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The Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) at Cornell, which provides opportunities to cultivate skills around listening, dialogue and empathy, is expanding its audience with a new podcast, “‘I’ Statements.”

Featuring conversations between students, faculty and staff connected to IDP, podcast episodes are recorded at the Cornell Broadcast Studios and are available on Apple Podcasts, SpotifySoundCloud and the IDP website.

The first episode is available now. Starting in 2020, subsequent episodes will be released the first Monday of each month.

“The podcast is called ‘“I” Statements’ because so much of this work in dialogue is really grounding things in your own experience,” says Rachel Sumner, M.A. ’13, Ph.D. ’15, lecturer and IDP associate director. “I don’t have to be an expert on gender or race or sexual orientation, but I do have experiences with all those identities. And intergroup dialogue provides such a great opportunity for me to talk about those, and to hear other people talk about their experiences with those identities.”

Providing students with the tools to explore experiences related to identity, share personal stories and communicate across difference, IDP debuted at Cornell in the fall of 2012 with a semesterlong course for undergraduates.

In its ongoing efforts to influence campus climate through dialogue, IDP has since added programs tailored to graduate and professional students such as MBA and law students; residential staff on West Campus and North Campus; student organizations; and, most recently, a course for academic advisers.

“When we talk about dialogue, it’s a very specific communication practice … and we’re hoping that the podcast can serve as an educational resource,” Sumner says. “Illuminating for people that this is what it actually sounds like can be helpful. It can be really hard to imagine how some of these dialogue tools can sound in practice because we learn about them as a formula; first this step, then this step, and so on.”

A recorded conversation using those tools can demonstrate their potential for fostering genuine connection, Sumner says. “Listen to what they’re doing, and it sounds authentic; you can tell that they’re really connecting.”

The first episode, with Sumner, Baba Adejuyigbe ’18 and Jeannie Yamazaki ’21, focuses on how intergroup dialogue has affected their experiences at Cornell, and some of the challenges they have had when applying those tools and concepts in different contexts.

For curious listeners unfamiliar with intergroup dialogue, the podcast “can give them a better sense of how dialogue sounds,” Sumner says. “It’s not debate, so it may sound very different from other media they are typically exposed to; the way we have conversations about identity can be so fraught and grounded in conflict, where one person is trying to convince someone else that they’re right. And that’s totally not what we do. It really is just about better understanding.”

Since 2018, IDP has facilitated workshops during Orientation for all incoming undergraduate students. The first year, 169 three-hour sessions were held for more than 3,000 students. Follow-up sessions were offered in three colleges this fall, to help students hone skills they are exposed to at Orientation.

Alumni of the course return to campus to act as facilitators and lead the sessions.

“I've heard from so many students who were part of the class, or even faculty or staff who connect with us through one-time workshops or the course for academic advisers,” Sumner says.

“People from the Cornell community who’ve interacted with us talk about the kinds of connections that are possible after using some of these skills. … just astonished by the things that people can do when they have these skills, and they choose to connect with each other and choose to make change on campus.”

Future episodes of the podcast will feature conversations based on a key word or concept “that grounds our conversation, and people will share their perspectives and values and experiences related to that word,” Sumner says.

The second episode addresses “access,” with undergraduate facilitator Ruju Dani ’22 and graduate student Stephen Kim, an IDP residential community specialist, joining Sumner.

“It’s a different experience than having [a discussion] in a group with maybe 10-12 other people, trying to bring in everybody else’s perspectives,” Dani says. “But I am a huge fan of the podcast platform, and it’s a great way to get these conversations and ideas out to other people, in a way that it feels like they are a part of the conversation.”

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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