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Constitution Matters

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May Tay

Photo used with permission from the Yale-NUS Elected Student Committee

ESC Survey
Incentives were offered for students to take the Constitution Survey.

When Jacob Schneidewind ’18 and Hrishi Olickel ’18 attended the last of five forums organised by the Elected Student Committee (ESC) to discuss options for student government, they were surprised to see only around 10 people in attendance. The number dwindled to about five by the end of the nearly 4-hour long session, according to Schneidewind.

Over the past few weeks, the ESC has organised five constitution writing forums open to the student body. The ESC, comprised of seven members of the class of 2017, was elected in May 2014 by the current sophomore class to help facilitate the creation of a student government. Student opinions regarding the constitution writing process and student government seem largely lukewarm and mixed.

Attendance at the constitution writing forums ranged from “high single digits to the mid-twenties”, according to Jared Yeo ’17, a member of the ESC. Given the attendance, some worried that the outcome of the sessions did not adequately reflect the views of the entire student body.

“There’s a fairly good number of people who’ve been really involved … It’s a good group size for getting things done, but not a good size to represent the majority of students,” said Holly Apsley ’18, who attended two of the sessions.

Schneidewind added that at those forums where few students showed up, “power was then shifted to … (the) people who constantly attended these sessions … they had absolute control on what the constitution could look like.” Apsley also noted that more international students attended the forums as compared to Singaporean students.

Some students cited being busy with other aspects of college life as the reason for not participating more actively in the constitution writing process. “(It is now) near the end of the semester, so there are a lot of assignments due,” said Tong Ray Nee ’18.

Yun Do Ung ’18 agreed. “One of the reasons I came to this college was because I wanted to participate in this sort of active civic life. I was looking forward to these processes … but then I realised that my first semester has been so hectic … [with] academics and extracurriculars,” he said.

Others were indifferent to the process. “It’s not that I don’t think we need a student government… I [just] don’t feel like being a part of this process,” said Herman Lim ’18.

Several sophomores interviewed felt that the reason why they are less active this year is because they had already participated in a similar process last year. “Whatever had to be said we said … last year. I hope the ESC has the [notes from those forums]. It’s quite stressful and taxing to (have to) say those things again,” said Timothy Lim ’17.

Rohan Naidu ’17 added that there appears to be an assumption that a student government is necessary at this point in time. “Before launching headlong into [relevant proceedings], it’s important to clarify if most people even think we need a student government now. That conversation never took place. We need to back up one step and involve people in this discussion … they’ll be more involved in the process if they decide together that they a student government is needed.”

Most students interviewed for this article agreed that the ESC has done a good job of facilitating the constitution writing process this year. “The ESC has done a lot of publicity, both online and offline, [to reach] out to the student body,” Yeo said. Some students, however, still felt that communication could be improved upon. Lim felt that the information disseminated could have been delivered in a more succinct and graphically appealing manner.

Sharlene Chow ’18 suggested that the ESC could consider publicising the process with more fanfare, such as with balloons and music. “Some people may criticise this and say [I am] making light of the situation … but if that’s what you need to get more people to know … the important dates and … the four [constitution models] in the survey, that’s better than people not knowing at all,” she said.

Among those who have participated in the constitution writing process thus far, some believe that a student government should be formed soon. “[Right now] either there is a problem and it blows up and one random person goes to the DOS to talk about it, or it doesn’t get addressed. As we get bigger, it’s not going to be viable for the [administration] to hear about things happening on Facebook,” said Apsley.

Dean’s Fellow Daniel Gordon, who had served as co-president of the student council at Haverford College, said, “There are a lot of places where better communication between the student body and the administration will be really helpful… Students are often unhappy with things that the various [administrative offices] do, but they don’t realise they have a lot of power to make these decisions themselves if they organise.”

Gordon added that at most colleges, only a small number of students actively involve themselves in student government. “It’s not necessarily apathy. All students at Yale-NUS are passionate about something, and if it’s not directly related to student government, they don’t see it important to get involved. That said, people should … find out what is going on and how it might affect them, so they can be informed voters,” he added.

According to an official statement from the Dean of Students office regarding the constitution writing process, should a constitution fail to be ratified by this semester, “other options [will be explored] next semester to implement a form of student representation and governance … [which] may include appointing selected students to serve in leadership positions and College committees.”

The student government survey created by the ESC closed on Monday, Nov 17.

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