Not satisfied with the disproportionate emphasis on social or bonding activities and the management committee’s (MC) perceived role as a mere organiser of welfare events, student nominees for the 13th MC promised to pay more attention to academic programmes – within and beyond the classroom – in USP. And with the rapid emergence of residential and scholastic alternatives in the university, the need to maintain (or possibly, reinvent) its uniqueness has heightened. Community service involvement, alumni relations, and Rag were other hot-button issues raised last night.
Clearly, drastic change in the status quo – to a vision of USP that may have been forgotten in recent years – were on the minds of many of the candidates. Talia Seet, running for Vice President (Community Life), wanted to “work towards a USP that is potentially and fundamentally different”; an interdisciplinary community that is dynamic, curious, and concerned.
Varun Soni – running for Vice-President (Student Welfare) – explained that “the USP is an academic programme, … [and that] it should be a breeding ground for ideas to have sex”, alluding to the title of a TED Talk by Matt Ridley, a British scientist and journalist. He then challenged the audience to envision their ideal USC, and to think about their corresponding roles.
This view was affirmed by the potential Director of Academic Affairs Elson Ng, who described the prevalent reluctance of some USP students to venture beyond their intellectual comfort zone. “Minority academic groups” tend to be neglected, and future inquiry modules could and should include underrepresented fields such as Engineering and Chemistry. He contended that USP students should be willing to try out new modules within the structured curriculum, and how there should be more intellectual discourse outside of classes. When asked how he would improve the current curriculum and reduce incompatibilities with some minority majors such as Architecture, Elson said that he would look into more collaboration with partner faculties. He also felt that informal learning was an important part of the USP experience, and this culture of curiosity could be encouraged by facilitating the organisation of academic events such as Confluence and also supporting academic interest groups.
Jonathan Chua, running for the position of Honorary General Secretary, personally felt that USC should not simply aim to be a multidisciplinary and vibrant community, but also aspire to be more politically active, highlighting the need to “revitalise a spirit of constructive criticism”. He proposed a participatory budget involving key stakeholders, which will then be approved through a referendum. Student government was an opportunity for the political leaders of tomorrow to practice democratic ideas, as what you will do here will affect the future of Singapore, he said.
Questions were raised regarding what will be done to foster alumni relations – perhaps even a space reserved in Cinnamon for alumni? With the recent conclusion of the alumni-organised We Will Dance, it is clear that USP alumni are willing to engage with USC; it is whether we reciprocate this engagement. Zhe Wen replied that with the transition to the RC, the genius loci of places such as Chatterbox have been lost, and it is up to the new batches to define the new spaces. Engagement could come instead through professions – networking alumni with students based on their field.
Another issue raised was getting students continually engaged in community service – a perennial challenge faced by the Director of Community Service. While both candidates for the position largely agreed that there should be a combination of one-off and recurring events, they had different emphases on what would get students engaged. Mitchelle observed from personal experience that recurring events lose interest after a while, and felt that increasing the convenience of volunteering – for example, situating the location nearer to school – would raise involvement. She is also considering working with other directors to start more creative events (like a Colour Run) to engage students. Kenneth believed that community service projects should not be prolonged for length’s sake, but be based on the actual needs of the community being served – this will allow involvement to be genuinely motivated. He also spoke about the importance of monitoring the progress of community service projects at all stages, as well as the possibility of collaborating with community services in residential colleges and NUS such as the Community Service Club.
While the position of Social and Cultural Activities Director is uncontested, USC members wanted to know how Seng Chiy would foster social interaction going forward. Seng Chiy felt that the current social structure within USP is segregated often between houses or years, and hoped to foster an inclusive community where anyone could easily interact across these divisions. He hoped to address the problem of senior non-participation with more personal invitations instead of just Facebook or email blasts. A question from left field about the future of USProductions revealed his unfamiliarity with what it is they exactly do, but he assured the questioner that he would find out more about it as well as other cultural IGs. He agreed with the some of the other candidates that USP isn’t an events-based community, and the type and frequency of the social activities should be considered in relation to the community’s needs and not for its own sake.
Glenn is also running for an uncontested position, but students were concerned with what he had in mind to continue and improve the outgoing PR Director’s efforts. While there was some disagreement with regards to whether it is the PR Director’s role to ensure the parity of publicity across the board, Glenn’s opinion was that events organisers should take care of their own publicity, but can come to him for assistance if they need help with it. He also concurred with a student than more could be done to integrate exchange students living in Cinnamon with the USP community, e.g. by dispersing exchange students instead of putting them together in the same suite.
Sports was largely an uncontroversial issue at last night’s Q&A, but with the intention to emphasise the academic environment, it is on the onus of the Sports Director to ensure that the sports culture in USP remains vibrant. Ying Ting and Jared largely concurred on the need to help less popular sports with publicity and awareness, and building personal relationships with the captains of various sports IGs in order to understand their needs and be able to support them.
Right before the conclusion of the session, a student asked: “What is the reason we are still doing Rag? Why must we do Rag? Is there anything more than just bonding people? Because I don’t think that is a valid reason.” Arjun maintained that Rag was a constructive platform for bonding between the houses and put us on the same platform with other faculties. While Zhe Wen demurred on the need for Rag to define us as a faculty, he felt that Rag should not be scrapped for the sake of scrapping, but is willing to explore feasible alternatives for pre-semester community bonding. Jonathan took the other extreme, stating that he ‘unequivocally reject(s) Rag’, based on reasons such as the drain on finances, personal time, energy of the participants, and the waste of talent. The diversity of views on the issue of Rag indicate that whoever gets into the 13th MC will decide how USP approaches Rag in the coming year.
At the beginning of the Q&A, Zhe Wen proclaimed that “our words would just be lip service if you do not hold us accountable.” Many of the changes proposed are radical and the perspectives articulated will indeed shape the vision and roadmap of the 13th MC. It is now the responsibility of the student electorate to consider everything the nominees have said and vote wisely.
By Benjamin Ho and Kwan Jin Yao