By Devesh Narayanan
“Please keep your questions and answers as concise as possible”, began the election officer in an almost foreboding manner, as bags of popcorn were (fittingly) passed around the audience. The community had gathered to meet and question the candidates running for the 18th USC Management Committee.
The candidates were:
- Jeremy Jee (Year 4, Computer Science) running for President
- Xinyi Teoh (Year 2, FASS) running for Vice President (Community Life)
- Sanchita Sachdev (Year 2, Business) running for Vice President (Welfare)
- Chik Cheng Yao (Year 2, Computer Science) running for Hon. Gen. Secretary
- Moh Su Jin (Year 4, Business) and Quek Si Ying (Year 2, Science) running for Hon. Fin. Secretary
- Chow Kit Ying (Year 3, FASS), running for the new position of Academic Director
The position of FOP Director remains vacant, and will be filled after this election cycle.
A video of the session may be found on USP’s Facebook group USPLife!, along with copies of the candidates’ manifestos: this is where you should go to form your own fair, nuanced assessment of their suitability for the MC.
I found it difficult, however, to distance myself from my opinions in the writing of this article. I could not, then, write this as a news article – I had to pepper in my opinions as well. Is this the exasperating jadedness that seniors often talk about? Is this batch of MC candidates particularly underprepared? A bit of both. Still, do not look to this piece for objectivity, and do not allow this to be the only piece you read before voting.
With that disclaimer, I’ll start by summarizing their campaign speeches.
Xinyi spoke about how “community life is community based”, and then presented a sizeable list of “system and policy level initiatives” that were aimed at removing the barriers to community life involvement. Getting rid of IG/GUI categories (like ‘academic’, ‘welfare’ and so on) and removing red-tape for small-scale GUIs were two such policy suggestions.
Jeremy had an impressively detailed list of policies, under the frames of “Making USP a home for all”, and “building a fulfilling and sustainable USC”. He spoke about how his core leadership philosophy is to reject the status quo for the pursuit of new things. He then proceeded to articulate various policies to improve USP spaces. Jeremy served as Hon. Gen. Secretary in the 17th USC MC, and was also part of the USPaces team set up with the aim of refurbishing USP’s common areas for greater utility. One may look to the current theme rooms and what used to be the prototyping studio for the results of their efforts.
Cheng Yao also spoke about making USP feel more familiar, more like a home. He spoke of various tech initiatives to make online platforms such as Cinnabot “more coherent”. He also pledged to “do something about Proto Studio”, much to the amusement of the gathered audience. Cinnabot is a telegram bot made functional by the 17th Management Committee’s technology development team, that is currently used, among other things, to access bus timings, access spaces bookings and broadcast event information.
Siying spoke about nurturing her finance committee so they could better manage our USC finances. She also listed out various finance policies under the usual categories: make fund claims easier, improve USC pitchbook, improve fundraising, and so on.
Sanchita also framed her presentation around the idea of “making USP a home”. Inside this frame, she proceeded to list out the various things that were already in the Vice President’s portfolio (Welfare).
Su Jin spent about half her presentation touting an impressive array of financial credentials. “I’ve done a lot of Modular Credits over the four years; it’s time to try a new kind of MC”, she said, to collective groans.
Finally, Kit Ying made the promise of helping students “get the most out of their university life”. She hopes to cut through the rigidities of curriculum, to “make the academic structure more flexible”. Policy suggestions under this theme included two evening USP modules every semester, and more double-counting options for students to fulfil major requirements.
What does it mean to make USP a home?
Almost every candidate, at some point, alluded to the idea of homeliness, proffering various interpretations of the concept and policies to achieve this ideal. Often used to define homeliness were only two marginally less nebulous concepts – familiarity and inclusivity.
Cheng Yao and Jeremy spoke about the familiarity of spaces – building spaces to evoke a sense of belonging, through participatory decorations and improved common facilities.
Xinyi and Jeremy spoke of an inclusive community life – where one could walk into any social group and find familiar faces. Both held that this sort of inclusivity would best be achieved if there was a variety of strong social support systems for any USP student to choose from.
When Sanchita was pressed for her vision of inclusivity, she said the house committees were responsible for creating an inclusive space where “no one would feel awkward”. When asked about her role in building this inclusivity, she said that she would ask the house committees nicely to be inclusive [Writer’s note: I paraphrase slightly].
One might be forgiven to think that homeliness, inclusivity and familiarity are all vacuous terms being loosely used to define each other. Some candidates, however, fared better by grounding these terms in concrete policies.
[Writer’s note: We also learned that few people in the USP community can pronounce inclusivity. In-cloo-si-ti-vity? In-cloo-si-tea?]
On ‘strengthening the USC committee identity’
Many candidates felt that it was particularly important to have a strong USC committee identity, so that the various sub-committees serving the USP community could encourage each other to work harder and “not burn out”. Some of the candidates – particularly Jeremy and Si Ying – saw their roles as the guardians of these bonded USC committees, and pledged to expend effort to make sure the communities worked well together.
Other candidates pointed to their own affable leadership styles. Kit Yung and Sanchita spoke of “flat hierarchies in committees” and being an “open and receptive leader”. Su Jin said: “I’m very nice to work with”, before bursting into giggles.
One candidate likened the strong, bonded USC committees to a family – which ties in nicely with the pervasive theme of making USP a home. Except that, as we’re often told, USC is not USP.
On getting rid of ‘red-tape’
Many candidates held that there was a lot to be gained from removing and/or optimizing various bureaucratic processes; Cheng Yao pointed to inefficiencies in our online platforms, and pledged to optimize Cinnabot as an integrated, unified platform; Si Ying and Su Jin pledged to make the process of claiming money less daunting. Xin Yi pledged the same for GUIs and IG registration; Jeremy, on the other hand, thought it necessary to add a new category – “Circles” – so that groups with niche interests could register under the USC.
It was clear that some candidates had put a lot more thought into their campaign than others. Sighs of frustration and snorts of derision marked a QnA session that had both nuanced, thoughtful policy suggestions and naïve, empty comments in equal measure.
The candidates, likely pressured under the spotlight, parried questions cryptically and surprised themselves with improvised policy plans. The audience, on the other hand, was straining to try a little kindness.
When the dust had settled, an exasperated audience member was overheard asking: “What if no one gets in ah?”
It now falls on the community to make their decision.
The voting portal opened last night (Aug 22) at 10 p.m., and will close on Friday (Aug 24) at 10 p.m. You can find the candidates’ manifestos and a video of the QnA session on USPLife!
As a senior, my only advice is to read them carefully before voting.
And a kind reminder to exercise your vote wisely!
The writer served as Vice President (Welfare) in the 16th USC MC, as Residential Assistant in AY 16/17, and in a smattering of other positions in the USP community. He usually lives in a hole under a rock, but came out to make noise because the situation called for it.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own.