story Ling Xi Min
Working for Admissions meant that lots of people asked me why I chose to go to Yale-NUS. Sometimes though, ‘answers’ are more articulated notion/emotion than rational, considered idea. But a good look at our reflexive responses can produce insights about ourselves:
“I chose Yale-NUS because it gives me a sense of purpose and being part of this makes me feel like part of something bigger, in a way that no other college could.”
There is a similarity between certain pieces of literature (like the Analects, the Bible and the Ramayana) and the Yale-NUS mission statement on the wall outside the lobby and dining hall: though not everyone reads it, let alone is conscious of it every waking moment, the ideas represented by words like ‘In Asia,’ and ‘For the World’ have come to pervade the culture they are a part of. But ideology goes deeper than corporate purpose, into culture. Language and ideology shape our minds in subtle but powerful ways. The language and ideology of Yale-NUS are no less compelling. One thing about Yale-NUS that we are proud of is a ‘sense of community’ that one cannot replicate on the campus of a large university because it is structurally and psychologically impossible to know 20,000 people. This ‘sense of community’ goes by another name in CSI: communitas.
Part of the Yale-NUS community extends into cyberspace, Facebook being one of the most significant reservoirs. Of all the possible groups we could find under the Yale-NUS banner, consider the Confessions page. It is a fascinating phenomenon which has occasionally emerged from the Internet, to exert power in the real world, commandeering both rational and emotional engagement, as well as the agenda of at least two town-hall meetings. But it doesn’t make sense to say that Confessions disturbs people, rather it is the issues, be they racism or constitutional politics, in Yale-NUS that do so.
The sense of disturbance people felt in the aftermath of certain events (and one which subtly reverberates today) was not for instance just a sense of being offended at a racist remark. Racial discrimination is common on the web, yet none of it produces the same psychological effect as the Confessions crises had on many members of the community. Contained within that disturbance was a sense of uncertainty or unhingement. As though something previously thought secure had come loose.
Some people felt a sense of disappointment. But what is disappointment but the sinking of an expectation? There is/was a certain expectation of the communitas that was threatened. Perhaps it was the expectation that everyone was at heart a nice person? What might we mean by nice people? People who compliment their Yale-NUS comrade’s every action? People who see and choose to ignore or gloss over deep physical, religious, cultural, philosophical differences? People who don’t see those differences at all? Where do these expectations come from? Who told us that this is what ‘nice people’ look like?
The intangible collection of ideas and notions that form the Yale-NUS ideology are brought here by individuals of different backgrounds, some more similar and others different depending on whose subjective perspective we assume. In the process of identification as a Yale-NUS student, we begin to identify with our institution. Everyone does it to some extent in different ways. Somewhere, expectations are formed, conditioned not only by the rhetoric we feed each other, but also by our backgrounds and our ideas of what a liberal arts college is or should be. The more we dig up and plumb the depths of ourselves and our institution (and reading Confessions is an interesting way of doing it), the more we might realize that there are similarities and differences which run far deeper than we expect. Let us also remember that any abstract Yale-NUS ideology is also a historical product of an American liberal arts ideology (whatever that is), rather than something we created ex nihilo here in Singapore. A fair number of optimistic, incoming freshmen expecting an ‘American-style’ education should attest to that. Many of us were not so different not so long ago.
There is something that a community gathers around. A totem maybe, but not a physical object, online platform or person, but a collection of ideas and notions that flow together to form something we might call an ideology. To consider this thought piece as simply an attack on any totem we have right now would be a misunderstanding. Having been a part of this social institution for a year now, I think it is only appropriate that we start examining the nature of the totem we really have. Such a meditation not only demands that we dissect our ideas, but also requires us to reflect deeper than we might have thought necessary. And who knows until where those implications and conclusions might reverberate.