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Coping with Diversity

Colored pencils coping diversity
 
Our world today has become a global village much faster than many people would ever think before; with just one ‘click’, words and news from a corner of a country will reach other parts of the world and go viral in social media. Good news, bad news, hoaxes fill our space traffic. However, as globalization intensifies, local responses to resist globalization also become more apparent, because their resistance goes viral also along the lines of information tracts. As a digital migrant myself, I have been wondering about the advent of such information technology that keeps going and advancing more and more; it is not easy for me to digest and understand what it will reach and where it will end. 
While millions of people like me are still confronted with surprises presented by such digital information technology, artificial intelligence has entered our world taking over human tasks with diligent and high quality and precision. Thus we wonder whether artificial intelligence will be able to feel, to believe, to connect and have relations with the Divine, to exercise its own agency. Explanations about how far humans might be involved in making and giving this artificial intelligence the ‘ability’ to feel, connect, have relationships, and in what ways, will involve ethical issues and consequences. What about the artificial intelligence that commits evil acts, who shall be accountable for them? Higher education is one of the proper places where such ethical issues must be discussed, and comprehended.
 
Higher education, despite having similarities as an important institution to promote social change across many countries and society, is also undoubtedly bound to its local contexts. Among most significant local contexts are culture/civilization, religion and the political orientation of the country where this higher education is developed. Local culture, religion and political will and orientation of the contexts where we live will intervene and influence the prioritized purposes of higher education; thus the fundamental question of what is the purpose of higher education is susceptible to differences. The kind of scientific research agenda is another source of diversity; some higher education in one country or community might focus on IT advancement, while others on medicine, or on humanities and social sciences. Public policies related to higher education contain ethical considerations.
 
In the case of Indonesia, for instance, according to the Law on Higher Education no 12 Year 2012, the purposes of higher education are first to cultivate students’ potency to become a faithful person, obedient to God, practice good character, healthy, knowledgeable, creative, skillful, competent and civilized for the interests of the nation. Second it must produce graduates with specific knowledge and technology deemed necessary for national interests and competitiveness; third to produce scientific knowledge and technology through research that takes into account human values, and peoples’ wellbeing. Fourth, to create community services and engagements based on research and scientific rationality for public welfare. In Indonesia alone, home to some 260 million people of diverse races, ethnic groups, cultures and religions, each point of the purposes above have become interesting topics of discussions, and sometimes tensions arise when differences of opinions and views intensifies. 
 
In recent decades we have witnessed many tragic events committed by people who were not able to bear living together with people of different races, different cultures, different religions, and different political orientations. Thus these people tried to marginalize, to demonize and to eliminate those who are different. The question is whether diversity is something ethically wrong and evil?
 
My own experiences and understanding tell me that there is nothing wrong –ethically or socially in diversity of race, ethnicity, religion, and political orientation. The evil and ethical issues that invite resentment must lie somewhere else. The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), a consortium of three leading universities in Indonesia which have diverse academic strengths and religious affiliations has strengthened my views about the origins and causes of unethical practices. The founding universities are Universitas Gadjah Mada, a public, religiously neutral university (or multi religious), Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga, among the oldest and largest Islamic universities in the country, and Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana, one of the finest Christian universities. Together, through ICRS, these three universities develop a doctoral program in Inter-Religious Studies, which also adopts inter-disciplinary approaches. Diversity is at the heart of ICRS academic affairs, management dealings and social engagements. 
 
When we look deeper at many catastrophic events involving demonization of the people of other races, faiths and cultures for example, we could find objective, empirical problems at different layers. In many cases that I hear about the problems lie in survival strategy and losing privilege, in the widening gap between the haves and the haves not; in the injustice of distribution of power and resources; in the discriminatory practices; in the selective, favoritism of law enforcement; in the competition of many kinds –influences, military strength, technological advancement, the inability of the regime to fulfill its promises, and others.
 
Diversity of human identity is natural, and even beautiful; just like the beauty of diverse natures –flowers, animals, oceans, mountains, in our world; what is not natural are our responses and how we cope with diversity. It is part of the tasks of higher education, in my view, to educate people to recognize and respect the natural diversity, and to be able to identify problems that have created tensions among diverse people. Thus tackling the problems in a proper manner, and not blaming diversity.
 

Siti Syamsiyatun,Professor at the Indonesian Consortuim for religious Studies (ICRS) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Globethics.net Board member and Director of the Globethics.net Indonesia Regional Programme, made this reflection at the start of the Globethics.net Board of Foundation meeting in Geneva, Swizterland on Friday 12 April 2019.

 
Siti Syamsiyatun, Globethics.net Board MemberSiti Syamsiyatun
Globethics.net Board Member