story | Amanda Leong, Staff Editor
photo | Amanda Leong, Ruchel Phua
Last week, a flustered senior barged into the Cendana Common Lounge, frantically looking for their wallet. They had carelessly left it there the whole day, and they looked extremely relieved to find its contents untouched, especially because it contained a large sum of money—their entire month’s worth of income.
I was quite surprised by this scene because it did not occur to me that anyone would have taken their money. Surely, Yale-NUS College is safe if most students readily allow acquaintances to enter their suite to purchase items even when they are not there, trusting them to pay the exact amount. For the majority, it is the norm to leave the suite door unlocked out of convenience.
In reality, however, there has been a spike in thefts occurring at Yale-NUS since last year. These thefts include money, homeware, food, clothes, and even mail packages from the Elm College Office. This is reminiscent of the slew of thefts that happened at Yale-NUS in 2014. Shikhar Agarwal ’20 asks, “What’s the use of a gated community if things are stolen anyway?”
There are a multitude of different factors playing in this grave issue. On one level, students face ambiguity surrounding Yale-NUS Infrastructure’s treatment of theft.
Two weeks ago, Sviatlana Yasiukova ’21 realized that $300 had disappeared from her wallet. At first, she assumed that it was her own carelessness, but her suitemate checked her drawer and realized that $250 had also disappeared from her possession. While Yasiukova never locks her room and leaves her wallet on the table, her suitemate always does when she leaves her room. Even though they reported it to the security office, they do not expect to get the money back because of Yale-NUS Infrastructure’s policy of not being responsible for thefts occurring in an unlocked room.
Additionally, Guadalupe Lazaro ’20 had her bike stolen at the end of 2016, and she initially thought that one of her friends had borrowed it to go to UTown. “Because I trust our community, I was sure it was going to be returned. So I didn’t report it for two days,” she said. After the bike was not returned, she contacted Yale-NUS Infrastructure which eventually, after some extended negotiations, checked the CCTV camera and found that someone had taken it. However, they claimed that they were unable to take action because the person was not from Yale-NUS. Similarly, then-Elm College Rector Brian McAdoo told her to “wait and see what happens,” because the Elm College Office could not do anything about it. Eventually, Lazaro reported the incident to the local police, who connected her with a Private Investigator. Her bike was found within a month after that.
On another level concerning this issue, there is anxiety surrounding the idea that a fellow Yale-NUS student might have committed the theft.
According to Damon Lim ’21, last year, so many Elm students have lost their mail, that a new policy is now set in place where only the Elm College Student Associates are able to retrieve packages from a locked cabinet. The thefts were most likely committed by other students, as they could easily have taken someone else’s package and pretended it was theirs.
For some, this anxiety is so severe that it has even deterred them from reporting the crime. Rishav Koirala ’21 commented on a post in the college Facebook group that “I … chose not to report [a theft] because I couldn’t bring myself to think anybody in Yale-NUS would’ve done it. I was convinced it was my fault—that I’d misplaced it somehow, somewhere—and so I searched everywhere, but to no avail.”
For Marcus Chua ’20, his resistance to reporting is his attempt to empathize with the “thief.” He said, “I believe people are not inherently inclined to steal. The ‘thief’ must have a reason for his actions. These reasons could range from selfishness and laziness to actual desperation.”
However, he also said that his decision to report is also complicated by the wider tension of choosing to benefit the individual over the community. “If the stolen item is really valuable to me, I’ll pursue the issue. However, that decision is based on a cost-benefit analysis to me,” Chua explained. “It may not be the best course of action at a community level if the point is to foster a community spirit. In that vein, I don’t know if reporting and enforcing is the best way forward.”
Students are not the only ones that face the problem of theft.
For example, The Shiok Shack, Saga College’s buttery, has also faced its fair share of thefts, with items such as induction cookers and frying pans being borrowed without permission from managers. Zac Yeow ’20, manager of the Shiok Shack, described the numerous measures that the buttery has taken to prevent these thefts from happening. “We trust the community since everyone here is a young adult,” said Yeow. “However, the Shiok Shack faces special challenges compared to the other butteries—the Nest is able to lock the whole buttery and Shiner’s Diner has a gate door. So we just installed locks in the cabinets last week.” He also notes that these thefts are troublesome for buttery managers because investigating using CCTV cameras from Infrastructure is time-consuming.
Yale-NUS Cycling has also experienced the unauthorized “borrowing” of bicycles for extended, sometimes unlimited periods of time. The club’s procedure for bicycle-borrowing, as described by Daniel Pyone Maung ’20, seems quite straightforward. To borrow road bikes, one has to fill out an online liability form and contact one of the executive committee members to receive a code for the lock to the road bikes.
Borrowing mountain bikes, on the other hand, operate largely on a system of trust where one has to fill a log recording after returning the bike and to report any potential damages. Despite these procedures, thefts and unauthorized borrowing still occur. Pyone Maung says, “Sometimes, I’ll find bikes that I haven’t seen for a week or so parked outside someone’s suite, near the lifts or even outside Foodclique and Fine Foods. This is despite the fact that bikes are clearly marked with the school’s logos and photos of the bikes are placed in the bike room for reference.”
For student-run coffee cart Brewhouse, however, theft occurs in the most unusual form.
Co-founder Macca Xinlei Lee ’19 recalled how Brewhouse has experienced theft of specific barista towels. “They are very expensive because they are made of special microfibers that collect coffee grinds. I have no idea why people steal them, but they do,” he said. “So we are talking about $150 spent on towels, which is ridiculous.”
Former Dean of Students Kyle Farley once remarked, “When someone has broken that trust [by stealing], it’s not what one individual does to another. It quickly becomes collective.” Sadly, perhaps the question is not so much whether Yale-NUS is safe, but whether we have placed a little too much trust in the community and our gates for the time being.