Giving student leaders practical means to promote respect and understanding

Giving student leaders practical means to promote respect and understanding

Published on 22 December 2017

Taking place from 18-21 December 2017, the ACU Respect Residential School – hosted by ACU member institution Heriot-Watt University (HWU) Malaysia – brought together 30 student leaders from across the Commonwealth.

Representing ACU member universities from over 20 Commonwealth countries (including Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, and Trinidad and Tobago), these students leaders came together to develop their skills, work towards a shared goal of creating a fairer, more inclusive society, and cultivate innovative solutions to promote respect and understanding.

Students on roof of HWU

Designed and delivered in partnership with Common Purpose, an international leadership development organisation, the programme enabled students to develop their ability to work fluidly across cultural boundaries, and increase their understanding of tolerance and respect, while exploring practical measures to promote it in their home institution and beyond.

Over the four days, participants were immersed in Kuala Lumpur – a famously multi-ethnic, multi-religious city – and had the chance to get beneath the surface of the city by having frank, engaging conversations with representatives of civil society organisations. A mixture of lectures, café conversations, and immersion visits saw students discuss the challenges and opportunities of advocating for fairer, more inclusive societies with activists from Mythos Labs, Global Peace Foundation, Justice for Sisters, and the Make it Movement.

This provided students with useful insights and perspectives into the myriad ways people can create change and enhance tolerance and inclusivity locally, giving them a solid base to tackle the practical challenge they were set as part of the programme: 'What can be done to create tolerant and inclusive communities in their institutions and beyond?'.

When the students were asked to reflect on what they would take away from the event, Jiwani Peters, from The University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, commented: 'I've learnt that it starts with myself. By being able to look outside of your problem to get a broader perspective on the global problems, then relating them back and tackling yours.'

Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General of the ACU, said: 'The Commonwealth is a fantastic framework for dialogue, engagement, and exchange across borders, cultures and faiths. The diversity of our members, and their willingness to cooperate, inspired a very special campaign on the role of universities in promoting mutual respect and understanding between people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures.

'While gathering dozens of case studies and encouraging more than 350 individuals and institutions to sign up to a Statement of shared values, we decided to convene student leaders to learn from each other and develop practical means to promote respect and understanding in their institutions and communities. We are committed to supporting these remarkable students' journeys as they go back home to drive positive social change.'

Professor Mushtak Al-Atabi, Provost of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia campus, said: 'We were honoured to host the ACU Residential School this year at our Malaysia campus. As a member of the ACU since 1996, Heriot-Watt believes in the fundamentals of cultivating respect and understanding as part of the university's core values. Malaysia itself is a large multi-ethnic country that has long embraced diversity as one of our primary strengths, hence we support the ACU's effort to continuously harness the power of inclusivity, respect and tolerance. This, we believe, is pertinent for a positive social change not just for our own community, but for other institutions and global communities.'

Andy Coxall, Chief Executive of Common Purpose Student Experiences, said: 'Students need new competencies and skills fit for the 21st century, to be successful and to tackle the complex challenges they and the world face. We were delighted to work with the ACU and Heriot-Watt to deliver this programme, and to enable students to develop their leadership skills and Cultural Intelligence – the ability to cross boundaries and thrive in multiple cultures.'

The ACU would like to thank Heriot-Watt University Malaysia for hosting the residential school.

More information

The ACU Residential School forms part of the ACU's wider work on respect and understanding, a project which is supported by the UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The School was further supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Find out more about the ACU respect campaign – and how you can get involved – here:

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