University students will be university students. Get over it.
We can react but we shouldn't overreact.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) has put a halt to most university orientation activities following allegations of “sexualised” activities and “hazing” going on in orientation camps.
The reaction to the ban was documented in a Sunday Times feature, which included a statement by student groups such as Yale-NUS’ G-Spot and NUS’ Gender Collective.
They noted that the ban was a “symptomatic, not fundamental solution to a problem“.
The article, which also featured the responses of graduates and student organisers, summarised the students’ concerns as such:
Many undergraduates are upset. They said they are old enough to decide what is appropriate for them, and do not need parents and the authorities breathing down their necks. They added that most activities follow guidelines, and while some “black sheep” push the limits of good taste – it is not fair to tar everyone with the same brush.
Reactions to the piece showed that people were upset, naturally.
The top-voted comments on the ST facebook page virtually said the same thing: “Shut up”
Some even invoked the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
And more started blaming the G-Spot (an LGBT-friendly youth group) and liberals for what happened:
These people really misunderstand university orientations
If they had read the Sunday Times article, they would have found out the following:
– That the NUS Office of Student Affairs imposes strict rules for camps, and students face the risk of being suspended or expelled.
– SMU enforces strict rules on separate sleeping arrangements, and physical contact between genders must be kept to the minimum.
– The bulk of the activities that happen usually involve team-building games and do not usually have sexual overtones. (Yes, reading comments from some netizens, you would think they assume camps are jam-packed with four days’ worth of ‘sex’ games.)
– People can sit it out if they feel uncomfortable – though some find it difficult to say no
– After the New Paper report, organisers of hall camps were requested to scrap games that involved any body contact.
It’s certainly possible that the crowd of older commenters had a defensive, parental instinct fired up when they read the original Straits Times Facebook post.
But they also may not have the full picture of what goes on exactly before, during and after orientation camps.
Positive externalities of camps lost
For students who have been through orientation camps, they know that they contribute to campus culture and student life. The most obvious benefit is that students get to socialise and form friendships before school starts.
This sense of community will not be as pronounced with orientation activities cancelled. Expect to see some first-year students eating alone during their breaks or looking lost during lectures.
Many potential friendships formed during orientation activities may no longer be possible because of the actions of a few bad apples.
Online chiding achieves little
Instead of focusing their efforts at offering solutions to solve the problem — through dialogue, training, and a change in culture — the public reacted with outrage.
Students naturally will feel that the public have unduly reprimanded them (even if they were not the ones responsible for “sex” games) for requesting more space to manage their lives as an adult.
On the bright side, at least this issue has had some public airing.
And no one has been called up for disciplinary action. Yet.
Top photo from NUS Physics Orientation Facebook