Decoding Traditions at Yale-NUS
story | Wisha Jamal and Aryan Chhabra, Staff Editors
photo | Beach Plz, Bread & Jam, History Major, SofaSoGood, Tape Days
Every year, on the first day of November recess, students from Harvard and Yale let loose in the clamor and festivities of the annual Harvard-Yale football game, an event established in 1875 and is now a defining part of the universities’ identities as arch-rivals. Meanwhile, every year at Oxford a crowd converges at 6 am on the first day of May to listen to the choir perform Hymnus Eucharisticus to mark the celebration of spring, an event held for over five centuries and an integral part of the Oxford experience. MIT, on the other hand, always releases its admission decisions (as some of you already know) at 6:28 pm on Mar. 14 to pay homage to “Tau time” and “Pi day” respectively. There is no dearth of age-old traditions on the campuses of old, established universities around the world. Rightly so, because campus traditions are an integral reflection of the culture and character of an institution’s student body.
As a new institution, and one that is still finding its footing, Yale-NUS College doesn’t have decades of history to rely on. Most of our campus events are on their first or second (third, if we’re lucky) iteration. This raises some important questions about our identity as a college: at what point does an event or practice qualify as a college tradition? How do we develop sustainable traditions? And what are the kinds of traditions that we want to establish?
To explore these questions further, we examine some of the most popular events around campus that are slowly becoming a part of our social fabric. The problem with trying to distinguish between what is and isn’t a tradition, on a campus as young as ours, is that many things have potential but almost nothing has been around longer than three or four years. We spoke to the organizers of some of these events, and let them tell us how their event started and what future they envision for it.
The student organizers we first approached were Zhu Fang Chen ‘19 and Koh Zhi Hao ‘19, the founders of Midnight/Evening Cinema – one of the longest running student events on campus with four years under its belt. In September 2016, with the support of Sarah Weiss, then Rector of Saga College, Zhu and Koh began screening movies at the Saga buttery at 12a.m. every Thursday. Midnight Cinema has given students a chance to explore movies that they’ve heard of but never actually gotten around to watching. Moreover, Midnight Cinema has also gradually become a place to rest and let off some steam between the workweek. The joke, according to Zhu, is that “no one really knows which midnight it is.” AJ San Joaquin ’22, the current organizer of the event, has solved this mystery by rebranding Midnight Cinema to Evening Cinema and holding it on Wednesdays at 10 pm, because of growing student feedback that movies starting at midnight finish too late.
Meanwhile, some students are looking to start their own traditions. Benjamin Randall Goh ‘22, in association with the History Department, plans to organize an Annual History Halloween Dress Up. This event came about with Ernst Emanuel Mayer, Associate Professor of Humanities (History) as Mr. Mayer was looking to promote the History major in a relaxed setting. Organizers of the event hope the presence of alumni (in fancy costumes) can guide students and provide some real world experience. The sheer choices of characters that students have to dress up as, coupled with the vast number of historical figures students encounter in the Common Curriculum, makes this event a promising and entertaining venture.
Some students made traditions out of the regular ‘de-stressing’ activities many of us engage in to cope with the academic rigor of Yale-NUS. SofaSogood is in its second semester of existence and is held every other Friday evening as a chill space for everyone to relax, enjoy tea and some good live music. Arjun Jayaraman ’21, Chia Yaim Chong ’20 and Bryson Ng ’21 came together to start SofaSogood. Jayaraman thought that the College could have more regular platforms for performing music, and wanted SofaSoGood to be an event where students could forget about work and chill with good music. For Chia, the inspiration for SofaSoGood came during his semester abroad in New York, where he saw series like sofarnyc and National Public Radio’s tiny desk concerts. Chia hopes that while listening to the music and sipping some tea, people can unwind by thinking to themselves “OK lah, so far so good.”
Sometimes, traditions spring up from other traditions. One such example is Bread & Jam, which arose when Nicolas Kang ‘20 and Joseff Manto ‘21, while enjoying the larger-scale campus concert Tape Days, felt a need “to have more entry level concerts, low barrier performances that allowed people to experience the act of performance in a band setting.” Kang “wanted to set up a platform that allowed literally anyone who wanted to perform to have that experience.” Kang has made it a point to open Bread & Jam to all genres with bands playing one song that everyone knows and another song which is more of their band’s ‘flavor’. The second iteration of Bread & Jam will be held later this semester.
In fact, inclusivity seems to be a central tenant for many of the events that we currently consider as budding traditions. According to Manto, who also helped organize the second iteration of Tape Days, “The whole idea [behind Tape Days] was really to start a campus tradition that could involve everyone in the College.” The first Tape Days was held in the Elm Courtyard so that everyone could come together in the heart of the college. Similarly, Beach Plz, which is being held for the sixth time this November, was deliberately ideated as an event that could someday develop into a tradition that brings together all the residential colleges. According to Look Woon Wei ‘19, an organizer of the 2018 iteration of Beach Plz, the event was initially organized by an on-campus organization called RC Cube whose self-declared purpose was to serve as Yale-NUS’ ‘premier inter and intra-residential college activities coordinator’ in 2014, before student organizations took over.
Arguably, some of the longest-standing events on campus – and possibly one of the few that have been secured as traditions – are the Start and End of Semester Dinners hosted in each Residential College. Held in the first and last weeks of each semester, the dinners follow specific themes that are decided by the respective residential college council. Students and faculty come together to dine, drink and end (or begin) the semester on a high note.
As a young college, there is no shortage of enthusiasm and desire to grow at Yale-NUS; this is partly why we have so many events that – if sustained – could develop into traditions that are unique to us. The problem then lies in how we try to ensure the continuity of these events, and here there are several factors to consider.
Firstly, simply in terms of manpower, the events must be handed down to someone in order to ensure that they don’t fizzle out once the founders have graduated. This is something that the founders of Tape Days and Bread & Jam have foreseen. Manto said, “We sought to ensure continuity through a handover process. Because it’s Nic’s last year, I’ll be the one organizing next year with the rest of the organizers that helped out this year. For Tape Days, it’s essentially the same. The next generation of leaders for the event are being groomed by the predecessors of this year.”
The second consideration, and possibly even the more important one, is financial sustainability. As Yale-NUS begins to reach its carrying capacity for students, it is possible that the budget for campus events will begin to decrease as more events are organized and other financial needs begin to take priority. Manto rightly points out that students in more established institutions like Singapore Management University and the National University of Singapore use sponsorships to host some events because, unlike us, they do not always receive financial support from the university itself. “I personally don’t think it’ll be very economically sustainable for the school to always give out so much money for school events every year, so I really think that in the future, the money will start decreasing. So a sustainable tradition would be something that doesn’t cost too much and can still be really enjoyable,” she said.
But it’s not enough for traditions to be sustainable. Our traditions also reflect on the kind of institution that we aspire to be. Keeping that in mind, for Yale-NUS to remain an institution that upholds the free exchange of ideas and respect for diversity – it is crucial that our traditions continue to be inclusive and accessible to everyone