseling psychology at Towson University.

David Earnest is an assistant professor of psychology at Towson University.

Joseph Miles is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Literature Readers May Wish to Consult

Gurin, P., B. A. Nagda, and X. Zúñiga. 2013. Dialogue across Difference: Practice, Theory, and Research on Intergroup Dialogue. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Pettigrew, T. F., L. R. Tropp, U. Wagner, and O. Christ. 2011. “Recent Advances in Intergroup Contact Theory.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 35: 271–280.

Zúñiga, X., B. A. Nagda, and T. D. Sevig. 2002. “Intergroup Dialogues: An Educational Model for Cultivating Engagement across Differences.” Equity & Excellence in Education 35 (1): 7–17.