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Carving Out a Space for Virtue

Prof. Alan Chan on Diversity and Inclusion

Prof. Alan Chan thinks that diversity and inclusion serve much more than a regulatory function but foster fruitful exchanges and point to the possibility of virtue

The Diversity and Inclusion Policy of CUHK is an affirmation of the University’s pledge to uphold the principles of openness and inclusivity. Prof. Alan Chan, Provost and J. S. Lee Professor of Chinese Culture, shares with us his thoughts on diversity and inclusion and why they are crucial to the fulfilment of the University’s vision and missions.

Why is diversity important to a university?

A university is a microcosm of the larger society, and this is the context in which the question of diversity should be placed. At one level, diversity simply describes the human condition. People and things are just different. But diversity is also a value we cherish. Just as biodiversity makes for a more wholesome environment, human diversity creates a more vibrant society. If we agree that diversity holds intrinsic value, and is a precondition for the flourishing of humanity, then we need to make sure that diversity is not only preserved but also celebrated.

How is diversity expressed in CUHK’s educational philosophy?

Respect for diversity has always been a core value at CUHK. This should be clear if you look at our University motto, ‘Through Learning and Temperance to Virtue’ (or, in Chinese, ‘Bo Wen Yue Li’). The two nouns in the Chinese version, wen and li, emphasize the centrality of learning, wen, as well as propriety or proper conduct, li, in personal and social development. And specifically, li serves not only to manage or regulate diversity but also, in a positive sense, enable a community to thrive, as it cultivates ethically informed relationships that would allow optimal production and sharing for mutual benefit.

So, embracing diversity is a part of the CUHK DNA, one might say. This entails inclusion. This is the reason why diversity and inclusion form a pair; without inclusion, diversity as a value cannot be realized. Now, if that’s the case, what does inclusion itself entail? A policy on diversity and inclusion is therefore needed to spell that out.

How does the newly introduced Policy on Diversity and Inclusion articulate that philosophy?

The University’s Policy on Diversity and Inclusion makes clear that openness and mutual respect are key ingredients for nurturing a diverse or pluralistic community. Openness means that we do not see ourselves as the centre of the universe but recognize the inherent worth of all human beings. Openness means that we see everyone as an equal partner in life’s great pursuits, no matter what views we hold or how different we may be, and that we have much to learn from one another. If we take that to heart, mutual respect should naturally follow. And mutual respect would translate into empathy, civility, and in short, li, propriety or proper conduct.

In this context, the Policy on Diversity and Inclusion articulates more fully the value of diversity and the principles of community that the University upholds. The Policy, which is the result of a long process of deliberations and consultations, led by the former Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof. Fanny Cheung, affirms the need to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all members of the CUHK community and serves as a standard for our personal and collective behaviour.

How will the objectives in the Policy be achieved?

The Policy brings together the different policies, programmes and offices that have already been in place at the University to safeguard and promote diversity and inclusion. The newly established Diversity and Inclusion Office, or DIO for short, will work closely with the Faculties, Colleges, Graduate School, and other offices and programmes to coordinate campus-wide activities to help foster a diverse and inclusive environment so that all of us who study, learn, do research, work, play and live on campus would feel welcome and have a strong sense of belonging to the University community. DIO will report to a university-level steering committee which I chair.

What activities are being planned by the Diversity and Inclusion Office?

Both educational and cultural activities promoting diversity and inclusion are being planned. We would particularly like to engage student ambassadors in this effort. To embrace diversity does require us to step out of our comfort zone, suspend any preconceptions about beliefs or practices that are unfamiliar to us or different from those we hold, lest they become prejudices. When good people come together, as we listen and share, good things will happen!

Responsibilities would come with the implementation of the Policy, wouldn’t they?

Yes, inevitably, there will be occasions where the University will have to intervene to defend those who are discriminated or bullied against, or face harassment. The University has zero tolerance for any form of hatred, violence, discrimination or harassment, which is detrimental to the quest for excellence to which we are all committed. There are grievance procedures and disciplinary frameworks that deal with such incidents. Still, this also shows why we need to do more to bring out the positive value of diversity and inclusion.

What would you like to say to CUHK members to encourage them to play their parts in upholding diversity on campus?

All of us have chosen CUHK because of its excellence and because we share the values of the University. We cannot achieve our mission if we do not cherish diversity and respect individual differences. This really cuts to the heart of the matter. Fundamentally, a university seeks to cultivate an environment in which different conceptions of the good life can equally flourish. We encourage diversity, because it adds depth to our experience and widens our intellectual horizon. No member of the University community should impose their views on others. Rather, it is through openness, empathy, mutual respect and reasoned discourse, which is the only currency in a house of learning, that we seek to forge a better society.

As a scholar in Chinese philosophy, how do you view diversity and inclusion?

In Chinese philosophy, the self is conceived as being constituted by a network of relationships—not just situated in a network of relationships, but constituted by them; that is to say, they inform, make us who we are, and for that reason, li is crucially important because it is the golden thread that weaves relationships into a beautiful fabric. I can go on and on about this! But let me just say, the concepts of wen and li always go hand in hand and will need to be freshly interpreted for every generation. Learning today encompasses a far richer array of subjects than it did in ancient times. Wen shouldn’t be restricted to mean the humanities but refers broadly to knowledge and sound habits and discipline of mind that allow us to deliberate on different phenomena and learn to be considerate. You see, being considerate has a cognitive dimension to it that requires learning in the broad sense of the word. Li is also never stagnant. Nevertheless, the fundamental insight remains that the world is a complex dynamic system shaped by relationships. Whereas learning enriches our world with new insight and discoveries that provide solutions to the challenge we face and create new opportunities for growth, li in the sense of behaviour that is both right and fitting, helps shape relationships into ethical influences that bring out the best in all of us. In this sense, diversity and inclusion serve much more than a regulative function but rather point to the possibility of virtue.

As told to tommycho@cuhkcontents

diversity and inclusion campus diversity Diversity and Inclusion Office Alan Chan Provost J. S. Lee Professor of Chinese Culture