story | Dave Chappell, Executive Editor
photo | Angad Srivastava and Dave Chappell
At Yale-NUS College I’ve heard many variations of the following phrase: “if something happens once it’s an innovation; if it happens twice it’s a tradition.” It’s a phrase that I think embodies the spirit of the Class of 2018. We joined an already innovative college teeming with new organizations and helped decide which organization continued and shaped those that did.
Last year The Octant’s founders and first Editors-in-Chief, Joyan Tan ’17 and Spandana Bhattacharya ’17 wrote an editor’s note in The Octant about their time with the publication and in the Class of 2017. As the only Editor-in-Chief of the Class of 2018, and in the interest of creating a tradition, I thought I’d follow suit.
The Octant has been one of the largest influences on my time at Yale-NUS College. It was the first organization I joined in my first year at Yale-NUS, the only organization I have led as Editor-in-Chief and is the only organization I am still a member of. As a result, I think it’s also fair to say that I had a fairly large influence on The Octant.
I imagine many in the Class of 2018 can relate to this experience. Most of us joined way too many clubs in our first year, under the leadership of the Class of 2017. We were overworked and had to decide which we wanted to commit our time to in the long run. These decisions determined which norms, events and organizations still exist at Yale-NUS today.
I personally faced this during the second semester of my second year, when I was asked to run for Managing Editor. At the time, I’d actually been considering leaving my position as Sports Editor in The Octant—competitive sports aren’t a keen interest of mine. However, most of the editorial board was also considering leaving the publication.
I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say that this would have likely led to the end of The Octant. A student publication would struggle to function without an editorial board and Spandana was far too busy to undertake such a large restructuring by herself. I didn’t want to see an organization that I thought played a vital role in Yale-NUS’s community disintegrate.
Spandana persuaded me to stay. We scaled back The Octant’s output, the writers from the Class of 2019 stepped up to take on editorial roles and Adrian Stymne ’17 took on a larger role as our head of business and strategy. Over the next two semesters we set about addressing the issues that had lead to the exodus. The reasons that the departing members gave were that the organization was too hierarchical, the workload was too heavy and the editing was not fulfilling. We realised that, while a focus on quality of writing was important, The Octant also had to become a more engaging and fulfilling organization for its members.
We changed the organization to increase autonomy and collaboration for Octant members. Articles were now pitched by writers, rather than by editors. Edits were no longer hierarchical and conducted with all relevant editors present. Every couple of months we would have business and strategy meetings to discuss the direction of the organization and what members wanted to achieve. The business and strategy team, headed at the time by Adrian, also conducted regular surveys and initiatives to ensure membership was meaningful.
While these examples may have been unique to myself and The Octant, the Class of 2018 has exhibited many others. The Class of 2018 ensured the continuity of many 2017 organizations—including the G Spot, the Visual Arts Society and the Improv Comedy Conglomerate. I have seen and heard all the many in ways in which the Class of 2018 members shaped these organizations for the better.
The Class of 2018 has played an important role in shaping Yale-NUS to work better for students. We organized the first review of the Yale-NUS Student Government constitution, spearheaded the recent sexual misconduct policy review and playing an oversized role in the adoption of gender neutral housing. We have also shaped the community in less tangible ways, through in-person conversations, fiery Facebook debates and controversial op-eds in these pages.
More broadly, these examples show the importance of students at Yale-NUS. Yale-NUS’s student organizations, its curriculum and campus life all have to work for students’ interest. This focus may get lost in the busyness of such a small and overworked college and the numerous debates about free speech, the value of a liberal arts education, or the value of the the Yale-NUS common curriculum. But, ultimately all of these things have to work for students and only students can decide if they do.
The Class of 2018 may be Yale-NUS’s first tradition-setting class, but they are not the last. Yale-NUS as an institution is still malleable. A number of policies still do not exist and those that do are frequently up for review. Even when Yale-NUS is a more established institution it will still be small, making it easy for students to mass organize for social change and give feedback to the administration.
Since I stepped down as Editor-in-Chief, The Octant has gone from strength to strength. Under the capable hands of Justin Ong ’19, Pham Le Vi ’19, Terence Anthony Wang ’20, Yip Jie Ying ’19 and Kanako Sugawara ’20, the organization has taken steps to fix the various mistakes I made as Editor-in-Chief and improve on the processes I put in place. The Octant launched new initiatives, published risky articles, and redefined its positions in the community—being officially recognised as an autonomous organization by the Dean of Students Office.
I look forward to following the work of The Octant and Yale-NUS as an alumnus. The College is facing and will continue to face many unique challenges that result from being a relatively new and small liberal arts college in Singapore. If students remember their role as tradition builders and their influence within the community, then I am confident both organizations can flourish.
For the last time,