Changing perspectives

Promoting diversity and tolerance for a more inclusive future

In a diverse society, rich in multiplicities of culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of the human identity, rigid social norms based on identity begin to lose their practicality.

Most of us go through life well-aware of these norms, but sometimes lack the empathy or courage to think outside of the norms and question whether losing these norms would be such a detriment.

Yes, of course, laws are norms too, and we need norms to function as a social collective. But outside of laws, we live lives governed by vast generalizations of what it means to be a good human being, often dictated by culture, race, or religion, and those that ascribe to different expressions of culture, race, or religion are often judged negatively.

With this context in mind, the Centre for Enterprise and Society (CES) at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) embarked on a quest to encourage practices of diversity, tolerance, and pluralism, first among its students, and next among the larger community of learners and instructors in Bangladesh.

Having implemented projects related to diversity, tolerance, and pluralism, in 2020, CES set out to design and launch a massive open online course (MOOC) to promote diversity, tolerance, and pluralism, through an online edTech platform called Bohubrihi.

The architect of the ongoing initiative was none other than Sajid Amit, Associate Professor at ULAB, and Director, Centre for Enterprise and Society. Amit recruited expert lecturers from all over the world, both from academia and the private sector, to participate in the online course.

Expert lecturers included Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, Impact and Policy research institute (IMPRI); Syeda Shagufe Hossain, Founder and Executive Director, Leaping Boundaries; Rigan Chakma, Senior Lecturer, Global Political Economy, Sociology, and Bangladesh Studies, ULAB; Lumbini Barua, Social Researcher, PhD candidate, Virginia Tech University; Farzana Ahmed, MEAL Coordinator, Action against Hunger, Start Fund Bangladesh; Fahmida Rahman, Lecturer, Political Science, BRAC University; Abantee Harun, Assistant Professor, General Education Department, ULAB; and the pre-eminent global scholar on this topic, Dr Tariq Modood, OBE, Founding Director, Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, Bristol University, UK.

The MOOC was developed at the height of the pandemic, thanks to the hard work of the project team. Over 10,000 people are aware of the MOOC, and over 500 students have completed it already.

From those that have completed the course, the feedback has been very positive. Tasniya Tabassum, a MOOC participant, reported: “I work in the PR department at a private company, and the course really helped me to understand the opposite perspective, accept the diversity within different chains of work, and become more compassionate and respectful towards other perceptions and views.”

Mirza Galib Hasan remarked: “Secularism is spreading rapidly in our communities and is linked to the economic development process. I take religion for granted, but the ULAB MOOC helped me understand that religion still continues to be a significant political player throughout the world.”

As a next step in the evolution of the MOOC, ULAB is collaborating with other leading public and private universities such as the University of Dhaka (DU), BRAC University, North South University (NSU), Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB), and American International University-Bangladesh (AIUB).

Faculty Ambassadors at each of these universities are helping spread the word of the MOOC to their respective campuses, which include Fahmida Rahman of BRAC University; Tawhida Jahan of University of Dhaka; Mehedi Azad Shawon of AIUB; Samuel Mursalin of NSU; and Md Abu Sayed of IUB. The University of Dhaka is also going to organize a debate competition on topics related to diversity, tolerance, and pluralism. 

 

Associate Professor Sajid Amit, Director of CES, said: “Diversity, tolerance, and pluralism are at the heart of what makes us Bangladeshi and human.” I have felt strongly about the promotion of tolerance ever since the September 11 attacks, and this impulse intensified during the tragic events of 2013-2016 when extremism reared its ugly head in Bangladesh.

 

This project, currently in its fifth year, also secured the 39th position out of the top 50 universities under the Ethical Value category in the Global Top 100 Innovative Universities in the World's Universities with Real Impact (WURI) ranking for 2021.

On Thursday, April 21, at 5pm, CES will be organizing a networking event at the ULAB Research Building on Satmasjid Road, Dhanmondi. Everyone who has completed this MOOC, as well as faculty ambassadors from ULAB’s partner universities, are invited to attend. This will be a wonderful opportunity to network with fellow graduates across universities, and form a community united in the spirit of promotion of diversity and tolerance. The MOOC is available here: https://bohubrihi.com/course-pages/ulab-mooc/

 

Swarna Roy is from the Centre for Enterprise and Society, ULAB.

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