Dorm spot-checks: Singapore’s NUS welcomes initiative by students’ union, but undergrads say it’s ‘like the military’

While they applauded the introduction of the helpline for camp participants, some felt that Nussu’s plan to increase safety measures on campus were a 'reactive' response to recent incidents and that they did not play to the strengths of the union.— Today pic
While they applauded the introduction of the helpline for camp participants, some felt that Nussu’s plan to increase safety measures on campus were a 'reactive' response to recent incidents and that they did not play to the strengths of the union.— Today pic

SINGAPORE, May 17 — Plans for night patrols by the students’ union to deter peeping toms and other “inappropriate behaviour” at the National University of Singapore (NUS) were welcomed by the university administration this week, but the move has not been not well-received by all students.

Benjamin Loo, 25, president of the NUS Students’ Union (Nussu), said that appointed executive committee members from the union will be patrolling the corridors and common areas of halls and residences, to look out for freshmen and seniors engaging in behaviour such as smoking and drinking.

Nussu’s deputy student life secretary Richard Wang, 24, said that these appointed members will also be checking that two or more camp participants are not found in a room meant for a single student.

These checks will be done throughout the two-month freshmen orientation period starting in June and ending in the second week of August. On Wednesday (May 15), NUS approved these plans.

Associate Professor Peter Pang, dean of students at NUS, said: “We welcome this ground-up initiative by Nussu to organise student patrol teams to conduct checks during the orientation period. The safety and well-being of our students is always a top priority of NUS.”

Wang said that the union will also be adding a 24-hour victim support and feedback helpline during the orientation period.

Some other details are being worked out and an overview of the safety framework will be released to all students by June 1, before orientation programmes begin, he added.

These initiatives come a month after a nationwide discussion was sparked when undergraduate Monica Baey took to Instagram to share her ordeal as a victim of voyeurism. Just last Saturday, a student was arrested for allegedly filming a female student in a hostel bathroom.

This is not the first time the university’s freshmen orientation practices have come under scrutiny. In 2016, NUS suspended its orientation camps and activities after reports surfaced that its camp activities had become increasingly sexualised.

‘We’re all adults here’

Most students interviewed by TODAY opposed their union’s initiative, saying that the checks of students rooms sound “invasive” and “heavy-handed”.

Incoming computing student Joshua Wong, 21, said that being constantly monitored and forced to go to bed at night “feels like the military” and would “spoil the mood” of orientation camps meant for students to socialise and make friends.

Ryan Leow, 21, a second-year law student said that checks of the students’ rooms will “infringe their privacy” and “instil a culture of fear”. “Enforcing rules is one thing, but turning NUS into a surveillance state is another.”

An incoming medical student who wanted to be known only as Isaac, 23, said that his seniors had told him that socialising over supper usually takes place after hours during the camp. “Having people knocking on my door at night to check on me — I find that lack of trust a bit offensive.”

An arts and social science student who wanted to be known only as Tricia, 22, said: “We’re all adults here. This is a university. Why are we being monitored 24/7?”

Others, such as theatre-studies major Dana Yeo, 21, questioned if the students conducting the patrol will be “properly equipped to handle such situations”. Otherwise, she added, “it doesn’t really provide any additional assurance”.

A ‘reactive’ response to recent incidents

While they applauded the introduction of the helpline for camp participants, some felt that Nussu’s plan to increase safety measures on campus were a “reactive” response to recent incidents and that they did not play to the strengths of the union.

A student committee member from a hostel in NUS, who requested anonymity, said that as the students’ representative, Nussu should be focusing on supporting participants and educating the student leaders instead. “If they can’t carry it out properly then don’t do it for the face value. It’s gonna make things worse.”

Second-year undergraduate Bryan Quek, 23, suggested that instead of playing a “cat-and-mouse game” with students, the union should reinforce the message that there should be no tolerance of sexual misbehaviour on campus.

In a long Facebook post on Wednesday, an online satire page named “NUS Student United” called the unions’ proposal “terribly ill-conceived” and a form of “insincere tokenism”. The group is often critical of the university and its union, and is believed to be run by former and current NUS students.

“Sexual misbehaviour during orientation is a fundamentally social issue: There is social pressure to conform to an idealised ‘happening’/’vogue’ conception of university life,” the group said.

It added that freshmen might feel “compelled” to participate despite feeling uncomfortable, “lest they get ostracised for the rest of their university life”.

Miss Tricia said: “I’m not saying the initiative is a bad one — but it’s definitely not the sharpest idea they’re putting out there.”

Like many other students, Miss Tricia also said that Nussu should focus on reminding student leaders about consent and not pressurising freshmen to take part in activities they may not feel comfortable enough to take part.

“A new atmosphere and environment needs to be created in the camps and it begins with the student body itself,” she added. — TODAY

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