On campus

As members of the community of Commonwealth universities, we strive to develop an environment in which all students can understand and pursue their beliefs, in the spirit of mutual understanding and respect, and use these as a pathway to wider moral and personal development. The term ‘environment’ here can be interpreted in different ways: the academic freedom to express or discuss faith or non-faith ideas, or the infrastructure and services that are the visible statement of a university’s views.

How are staff and students at universities around the Commonwealth addressing the issue of physical environment to promote respect?

Providing safe spaces for students to practice their faiths/beliefs
Hadiza Adah, VP International & Outreach, University of Plymouth, UK

The university has a chaplaincy, where students and staff of various beliefs or faith can walk in and feel safe. The space they have created is inviting and inclusive for students of various walks of life. The university now also provides safe, neutral and accommodating spaces on campus to cater for the needs of students of various faiths.

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Nanyang Technological University campus, Singapore

A project that supports our commitment to sustain and enhance a culturally inclusive environment
Dr Erica Lewin, Manager, Equity and Social Inclusion, Murdoch University, Australia

Murdoch University is a culturally diverse community which recognises that each student and staff member brings their own unique capabilities, experiences and characteristics to the study or work environment. Murdoch University values and respects the social, cultural and linguistic diversity of its community and encourages inclusive practices in order to provide an environment that is creative, innovative, flexible and productive.

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A multi-faith team that works together to give care and spiritual support to students of all faiths and none
Rev David Weller, Senior Chaplain, University of Wolverhampton, UK

The Chaplaincy at the University of Wolverhampton is run by a multi-faith team that works together to give care and spiritual support to students of all faiths and none. There are Chaplains from Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish faiths who all work collaboratively.

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Culture Connect, Sheffield Hallam’s largest one-to-one peer mentoring scheme
Krassimira Teneva, Head of International Experience, Sheffield Hallam University, UK

The International Experience Team at Sheffield Hallam University runs a number of projects to develop students' intercultural skills and cultural awareness. We currently run a scheme called Culture Connect, which is Sheffield Hallam’s largest one-to-one peer mentoring scheme. The scheme helps students get better at navigating cultural differences and develops their intercultural skills. There are currently 300 students enrolled on the scheme. As the name suggests, we pair students from different cultures, faiths, nationalities to work together and support each other. The students value the opportunity to learn about each other’s cultures and establish long-lasting friendships.

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Queen's University Belfast campus

Changing social perspectives about Partition
Kanika Jamwal, undergraduate student, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, India

In August 2017, our Department of English organised a programme of events to mark the 70th anniversary of Partition: ‘Revisiting Independence – 70 years of Freedom and Partition’. The primary objective of this programme was to provide an alternative perspective to an event contemporaneous to India’s independence: the Partition of 1947 that divided a land of multiple religions into two nations: India and Pakistan. As human tendency, we often only remember our own plight. Our aim was to remind our audience that Partition created two nations and people on both sides of the border were affected and traumatized.

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#IsThisOk? Tackling sexual violence and misconduct
Suzanne Buiter, undergraduate student, University of Stirling, UK

The University of Stirling is committed to taking all steps in their power to prevent and tackle sexual violence, from rape and sexual assault to harassment or stalking. In partnership with the Students' Union, the university has launched a strategy to foster a culture of respect where sexual violence, harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct are not tolerated and are actively challenged.

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Challenging subconscious bias in students
Sam Westley, undergraduate student, University of New South Wales, Australia

[email protected] is run by students, for students, and its sole mission is to provide services to its members, it has continually pioneered practical ways to promote respect and understanding on campus. Arc partnered with UNSW to promote the ‘Respect. Now. Always.’ campaign which targeted sexual assault and misconduct on campus and helped students understand the meaning of consent. Arc has created a collection of student-generated resources which, in conjunction with the Legal & Advocacy team, can help students have a safer, fun and more memorable student experience. Arc also has advocated for a number of causes, including fostering respect for the LGBTI community on campus. The organisation recently wrote an open letter in support of same-sex marriage during Australia’s postal vote on the issue.

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Providing a common platform through a cultural student event
Dr Lalith Ananda Malawenna Gamag, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS) of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura initiated a cultural event called ‘Ran Rasu’ in 2015. The aim of the event was to provide a common platform for students of different ethnic and religious communities to come together and showcase their distinctive talents and capabilities – at individual level and also as a specific ethnic/religious group.

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A chaplaincy that reflects the diversity on campus
Kate Johnson, University Chaplain, Queen's University, Canada

The chaplaincy at Queen’s University is committed to providing spiritual and religious support to students from a wide variety of backgrounds. The university funds a staff chaplaincy team that currently consists of a Quaker (full-time position), a Sunni Imam (part-time position) and a Protestant minister (part-time position) who is transgender and has particular expertise in queer positive theology. For all part-time positions, the lead chaplain hires with diversity in mind.

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Welcoming foreign students through intercultural education
Tung Tin Pui Timothy, Cultural Integration Facilitator, Shaw College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)

Hosting 3,000 inbound exchange students annually, CUHK endeavours to make foreign students feel at home in a melting pot-like learning environment. In the flagship ‘Cultural Integration Programme’ (CIP) offered by Shaw College, student representatives like me undergo training given by certified facilitators. We learn how to lead on intercultural communication and serve as bridges between exchange students and the local community. CIP has built precious, lifelong friendships on campus, whilst students learn to acknowledge and respect people of other cultures, and become true global citizens.

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Creating a conducive environment on campus for better integration
Hamza Mohammed Sherif, undergraduate student, University of Mines and Technology, Ghana

The University of Mines and Technology has over the years created a conducive environment for people of different faiths and backgrounds to integrate and learn about each other’s traditions. The university condemns discrimination and abides by a statutory act which states that students should be given the liberty to share their own faiths.

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Our Equity and Inclusion Office’s work supports mutual understanding
Dr Patrick Deane, President and Vice-Chancellor, McMaster University, Canada

McMaster University’s Equity and Inclusion Office is engaged in the promotion of mutual understanding between members of different faith backgrounds on an ongoing basis. In the 2016/2017 year, the office facilitated drop-in workshops entitled, ‘Challenging Islamophobia on Campus’, in response to greater levels of anxiety and discord about racism and incidents of Islamophobic discrimination on campus, in the local community and in the world.

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Offering awareness sessions to introduce people of different faiths and none to the major teachings, traditions and festivals of those faiths represented on campus
Dr Christopher Stephens, Head of Southlands College, University of Roehampton, UK

The university has a multi-faith chaplaincy team, including employed chaplains representing Islam and across a range of Christian denominations. There is a comprehensive Associate Chaplaincy programme, which encourages staff of a range of faiths to join the employed chaplains in coordinating a multi-faith provision for all students. In addition, we link in this work to local faith communities where this offers further enrichment to a multi-faith context (such as the local synagogue).

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Celebrating diversity through a cultural show
Muhammad Shah Khan, Director of University Advancement, Balochistan University of IT, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS), Pakistan

Balochistan University of IT, Engineering and Management Sciences (BUITEMS) works hard to inculcate the principles of tolerance, respect and understanding to its staff and students. Our Diversity Council, a student-run organisation, promotes and celebrates diversity. For the past three years the Council has organised an annual event called ‘Celebrating Diversity: BUITEMS Cultural Show’. The aim of this cultural show is to provide a platform to all diversified groups living in the Balochistan province of Pakistan and to showcase their cultures through dance, music, foods, rituals and costumes. Students of different cultural backgrounds perform during this large event to best portray their culture and identity. Each year, the event is attended by more than 2,000 participants including students, teachers, community members, politicians and business people.

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Religion and Belief Tandem Learning
Audrey Leadley, Head of Student Support and Guidance, Student Services Department, The University of Sheffield, UK

Each year, the University of Sheffield Chaplaincy Service hosts a programme of dialogue for staff and students of all religions and beliefs. Students and staff with an interest in this type of dialogue and questions of religious and belief identities are welcome to participate. Participants determine what they want to learn.

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Interfaith dialogue to promote tolerance and the appreciation of difference
Jessica Zeng, undergraduate student, University of Sydney, Australia

The University of Sydney has a strong vision for diversity and inclusion, and supports numerous activities that practically nurture respect and understanding among students and staff. The university has a faith-based student group on campus, the Evangelical Union, which participates in the Students’ Union’s clubs and societies programme. Whilst grounded in its Christian beliefs and values, the student group is greatly committed to fostering greater respect and understanding through holding public talks and discussion groups open to any student in the university. In these forums, questions are welcome and encouraged and there is an opportunity for students to learn about Christian faith and engage in free discussion and debate. There is also a commitment to better understanding other faiths, as demonstrated by the interfaith dialogue events between the Evangelical Union and the Muslim Students Association that have allowed both groups to present their view on an issue and advanced both groups’ understanding of tolerance and the appreciation of difference.

Campus

Promoting diversity on campus to help with graduate employment
Professor Julian Chaudhuri, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education & Student Experience), University of Plymouth, UK

The university works in partnership with the University of Plymouth Students’ Union (UPSU) to promote equality, diversity, tolerance and inclusion through a range of activities that reflect the university’s shared values.

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Creating social awareness
Samiha Mehnaz, undergraduate student, University of Asia Pacific, Bangladesh

The University of Asia Pacific facilitates various events and activities for students with an aim to produce active, confident, innovative students who can bring change and contribute significantly to society. Since 2010, the Social Awareness Club of the university has initiated a blood donating campaign in association with one of the country’s leading blood donating organisations. The reason behind the launch of this campaign was to create awareness among students about social needs. It has successfully organised nine campaigns with the participation of faculty members, students and staff. The club also promotes awareness through online platforms and broadens the availability of support when it is needed.

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Creating opportunities for our students to gain international exposure and a global mind-set
Anna Dukes, International Development Manager, International & Partnerships Office, Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK

Outward student mobility at Cardiff Met is key to providing our student body with an international experience that will give insight into new cultures, faiths and backgrounds. Through the Outward Mobility platform, working with over 1000 universities across six continents, staff and students have the unique opportunity to study, research, train, work or volunteer abroad.

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Campus

Supporting student life
Sphiwe Thwala, Student Leader, Department of Student Affairs, University of Pretoria, South Africa

The University of Pretoria takes pride in the diversity of its students, respecting the different faiths, beliefs and cultures of its people as enshrined in the constitution of the country.

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Our Religious and Belief Policy sets out our values of inclusion
Prof Rajesh Chandra, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of the South Pacific, Fiji

The University of the South Pacific (USP) is committed to permitting and facilitating the free practice of religion by its staff and students on its numerous campuses and centres. The USP Religious and Belief Policy details the ways in which the university demonstrates respect for religious and other faith-based beliefs. This policy also covers non-belief. The university recognises the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The university does not seek to control or restrict religious activity, but rather to provide a means, as described below, for its expression.

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Interfaith meals to promote personal interaction and friendships
Rev Dr Alistair Donald, University Chaplain, Heriot-Watt University, UK

We have a number of different faiths at our university, and we’ve always wanted to promote good interfaith relations. To encourage this we used to organise debate-format events, inspired by ‘Question Time’, for students to discuss their faiths. These were well-attended but tended to become confrontational in tone, and didn’t achieve our primary aim of promoting personal interaction and friendships.

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Events that celebrate diversity on campus and alleviate stigma
Rahul Singh, undergraduate student, Heriot-Watt University, UK

Heriot-Watt University and their Students’ Union run events every semester promoting fairness and inclusion while educating people on Heriot-Watt’s global outlook and the need for tolerance and respect for all. The Students’ Union’s Diversity Week and Islam Awareness Week are initiatives where students of all faiths are given the opportunity to run events and campaigns to educate other students on their beliefs. They also incorporate events and campaigns for international students, disabled students, black students as well as LGBT+ students. Diversity weeks seek to promote

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Celebrating cultural diversity with FoCuS
Tokaholi Chishi, postgraduate student, ICFAI University Nagaland, India

ICFAI University Nagaland is located in the northeast region of India, which is home to several indigenous communities with variant facets of culture and language. The university hosts an academic platform where teachers, staff and students come together to share, discuss and learn from one another about different aspects of culture.

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Safe spaces for inquiry into religious, sexual and gender diversity
Ian MacNairn, PhD candidate, University of Calgary, Canada

The University of Calgary actively nurtures respect and understanding through multiple practical measures and initiatives. For example, the Faith and Spirituality Centre provides a respectful and welcoming environment for students to practice and share their faith with others of any and all faiths; while the Q Centre offers a safe, comfortable, and inviting space for sexual and gender diversity. These two spaces offer resources that actively contribute to recognizing and providing opportunities to learn about the wide diversity existing on campus. Both initiatives have led and continue to lead to encouraging cultural community-building and social change. All such initiatives are available to students, faculty, and staff, and together work towards greater, and shared, respect and understanding on campus.

Establishing an interfaith centre to fulfil our founder’s dream of making society more tolerant and liberal
Dr Abid Raza Bedar, Director of the Centre for Interfaith, Aligarh Muslim University, India

In 2016 Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) established the Centre for Interfaith Understanding to fulfil Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s dream of making society more tolerant and liberal. The centre’s proposed programme is three-fold:

  1. to produce comparative literature
  2. to hold interfaith lectures, seminars, and discussions
  3. to work with other universities in developing courses of study, which can be prescribed for pre-primary to graduation stages.

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Fostering respect through the academic and residential environment
Prof Dr Md Delawer Hossain, Pro Vice-Chancellor, International Islamic University Chittagong, Bangladesh

International Islamic University Chittagong (IIUC) follows a policy of continuously modernising knowledge and academic curricula in different disciplines, so our students can imbibe the true spirit of humanity as a guiding principle in their professional and personal life. In this regard, Muslim and non-Muslim students study together in the departments of different faculties (about 93% of total students), with the exception being the Faculty of Shari'ah and Islamic Studies (about 7% of total students).

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All-inclusive and non-denominational prayers for all
Dr Annette Kezaabu Kasimbazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Kampala International University, Uganda

When our university staff attend internal administrative meetings, or meetings at the National Council for Higher Education, we have reached an unspoken consensus to start proceedings with an all-inclusive prayer. Universal prayers are widely used in Uganda at the start of meetings, as a way to bring together participants without discriminating against followers of the country’s two predominant faiths, Islam and Christianity.

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Students at a graduation ceremony

Supporting medical students in Kenya to reach health-related development goals
Daniel Njau, PhD candidate, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Every year, about 400 doctors graduate from the two established Medical Schools in Kenya. Of these, about half stay on to practice medicine in the country. This is a very low number compared to the 800 student intake at the beginning of the 6-year course. Roughly half of the students drop out because of inability to pay tuition fee, among other reasons. At this rate, chances of achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals and the Kenya Vision 2030 are slim.

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Diversity and freedom of religious groups on campus
Tiara Binte M Hamarian, undergraduate student, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In its efforts to nurture respect and understanding on campus, the Nanyang Technological University allows and encourages the formation of religious clubs and societies that are autonomous and student-run albeit in accordance to the Maintaining Religious Harmony Act as well as tenets from the Student Code of Conduct. This initiative has paved the way for clubs such as the Buddhist Society, Catholic Students’ Apostolate, and Christian Fellowship to name a few. Students are able to take ownership of their societies, expressing themselves unrestrictedly and retaining creative control over their programmes.

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Normalising failure and building resilience: wellbeing at Glasgow
Holly Scott, PhD candidate, University of Glasgow, UK

The University of Glasgow is proud to welcome new students from around the world each year, with many arriving to live and study in the UK for the first time. A focus on wellbeing and mental health is a key aspect of supporting all students throughout their time at university. However, it is particularly important for new students as they transition into university life, coming together from a range of cultural and educational backgrounds.

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A student society which explores and celebrates Sindh identities
Hareem Soomro, postgraduate student, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science & Technology (SZABIST), Pakistan

Our university is home to students of diverse cultures, religions, ethnicities and backgrounds. We have about 15 societies which promote cross-cultural interactions and keep the students actively engaged. One society in particular, Friends of Sindh Abhyas Academy, focuses on cultural awareness and inclusiveness. It was initiated by the Sindh Abhyas Academy (SAA), a regional studies institute at SZABIST dedicated to research and teaching about subjects pertaining to Sindh Studies, in fall 2015. The SAA offers courses primarily to Social Sciences students and educates them about the ancient Indus civilization, including the teachings of present day Sindh that emphasize inclusiveness, plurality and non-violence in thought, word, and deed. The society was essential in extending this to students enrolled in other programmes at the university.

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A Diversity Symposium organised by our community engagement network
HE Tingfeng, Senior Executive, Office of the Vice-President (University and Global Relations), National University of Singapore

The Community Engagement Program (CEP) Network was set up to promote awareness and understanding of the various faiths and cultures within the National University of Singapore (NUS) student community. The network comes under the remit of the Office of Student Affairs, and comprises 16 student religious and cultural groups.

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Reaching out to international students to promote inclusion
Zaman Wahid, undergraduate student, Daffodil International University, Bangladesh

Daffodil International University (DIU) celebrates its foundation day at the beginning of each year. Historically, local students have participated by performing local dances, song, etc. Recently, the university has looked to extend participation in such events to students from different cultures. DIU has a great diversity within its student population, with students coming from Nigeria, Somalia, and Nepal, and therefore the university feels it is important for all students to participate in this event. To encourage wider participation, DIU organised an intercultural night as part of the traditional foundation day celebrations last year, and were pleased to see international students starting to engage and network, sharing their own culture, beliefs, and faith through activities. This helped to promote respect and mutual understanding between different faiths across campus. There is now a strong relationship amongst international students and local students and a real positive environment.

University of Mauritius campus

Enabling the exchange of ideas
Dr Linda Mtwisha, Senior Director: Strategic Initiatives and Administration, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

The University of Johannesburg promotes the understanding of different faiths by encouraging students to register with faith-based student societies. When a society is officially recognised through the Student Affairs Student Representative Council (SRC) process, the university is able to provide it with the administrative, financial and managerial support it needs. The university has 105 registered student societies, with about 20,095 active members. The activities undertaken by our societies to promote respect include discussion forums with prominent persons, provision of space for different faiths, diversity and tolerance workshops, and awareness campaigns on related matters like LGBTi and anti-xenophobia.