Sponsorship of community-based Study Circles programs for the discussion of race and race relations has become the latest program of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in fighting discrimination. Study circles are facilitated discussion groups of 10 to 15 citizens who meet in their community to discuss a topic of mutual interest. The group is open to many perspectives, and is a vehicle for considering a variety of views and asking difficult questions.
The Study Circles Resource Center in Pomfret, Conn., is a nonprofit organization established in 1990 to promote the use of study circles on critical social and political issues. The Commission has taken the lead in introducing the Study Circles program to the state of Iowa. Many communities which have a community diversity appreciation teams have seen the study circles as a logical extension of citizen involvement. But even in communities without teams, other organizations or coalitions can organize study circle programs and involve citizens in discussing and resolving important community issues.
The Statewide Study Circles Work Group meets monthly, reviews what's happening throughout Iowa, and advises the Commission on program issues. The Commission has provided facilitator training sessions in several locations, and publishes a quarterly Study Circle newsletter to keep the groups informed of what's happening statewide.
Sponsoring coalitions are at work in Des Moines, Dubuque, Muscatine, Sioux City, Storm Lake, and Fort Dodge/Webster County. While using the study circles model, Des Moines has chosen to call their program "Honest Conversations," and Dubuque is using the title "Talk Circles." Several other communities are working on getting a program started.