story | Aditya Karkera, Guest Contributor
Illustration | Lavonna Mark, Contributing Illustrator
My dear constituents,
The practice of constituents writing to their representatives is a cherished democratic tradition exercised across the world, and is emblematic of the ownership that democracy promises as well as the duties it bestows upon citizens. Today, the unfortunate absence of both of these elements in our community—a sense of ownership or duty—compels me, your representative, to write this letter to you, my constituents. I can only wish I were writing to you under better circumstances, but know that I do so with only the best intentions.
Much to my heartfelt disappointment, recent memory and events have shown that your attention has been faithfully directed to the positioning of posters in an elevator, the health of laundry baskets, and the welfare of cutlery from the butteries instead of the sole student institution that stands between you and a College administration that circumvents your passivity: your Student Government. Caring about the former is no crime; but the gleeful neglect of the latter is not right by any measure.
You are endlessly captivated by churro stands, but cannot bear the agony of shaping vital academic or infrastructural policy at a town hall. Hours are trivial to you when spent on robust parleys on chicken skins and protest art, but fifteen minutes is a Sisyphean torture when spent filling out a survey that guides policy for one of the world’s youngest and most ambitious educational projects. You assault the lack of legitimate opposition inherent to Singaporean institutions, and yet somehow content yourselves with the very same in your own backyard. I would not be writing this letter if what I have described were mere hypocrisy. No, it is an insidious, apathetic breed of torpor, and will pollute other realms of our common experience if left to fester.
The crisis surrounding the Student Government is not another dollop of gossip that shall dissolve in a salve of time—it should very well be treated as a defining question of what this community stands for, and whether or not it even stands for anything. Nine of the twelve offices will be filled unopposed this year. Most disturbingly, this includes both the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, as well as the major offices of Student Life, Student Organisations (which has yet to be filled), and Finance. The reply that competent members of the student body are running—and so a lack of opposition is not a problem—is an intellectually lethargic one, if not a slip that betrays a deeper hypocrisy: valid opposition is only important to you when you are the opposition; recognized speech is crucial only when you are speaking.
Your utter, conscientious dismissiveness regarding this election and those prior to it is at best an embarrassment to our institutional character, and at worst a revelation of a fundamental feebleness to what this College was designed to be: a launchpad of sympathetic, community-forging leaders. Instead, your actions (or lack thereof) propel us closer to becoming a manufactory of individuals who lead for personal profit, advocate only when personally appealing, and stand for what is rewarding rather than what is right. This election shall be the worst on record after years of declining Government legitimacy, which in itself proves that complacency when the well is not yet fully dry does not dull an imminent drought. The fact that the Student Government must frantically beg you to vote to simply meet quorum in order to declare the election valid is one that carries humiliation. The moment that merely clicking a button becomes too arduous a task for you, it is wise to ask yourself whether it is the button’s fault or simply yours.
Such considerations may evade the imaginations of those who do not see beyond themselves—which, given our competitiveness, is a fair trait. However, it behooves even such individuals to consider that everything they harness for their own personal growth is built on a shared palimpsest of struggle, innovation, and acuity. To take that for granted—to forget that the meal on your plate, the grass in the courtyard, and the immense, constantly-bargained-for resources propping up a single line on your résumé are all results of incessant organization and mobilization, often through the Student Government—is to condemn future cohorts to a mediocre experience. That is a selfishness far more venomous than forgetting to rack the gym weights, putting up one more poster than necessary, or taking the elevator down fewer than four floors. To deny this is to be childishly churlish in the face of gravity. To accept it and still do nothing is to be cruel.
Finally, you display a cold callousness when you abandon those who wish to serve our community to a pitiable, thankless hole instead of embracing them as your representatives. In my time as your representative, I have watched my colleagues respond to the frustration of serving you with equal parts steely resolve and helpless tears, dogged determination and midnight sweat. I have seen them endure late hours hawking cup noodles to you in exchange for survey responses, watched them port hundreds of your subsidized summer storage boxes with their own hands, and I have heard them call out to students who do not even pause to look them in the eye. Some of you may say that this is a part of public service that cannot be divorced from it. I say that selflessness is not the same as servility. It is of a peculiar irony that a community so intensely defensive of mental health condemns some of its best to hellish, abject anxiety and stress, and nonchalantly assumes that all is well. One is almost reminded of the child of Omelas,tortured monstrously to allow utopia to persist, with knowledge of its torture a public secret.
To continue to presume that the Student Government shall self-select for poor souls who would rather do the work than you is to furnish the coffin for it; to deny that you have any part in its success or failure is to tighten the final nail. There are only so many hands that will plunge themselves into the filth so that you can keep yours clean.
It is within my understanding that these words may fall like blunt daggers upon some eyes, but I would rather produce a harsh letter for a comatose institution than a calm eulogy for a dead one. If you are among the shrinking sliver to whom none of this letter applies, I thank you deeply for being perhaps the sole perch us tired Kingfishers can rest confidently on. If you are among those that this letter does apply to, it is my deepest hope that you shall amend your conduct to, at most, match the estimations the world has drawn up of our institution’s mettle and, at least, provide to your representatives a reason to serve you and our community with an iota of dignity of labor if not dignity itself.
You are a passionate student body that does care—it is only just that you too frequently and too detrimentally care about absurdities in place of concerns that deserve your passion and the exercise of your talents. To borrow from the perennially colorful Abraham Lincoln: “Elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
Director of Finance
The views expressed here are the author’s own and is not fully representative of the Student Government. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org