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Story by David Chappell, Managing Editor, and Spandana Bhattacharya, Editor-in-Chief | Picture credit to David Chappell
By an overwhelming margin, the student body of Yale-NUS College support Ambassador Chan Heng Chee’s continuation on the Yale-NUS Governing Board, suggests a survey conducted by The Octant.
The Octant conducted a campus-wide poll, following the publication of an opinion piece in the paper. The article suggested that Ambassador Chan’s defence of Section 377A, which criminalizes sodomy, at the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights on Jan 27, was incompatible with her role on the Yale-NUS Governing Board and questioned whether she should remain a member. The article caused a stir in national and international media.
The results of The Octant’s survey indicated that the majority of students did not share this stance. On the question “Do you think Ambassador Chan Heng Chee should resign?” 85% of the 117 respondents answered “no.” Still, 62% of those surveyed indicated that Ambassador Chan should engage in a dialogue with the student body.
Many of the respondents strongly supported Ambassador Chan and felt that she was unfairly attacked. One respondent wrote, “the whole movement against Ambassador [Chan] is wrong in every way. Extremely selfish and rash.”
Others took a more neutral view. “While I personally take no issue with Ambassador Chan’s actions,” one respondent wrote, “I recognize that some members of the student body do, and they have every right to express these views, and even call for her resignation from the board.”
The administration took a similar stance on the issue. Pericles Lewis, President of Yale-NUS College, in an interview to The Straits Times, said that Yale-NUS College “will not consider asking Ambassador Chan to relinquish her position… She has been an integral member of our governing board, and a firm believer in our mission and vision to build a community of learning, where all viewpoints are heard and a respectful understanding of different opinions and beliefs is tolerated and understood.”
The poll was conducted over a three day period and included participants from all three class years and residential colleges. In addition to being asked if Ambassador Chan should resign, the respondents were also polled on whether her comments conflicted with her role on the Yale-NUS Governing Board. A sizeable majority—79%—answered “no.”
In addition, a smaller majority indicated that her comments were not problematic. When asked “Do you think Ambassador Chan Heng Chee’s Recent Comments on 377A are problematic?” 58% responded “no.” Some said Ambassador Chan was just doing her job. “Why should an Ambassador resign for properly representing the views of his or her government on the international stage? That’s the whole point of having Ambassadors,” wrote one respondent.
Others felt that the critics misunderstood Singapore. One student wrote, “these louder individuals do not seem to understand the context of which Ambassador Chan is working under, nor the nuances of a society that does not prize extreme actions as key to handling difficult situations.”
Another wrote that “the community should… be focused on the strides that LBGTQ community has made in recent years in Singapore, and promote those strides so that more people are aware of them.”
Some students, though, took an opposing view. One respondent wrote, “How can the comments possibly be compatible with a forward-looking, liberal arts institution in the 21st century, to defend a colonial, bigoted law from the British Empire?”
Despite the support for Ambassador Chan, the majority of respondents endorsed a face-to-face dialogue between the student body and the Ambassador. Those surveyed indicated a slight preference for a closed forum (46%) over an open forum (41%).
These views echoed the stance of the G-Spot, the gender and sexuality alliance at Yale-NUS, which has requested a closed-door meeting with Ambassador Chan. Ambassador Chan is set to attend a closed-door dialogue regarding human rights in Singapore in the first week of March, according to minutes published by the Yale-NUS Student Government.