August 29, 2018
Brighid Dwyer, a professor and director of the Program on Intergroup Relations in Villanova University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, describes how she facilitates intergroup dialogue and why she thinks it’s so valuable. Intergroup dialogue involves facilitated conversations between people of different ages, races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, and political views. Skills like dialogic listening and listening for understanding (rather than for debate) create an open, respectful, and power-balanced space in which groups have productive and constructive conversations. Dwyer explains, “It’s about sharing stories and storytelling and making meaning.” She says that intergroup dialogue is a tool for building community and helping to make underrepresented students feel included, and that it’s especially important for academic institutions that are becoming more diverse.
When the writer Katherine May was diagnosed with autism at age 38, she realized she’d never once encountered an autistic character in mainstream media who reminded her of herself. She explains that, according to new research that engages people with autism instead of observing them, stereotypes that label all autistic people as cold and naive are “nothing more than literary tropes.” May points to social media communities like #actuallyautistic as proof of the diversity within the community: “You will see social life flourishing—reciprocal, empathetic, intuitive, and ringing with emotion.” She challenges the current scientific understandings of autism, explaining that they “favour the offence to the sensibilities of the practitioner over the challenges faced by the autistic subject.” She also likens the popular view of autistic people to the “orientalist gaze,” that is, a flattened view of exoticized subjects who are not allowed to speak for themselves, and who are instead defined by seemingly objective observers. When faced with vulnerable or minority-group characters, May says that asking “who is doing the writing, why, and on what authority” can counter this “folk understanding” of autism.
This week, California became the first state to pass legislation protecting intersex people from “non-consensual medical intervention,” asserting that any surgical or hormonal changes performed by doctors to “correct” the bodies of intersex babies or children is, in fact, “an abuse of human rights.” The legislation, titled SCR-110, is not only a step forward for intersex rights, but a significant shift away from Eurocentric attitudes in medicine, which for centuries aimed to prevent homosexuality by surgically establishing a “true sex.” During the process of passing SCR-110, organizers worked with medical allies, resolution sponsors, parents, and other intersex people to lobby legislative aides and debunk the arguments of medical groups opposing the legislation. Of the experience and its outcome, one organizer expresses that, “Even though the resolution’s opponents had the authority that comes with holding a medical degree, our personal stories and experiences as intersex people were our power…This is a warning to the medical patriarchy that threatens intersex and LGBTQ+ health: [we’re] just getting started.”