The Emergence of Conflict in a Multicultural Training Group: The Anatomy of a Disorienting Dilemma


  • Joretha Bourjolly
  • Roberta G. Sands
  • Laurene Finley
  • Anita Pernell-Arnold


Bourjolly, Sands, Finley, and Arnold examine conflict in a multicultural training group for mental health practitioners. They used qualitative research methods to track the process as it unfolded. In this paper, they describe a critical case that elicited conflict and use transformative learning theory and postmodernism as lenses for understanding the event. A succession of comments perceived as insults or microaggressions served as predecessors to a disorienting dilemma that sparked strong emotional reactions and set the group on a course of transformative learning. They also discuss problematic cross-cultural communication styles and group dynamics related to the microaggression and describe the instructors’ reflections. The paper concludes with implications for dealing with the emergence of conflict related to microaggressions in the classroom and the challenges of intense affect in relation to race, gender, and class. Although our critical case took place in a continuing education training class in multicultural practice, situations like this also occur in university courses and other educational settings.