Community at Cornell

Community at Cornell is a mandatory program that all new undergraduate students must complete in their first semester at Cornell. It has two parts:

Part 1: An Introduction to Dialogue 

  • A short reading, followed by a brief reflection assignment
  • Learn about the concept of dialogue and reflect on how you might use it in your time at Cornell

Part 2: Create Community Across Difference

  • A 2.5-hour interactive and peer-led, small group session 
  • Practice skills and tools for communicating across difference both inside and outside the classroom as you learn more about yourself and others
  • Note: These sessions will be virtual in fall 2021.

The experience of being a Cornellian extends far beyond what is learned in lectures. As incoming students start this new chapter of learning and growth, their identities and personal experiences shape how they interact with others and form new relationships on campus. The ability to communicate and collaborate across difference, as well as to learn from someone else’s lived experiences will enable them to maximize what they gain from their time here. It will also allow them to actively contribute to making Cornell a more open and supportive community and better prepare them for their future in an increasingly interconnected global world.

Our goal is for participants to feel challenged in a positive way by new perspectives. We hope to spark the desire and the confidence in participants so that they are compelled to learn more about and reflect upon their own identities and experiences, as well as the identities and experiences of others. Our main goals fall into the following three categories:

        • Identity and Difference:
          • Introduce participants to the diverse make-up of the Cornell University student body
          • Introduce participants to the various ways through which people form their social identities
          • Enable participants to identify group differences that exist on campus and in their communities
          • Encourage participants to understand how arbitrary (i.e., unearned) status hierarchies/other forms of advantage give rise to and inform social differences
        • Dialogue and Interaction:
          • Provide participants with the opportunity to experience positive and meaningful interaction in an intimate setting
          • Introduce tools for communication across difference and allow participants to practice these tools with their peers in a safe space
          • Strengthen participants’ capacity to empathize with others
          • Provide participants with structures and patterns for inclusive and collaborative communication
        • Transition and Belonging:
          • Explore some of the different ways that individuals experience the transition to Cornell University
          • Encourage participants to understand that they joined an academic institution that:
            • values diversity and difference
            • is committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue that promotes both belonging and individuality
            • works to meet the diverse needs and interests of students 
          • Allow first-year students to meet and interact with their peers in an intimate setting
          • Show first-years that they have agency and the power to create a campus that they want to live and learn in

In September 2017, President Martha E. Pollack announced the formation of the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate, composed of faculty, staff and students on the Ithaca campus, and charged with making specific recommendations about how Cornell can implement meaningful institutional change that leads to a campus climate that is more diverse and inclusive, and that expresses greater respect and understanding (Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate, 2017). The task force will identify the problems that are preventing us from being a fully welcoming and inclusive community and make specific recommendations about how our community can move forward with greater respect, understanding and inclusivity” (2017). In the extensive outreach conducted by the Campus Experience sub-committee, members repeatedly heard that IDP is an excellent model for diversity education on campus and should be mandatory for all students. Thus an early recommendation emerged from the Task Force to offer mandatory introductory intergroup dialogue sessions to all incoming students.

In August 2018, the Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) launched the Community at Cornell program. Incoming students completed a short reading followed by a written reflection that introduced the concept of dialogue and asked them to reflect on how they might use it in their time at Cornell. During Orientation, every student attended one of 169 sessions over the course of 5 days. Each student was assigned to a single 3-hour session with 19 of their peers and 2 trained IDP facilitators. In addition to IDP’s current undergraduate, graduate, and staff facilitators, IDP recruited 22 of their recent alumni facilitators from across the country to support this massive effort. 

In January 2019, IDP expanded the program to include incoming transfer students and adapted their curriculum so that the sessions could be completed in 2.5 hours.

In summer 2020, when it became clear that in-person sessions would not be able to take place during Orientation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the IDP team worked to develop an additional component to add to the Community at Cornell program that students would still be able to complete during their Orientation: Connection, Challenge, Change – a series of 3-short videos where students and recent alumni share their experiences and advice around the themes of connection, challenge, and change. The in-person Create Community Across Difference sessions will be held later in the academic year. 

(Almost all of) the 64 facilitators who led our August 2019 Create Community Across Difference Sessions (plus Finn the dog). We had 32 undergraduate students, 19 recent IDP alum, 9 graduate students, and 4 staff facilitate 185 sessions in 4 days!

The abbreviated Intergroup Dialogue session during freshman orientation was one of the most amazing experiences. Previously, I was never given the opportunity to sit down with someone I had never met before and discuss my personal identity without judgment. I established ever-lasting friendships with other freshmen in my discussion. I learned an astonishing amount about myself, my leaders, and others. I would love to have the opportunity to participate in weekly discussions similar to what I experienced my first week at Cornell.

I will definitely be able to use the skills i learned from the workshop in my day-to-day life. Many of the skills I learned about would help me to better connect to those around me.

I learned how to listen and be present to show respect in a conversation, especially me who is really shy about meeting people who are new and forging connections that are new.

I learned the importance of being authentic in your own opinions rather than avoiding conflict and always simply agreeing. Dialogue can create new understandings only by first acknowledging the differences.

I learned about the tool LARA and how to communicate effectively with people, especially those from different backgrounds and who have different perspectives from me.

It will be very useful in interpersonal communication, especially with people of significantly different backgrounds and with different perspectives.