Academic journal article Ahfad Journal

Assessing Diversity at Ahfad University for Women AUW: Perception and Management

Academic journal article Ahfad Journal

Assessing Diversity at Ahfad University for Women AUW: Perception and Management

Article excerpt

Introduction

Failure of diversity management is often the root of many conflicts. In the case of Sudan, and despite the complexity of internal conflicts, it is undeniable that failure to attend to the needs of minorities, unequal treatment and discrimination in a diverse context are directly connected to the various problems of coexistence. This has not only led to the reconfiguration of its borders with the separation of South Sudan in 2011, but also to internal unrest leading to continuous protests and demands for a change of regime (El Hassan 2009).

Sudan's diversity is based on the coexistence of peoples who have traditionally lived in different regions which ended up belonging to the same central political unity, the state of Sudan. The differences in religion, traditions, folklore, economic means of living, social organization etc. form different identities which, at the same time, share traits making them all Sudanese in the eyes of those outside, such as belonging to their homeland and their sense of nationalism.

Different ways of understanding cultures and identities in modern societies lead to differing diversity management theories. In all of them, though, education plays a main role, since transformation takes time, but implies necessarily the change in human attitudes, which comes only through sensitization, information, new perspectives, i.e. education. Higher education is key to such change in particular, since students at that stage are not only capable of learning, but also of thinking critically, of making new perspectives and attitudes theirs and take them to the 'real world' once they enter the professional arena and their lives outside the campuses.

In Sudan, there are many higher education institutions, but not all of them deal with diversity in the same way, thus contributing differently to the long-term transformation of the Sudanese society towards peace, equality and social justice. Ahfad University for Women (AUW) is a higher education institution officially committed to equality since its foundation, in particular to gender equality. It is a university for women in a country where women were denied the right to study for decades due to the structure of the society which tended to confine its female members to the private sphere and to reserve the public sphere, including schools, for its male members.

In its quest for equality, AUW has become aware that other inequalities needed attention too: rural vs. urban, periphery vs. centre, rich vs. poor, Muslim vs Christian, etc. Accordingly, its administration adapted the admission policies to support equal opportunities for access to education through affirmative action. The university's institutional secularity also contributes to the equal treatment of students irrespective of their religion. A grant program works for 70% of the students at different levels so that their socioeconomic status does not stand as an obstacle for education. At the same time, it was made compulsory for all students to study a course on gender equality, and recently a course on cultural diversity in Sudan was added, in order to help students to familiarize themselves with and learn to love and respect Sudanese diversity (oral information from the International Relations Office).

AUW is known in Sudan for having taken a stand against injustice based on their commitment to gender equality in particular, and equality in general, by introducing special courses on gender and women studies, in addition to several master programs in gender, peace and development issues. Accordingly, AUW holds dear policies and practices intended to increase the level of equality, not only concerning access to university, but also concerning the thinking of graduates who become active members of society.

Finally, AUW makes all its students engage in some kind of civic activity in the hope that by experiencing how to contribute to society they will continue to do so after their graduation. …

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