AN INSPIRATION FOR ALL ENGAGED IN HIGHER EDUCATION
The issue of changing social values, cultural diversity and tolerance is at the heart of the work of those of us engaged in higher education. Whether we are teaching in class, online or in a blended way, how we engage learners and work with different groups within our colleges, universities and apprenticeship programs reflects our values and our understanding of what diversity and multiculturalism look like. This is why the Aga Khan’s insightful and powerful address, accepting the Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship last Wednesday, September 21st is so important.
Earlier this month, posters appeared on an Alberta university campus with an image of a Sikh in a turban sending a message that this man “should go back from where you came from”. These provocative posters did provoke a response – a very positive one. Students and staff took down the posters and replaced them with messages of care, welcome and concern. Across the country, many individuals both condemned the posters but, more importantly, responded by reinforcing how welcome those of different ethnicity, religion and social status were to Canada and how Canadians go out of their way to ensure that new arrivals to this country feel welcomed, cared for and connected.
This small incident on a higher education campus shows how right the Agha Khan is to stress the key values of respect, pluralism and the dignity of diversity. He is also right in saying that living these values is a demanding task in a growingly complex, interconnected world. As he says:
“For those who feel insecure, it is tempting to look for scapegoats, for someone to blame, when their self-esteem is threatened. Often, we then find it easier to define our identity by what we are against, than by what we are for.”
But Canada is good at both living with complexity and responding to challenge.