Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating love. While people experience love, romance, and intimacy in vastly different ways, Valentine’s or anniversary cards usually depict straight, cisgender couples in a monogamous relationship. This relationship structure then appears as the only dominant narrative.
Such a discourse is perpetuated in a multitude of ways across society and assumes that everyone strives to be married to one partner and to find fulfilment in that romantic endeavor. It also makes it difficult for people to even imagine a scenario where they are involved in partnerships with other genders, multiple people, or perhaps find happiness through intimacy with friends or situations without any label.
But some at Yale-NUS College have found the courage to take the road which feels true to themselves, no matter how untravelled, misunderstood, or underrepresented that road may be.
Ditching the default
For Max ’23, monogamous relationships seemed confining. In fact, Max relates to the notion of “relationship anarchy,” which, according to them, “involves doing away with societal expectations pertaining to relationships and creating your own, as well as rejecting the idea that romantic relationships are more important than platonic ones.” They also question why there should be a difference between friends and romantic partners in terms of how one develops intimacy and emotional investment in the relationship.
While Max finds that the people around them have been supportive of their choices and identity, Fedi ’22 said they found dating to be more of a challenge as someone who is pansexual, non-binary, and polyamorous.
Fedi explained: “When I have to tell a female date I’m queer […] or tell someone that my pronouns are ‘they/them,’ I’m sometimes worried about the manner in which they may perceive me.”
“Telling people I’m polyamorous can confuse them; they wonder if hook-ups or being ‘friends with benefits’ is all I’m open to,” they added.
While there are no authoritative definitions, “friends with benefits” are sexual relationships that do not involve romantic feelings, whereas open relationships allow someone to sleep with people outside of the main relationship. By contrast, polyamory refers to having a deep-seated emotional bond with multiple partners.
“These relationships can be closed (only within the specific group of partners) or open (also involving other people). The beauty of polyamory is that it’s a relationship structure that can look very different to each person according to their needs and desires,” Kat ’23 said.
Open relationships and “friends with benefits” can both be considered non-monogamous, but they involve no-strings-attached sex.
“I don’t think everybody’s naturally monogamous. It doesn’t make sense; [monogamy] is very socially constraining and can be exhausting,” Fedi said. This is indeed the case, particularly in some communities.
Kat, suggested that in many cases bisexuality and polyamory go hand in hand: while many bisexual people feel fulfilled in monogamous relationships, for some it can mean one aspect of their identity is put on hold.
“I realized I was bisexual while I was in a monogamous relationship with a man [some years ago]. I really wanted the space to explore being with people of different genders and he was supportive of that, which led to us opening our relationship. While I was satisfied with monogamy, I felt so thrilled to have the space to explore my identity. Even though in the end, actually hooking up with people of different genders became less important to me—I didn’t need sex to validate my sexuality. But having the space that polyamory created was essential for this self-discovery.”
People aren’t property
As Cupid’s hearts and advertisements for “gifts for him/her” pop up everywhere, it becomes more and more clear that our conceptions of love cannot escape the capitalist, consumerist world we live in.
Max explained how part of the reason they are polyamorous is that they dislike the idea of “seeing someone as your property, and trying to exert control over them or having control exerted over them.”
They told The Octant that they tried to think and feel from a mindset of abundance, in which we can notice and appreciate the love and connections we have with a range of people in our lives. For them, it has been important to “unlearn a mindset of scarcity that growing up in capitalism taught them, in which we pursue one romantic relationship in the hopes that an individual will be able to single-handedly provide our life with meaning.”
While complex emotions are a part of all relationships, being polyamorous has taught Kat to become more introspective, and to try to understand where such emotions come from, rather than simply acting on them.
Taking jealousy as an example, Kat shares: “[It] usually signals that you have unmet needs or desires in a relationship, like something is lacking, and that can get triggered when partners are able to find that with others. So I try to see jealousy as an opportunity to learn more about what I want from my relationships even if it sucks to feel in the moment.”
While boundaries or rules in polyamorous relationships may vary from person to person, the most important aspect, according to Kat, is “open, honest communication” about fears, doubts, and expectations in order to overcome negative emotions.
Likewise, Max said: “Doing polyamory isn’t about not feeling jealousy. I really resonated with an Instagram post that said ‘we should turn towards jealousy, and look at it with curiosity and compassion instead of shame.’”
Similarly, Fedi remarked that they found it peculiar that people did not put much conscious effort into understanding love, despite the fact that things like money and religion are often pondered at great length.
While Max, Fedi, and Kat have shifted away from traditional religion-endorsed romantic and sexual relationships, wider society has a long way to go; monogamy and heteronormativity persist, remaining the criteria that shape our romantic interactions.
To increase awareness of non-monogamy, open relationships, relationship anarchy, and other related topics, Max and Kat, along with other members of Kingfishers for Consent (Yale-NUS Colleges’ Sexual Wellness Peer Educators), will be organizing a workshop on ethical non-monogamy during Sexual Wellness Week next month.
According to the organizers, events like these are important in order to help provide community and support for people who find themselves seeking something outside the norm and trying to navigate complex emotions and choices without pre-existing roadmaps. For both Kat and Fedi, leaning on other members of the queer or polyamorous community has been helpful and comforting, and Fedi feels “fortunate to have found this community of people who challenge the norm, even if small, at Yale-NUS.”
It is important that visibility for less mainstream forms of intimacy be increased, not only in order to make people who may not fit the conventional mould feel more able to accept their preferences, but also so that all of us can learn more about building healthy relationships and what ideal forms of love might look like to us.
In a month where we are surrounded by representations of heteronormative relationships, February offers an important time to question and reflect upon the manifestations of heteronormativity and cisnormativity around us and in our own lives. It is only through this reflection that we will be able to truly answer the question: How can we reimagine romance in a way that works for us?
Story | Michael Sagna, Managing Editor and Xie Yihui, Editor-in-Chief
Photo Credit | Tan Shan Min
“The morning after the meal which supposedly made everyone get sick, I woke up in excruciating pain in the fetal position on my bed,” Damion Horn ‘23 shared. “I got up and used the restroom, and then I tried to go back to sleep but the pain came back. It was like that for the whole morning.”
“I was talking to my suitemate, and he had the same experience, and then a friend of ours we met with for lunch said that they’d also been sick all morning. Everyone started to slowly realize that we all felt the same way.”
On the day before Horn felt unwell, Jan. 19, Class of 2024 Representatives Joleen Teo ‘24 and Gyuyong Choi ’24 received complaints from several students feeling unwell after eating food at the dining hall, and conducted an informal poll on their class Telegram group. 68 students reported having similar experiences.
Events unfolded in quick succession. After just over a week, another similar incident occurred. External inspectors intervened—students were surveyed, kitchens checked, and bento boxes issued. Now nearly a month later, the investigation is still inconclusive while a pillar of campus social life remains temporarily halted.
Scrambling to Control the Situation
Student Government representatives thereafter convened a team to further examine the extent of the issue across classes, according to Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser ’22, President of the Yale-NUS College Student Government.
Within the space of a day, students received two separate forms: one from the Student Government, and another from the Dean of Students Office (DoS).
To gauge the extent of the issue, each class representative circulated a Google form within their respective class group chats on Jan. 19 at around 5 pm, according to Nasser. This form asked affected students to describe their symptoms, which of the meals they had eaten at the dining hall, and for how long they experienced them.
In a meeting with The Octant on Feb. 10, Dean of Students Dave Stanfield said such a measure might violate privacy laws: “We discourage any student group or individual from sending out a survey without first getting explicit written permission to do so, because it could be a violation of both internal policies of Yale-NUS, but also potentially the national privacy law, PDPA.”
“You have to follow really strict requirements for collecting medical information, ” he said, “[the Student Government] had a really good intention behind their effort, and they can mobilize quickly, and it was helpful to us in the sense that they were able to tell us that there was a problem on campus before [DoS] even knew.
He added that DoS is trying to come up with a better process so that students have access to and share this type of information through official channels rather than a student channel. This will help to ensure that student data and identities are properly protected.
In an email sent to Yale-NUS students on Jan. 20, Dr. Stanfield announced that the college was aware of the situation and urged students feeling unwell to seek medical attention from University Health Centre (UHC) or, if necessary, the National University Hospital.
This email also included the link to another form, created by DoS and Sodexo, the current food caterer for Yale-NUS, urging students who had consumed a meal at a dining hall and experienced adverse health impacts to fill it in.
This email, sent at 11:14 am, gave a deadline of 4 pm of the same day, initially giving students just under five hours to respond.
That night, Nasser posted on the Yale-NUS Facebook page to announce an extension of the deadline of this form to 10 am the following morning.
This swift publication of a form consolidating student accounts is in stark contrast to a similar, albeit smaller-scale, incident in early 2019, when 20 students complained of a wide-ranging set of symptoms after eating food from the dining hall, The Octant reported. During that case, Sodexo conducted an internal investigation which found them innocent due to insufficient evidence.
Following the complaints in 2019, Richard Ellison, the previous General Manager of Sodexo at Yale-NUS, expressed reluctance to publish a questionnaire, telling The Octant that “If you put that open question out to an audience this big, you [are] almost inviting problems for yourself.”
This time, it seems, the scale of the incident was too large to be ignored.
In order to get more clarity on the investigation process, The Octant sent an extensive list of questions to the Sodexo team, enquiring about the data collection, investigation procedure, and aftermath if Sodexo were to be found responsible.
Kevin Low, Operation Director for Schools and Universities for Sodexo, responded with an email largely similar to its message to the college sent on Jan. 22, reinforcing Sodexo’s commitment to the “safety and wellbeing of the students, staff, and community,” and stating that it is “sorry to learn about the discomfort some of the students have felt.”
To answer our question on the investigation process, Mr. Low also included a link to the Singapore Food Agency’s website for “more information about SFA’s food safety process.”
Unfortunately, the link only provides outlines of food safety practices, rather than explaining the investigative procedures for possible violations of these measures.
In a meeting with The Octant on Feb. 10, Dr Stanfield said: “I am surprised when I hear stories about Sodexo not working hard enough or that there is some sort of conspiracy. They are a large corporation that relies on strong health and safety protocols and good customer feedback. It’s in their best interest to avoid [food-related incidents] and resolve issues as quickly as possible. I have observed Sodexo’s management working diligently behind the scenes, in full cooperation with the Ministry of Health’s investigation and following their advice closely.
“It’s easy to forget that for a corporation, this situation is their worst nightmare. The reputation of a catering company relies on health and safety and offering food that is satisfying to their clients. Sodexo has been very cooperative,” he added.
On Jan. 21, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) came to Yale-NUS to investigate the incident, Dr. Stanfield confirmed.
In our email correspondence with DoS on Jan. 23, Muhammed Erfaan, Senior Executive at DoS, stated that “the official investigation has since been taken over by the MOH and SFA,” while adding that “Sodexo has given its full cooperation.”
Dr. Stanfield also confirmed that “a large proportion of students indicated that they experienced mild to moderate symptoms, with most indicating that the adverse reactions had resolved on their own, without the need for prescription medication or medical attention.”
Dennis Aw, Director of Infrastructure, Safety, & Security, is responsible for contact with MOH and SFA in the ongoing inspection. Replying to The Octant’s request for comment, he stated: “I am just as anxious to know the results as anyone else. Until results are out, I am holding back all non-essential calls or enquiries (including chasers) to authorities so as to give them some space and time to work on this objectively.”
There was a sense of finality in the way he ended his response.
“I hope The Octant can do the same.”
Few would expect it, and yet while the investigation was ongoing a similar incident occurred just a week later.
On Friday, Jan. 29, several students once again reported adverse health symptoms which they attributed to consuming meals at the dining halls.
Following the report, Infrastructure’s Health and Safety team alerted the SFA and sent out an official questionnaire together with DoS.
This triggered a wave of precautionary measures, largely similar to those taken last year during Circuit Breaker, Singapore’s COVID-19 lockdown.
Two days later, DoS sent out an email at 4:14 pm, informing the college community that starting from that day’s dinner service, students would receive their meals in bento boxes provided by an external vendor. Grab and Go services would also be temporarily suspended.
Explaining the bento meal arrangement, DoS said this would ensure that all food is provided by vendors that are not Sodexo, in order to not impede the ongoing investigations.
The college also decided to suspend the distribution of pre-packed food at events organized on campus with immediate effect.
This announcement came at a time when Brewhouse, the student-run coffee-making project, had just resumed operations and had to stop operating. Similar restrictions applied to residential colleges’ butteries, informal student-run dining services, which had been due to open that week.
Both Brewhouse and the butteries have been closed since last year due to COVID-19. The long-awaited resumption of service has now, however, been halted “until further notice,” according to Martin Choo, one of the buttery managers.
In an interview with The Octant, buttery worker Nikita Taratorin ‘23 discussed what he felt was a frustrating experience. Taratorin spoke of reading an email from the DoS sent to him by his buttery manager, describing how Dr. Stanfield attributed the buttery closure to “public scrutiny over food-borne illnesses.”
“Butteries are such an essential part of our community … it’s just heartbreaking [to not be able to reopen the buttery],” Taratorin shared.
In the email to the college, Dr. Stanfield explained the added measures. “This contingency effort is a joint decision taken by the College and Sodexo to eliminate any possibility of a food-borne illness originating from the current operations. An approved vendor has also been engaged to perform another round of deep cleaning of the kitchens.”
ABC: A Bento Controversy
Issues quickly followed the introduction of bento boxes. On Feb. 1, just one day after bento boxes started being provided to students, dining halls ran out of food at 7:20 pm. (For context, the dinner service at dining halls usually runs from 5.45-8.30 pm.)
Student Government quickly attempted to remedy this by creating a scheme whereby students who ate out that evening could claim a reimbursement of up to $7, provided that they uploaded evidence of a receipt by midnight.
Despite this, the situation did not immediately improve. The following day many vegetarians and vegans who went to the dining hall for lunch found no boxes left which they could eat. Ironically, that evening non-vegans were forced to take vegan, or even gluten-free bentos due to shortages.
Caption: One student commented that “EVERYTHING IS FRIED: fried Rice, fried carrot cake, fried noodles; no whole grain carbs! Vegetables make up only the smallest compartment, despite info boards in dining halls saying that vegetables should fill half of our plate; no raw vegetables/salad”
In a survey conducted by the Student Government on Feb. 3 from 12:45 pm to 4 pm, most students responded that they were generally satisfied by the quality and quantity of the food provided. However, a majority of them expressed dissatisfaction with the nutrition (62.37%) and variety (58.55%) of food provided, with an additional 28.13% of respondents reporting not being able to get a meal due to food shortages at least once.
The results of this survey were raised by Student Government in discussions with Sodexo, who agreed on a variety of measures including, but not limited to, increasing the supply of bento boxes, reducing quantities of fried food, increasing vegetables and proteins, and improving labelling.
Addressing the food shortages, Dr. Stanfield has “personally reached out” to the Sodexo director responsible for all school and university operations in Singapore to ask for an immediate solution. Maintaining that “No student should be left without a meal,” DoS purchased UTown Fine Foods vouchers, which would be distributed should there be another food shortage.
The community has noted that the quality of bento boxes has been unstable over the course of three weeks. In the “YNC Spoon & Forks” Telegram chat group, students frequently raised complaints about the nutritional balance and quantity of food. On one such occasion, a small piece of fried fish was found in Eva Liu ‘22’s vegetarian bento box (Figure 3).
Figure 3 | A piece of fried fish is found in a vegetarian breakfast on Feb. 17.
Photo credit Eva Liu
Responding to general concerns about quality, the Dining Experience Team (DXT) said on Feb. 15 that they have relayed the feedback to Sodexo representatives, who have called the third-party vendor this evening. “We expect changes to be made as soon as possible,” said Nicol Yong ‘23, student associate of DXT.
The Mystery Remains (For Now)
In a long awaited email on Feb. 3 , Dr. Stanfield announced what came as a shock to many. “Officials from the MOH and SFA released preliminary results from the initial investigation,” he stated. “The results from the food samples, food handlers’ screening tests, and the kitchen inspection did not reveal anything that might cause gastro-related symptoms [our emphasis].”
Currently, the authorities are looking into the causes of the second incident through “extensive testing across a wide spectrum of variables,” including dining operations, cooking preparation processes, food and water samples, and a general inspection of the kitchen or servery facilities and appliances. They have also alerted UHC to assist them in identifying other possible causes.
Preliminary findings have found no significant issues with kitchen and servery operations. While the MOH did find a food-borne pathogen in one Sodexo food handler’s stool analysis, they do not believe that this has any links to either of the cases. This staff will be isolated and return to work only after two more screenings, said Cory Owen, Associate Dean of Students.
In his email, Dr. Stanfield also urged students to volunteer to provide MOH with stool samples, noting that, until Feb. 3, only two had done so.
The college expects the current bento meal arrangement to continue for “one to two weeks,” as it awaits preliminary microbial test results from Sodexo food handlers and students who have submitted their stool samples, Dr. Stanfield said in the same email.
Dr. Stanfield’s email provided renewed hope that life would soon be back to normal, yet without any indication of either of the suspected food poisonings’ causes. Though preliminary results from the first investigation have been released, the college still awaits the report’s full findings, as well as the results from the second enquiry, which is set to be released on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Just a month ago, it would have been hard to imagine that the college would now be applying a fresh round of restrictions to curtail an outbreak other than COVID-19. Once again, college life has changed, and students now find themselves wishing they could return to the previous “new normal.”
Story | Michael Sagna, Managing Editor and Xie Yihui, Editor-in-Chief
Photo credit | The Workers’ Party
Pritam Singh, Leader of the Opposition and of Singapore’s most prominent opposition party, the Workers’ Party, will be the guest speaker at the Yale-NUS College 2021 graduation ceremony, The Octant confirmed during a meeting with Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS, on Feb. 9, 2021.
Explaining the reasoning behind this decision, Prof. Tan said Mr. Singh’s name “came up right at the top” in a survey to the graduating students on their preferred graduation speaker. He followed this up with a clarification that the college’s administration did, of course, have a say, but that he supported the choice.
“I think it was all timing because there was the general election, and the Workers’ Party did well. Pritam conducted himself very well—he was very impressive. He won enough seats that the government decided to make him Leader of the Opposition which is quite historic in Singapore’s political history.”
“I think he looks like a good chap to have. I wrote to him, and he replied that he would be honoured,” Prof. Tan continued.
Prof. Tan also revealed other student favorites. He said, “Jamus Lim’s name did come up but, I mean, basically, between the two I would go for Pritam because he’s the Leader of the Opposition and he’s been around longer.”
Prof. Tan also said that Dr. Lim already spoke at a panel discussion titled “International Economic Policy x Data” organized by Yale-NUS Data Science. However, he did float the possibility that Dr. Lim could be invited to speak again in a future event.
When asked about whether he would be criticized for inviting an opposition figure, Prof. Tan stood firm in his conviction that he had made the right decision.
“My thinking is this: we wanted a fresh face. He’s Leader of the Opposition. He’s earned his right through a general election and the leader of the opposition is a senior political appointment.
“I think these are decisions we take for good reasons and I’m prepared to stand by.”
He also added: “I know Pritam personally, he is a good man and he’s got good messages.”
Here, let ‘hopeless romantic’ be a misnomer. Love is far from devoid, but brimming with bated breaths and optimism for the future. In BLUE. the vast fields of possibility are ours to run through, an end being one of them but that’s no matter — we’ll look upward. And in the meantime be comforted in the midst of a steady embrace, the present moment enough, enveloped In Your Strata.
more like cobalt,
cobalt-filled visions of winding rivers where lovers lie—
under the pink dimming sun that races into nightfall—
breathing beyond childhood baptisms,
chasing highs with flesh on flesh,
dreaming, dreaming fevers of damned art
erupting against the deep azul above their heads.
you sang in Blue as you held onto dreams
as if they were material:
your fingers hugging waves of indigo,
melted into the necks and bodies of porcelain vases
(careful and soft as you wrap your hands around slender necks
not quite stifling,
but comforting with the warmth of gentle touches.)
you slept amidst the smell of tobacco cigarettes,
dancing fumes from dying flames,
reminding you of old homes now gone;
(it is okay because this One promised to stay.)
you are okay.
open your eyes:
the sky’s still blue.
~ Ginny Hwang
In Your Strata
Time passes differently in the crevices of moss-stained stones.
Freckled sunlight trickles in,
Bathed us in honey’s tint.
A room of one’s own, steeped in sapphic overtones.
She was a knitted blanket lovingly woven; whose fabricated affections were anything but.
Just as a Russian doll does, I’ve nestled myself into the small of your chest, a lonesome sap in aspen’s caress.
I yield to your touch.
The unfurling of our persons, I wish we could preserve in amber.
What if we moved at a snail’s pace?
With our fears of love in tow,
Diluted by tongue in cheek quips.
For now, let’s focus on holding space,
For us to exist and to grow.
Though you should know, I still find myself staring at your lips.
Kindred spirits who have not shunned me for watching Love Island Australia! [more people exit.] Hello for real now! Most of us can admit to enjoying guilty pleasures in the form of mindless reality TV binging, but I’d like to believe that you’ve had your few moments of recognising actual reality in some of these shows.
No, not the reality where people go on a game show genuinely believing that they will meet their soulmate. Not when that soulmate would be found, out of 7 billion people in the world, picked up from homebase Australia and plopped onto a random Spanish island just like all the 22 other love-seeking participants.
But can we only think them naive? Many of us toy with the idea of our one special person being somewhere out there on this planet. For some, this game is so certain and plausible that it’s all only a matter of waiting. This fidget-spinner whirls in the back of our minds during our day-to-day interactions and even in newly-formed connections. Tell me you’ve never had the thought “Are We possible?” flash across your mind in spite yourself.
On Love Island, new people are gradually introduced while some you may say are ‘eliminated’. To stay, you have to remain coupled up with someone else even when you know they aren’t The One. You want to stay because there is the belief that your soulmate will eventually walk through the door (and because you want that 50 Grand Prize but of course we’re only here for love). Time is ticking and your chances are limited. Time is ticking and we wonder just when will our special person waltz in and make it all better.
Sound familiar? It is unspoken but we seem to expect that love will arrive by a certain time, whether that timeline is in terms of when we’d most like to get married, when we think we are most eligible, or when we believe are the important parts of life that should be shared. Rationally, we think meeting at 50 is fine! (I’m independent.) But in the back of our minds float the 30 odd years that we could have spent together and had that much-needed love and support.
Could this whole article just be me trying to justify how I could suspend my disbelief and remain an audience to what may be performative romance and plain objectification of the sexes? Maybe! But that I could believe even for a second in the contestants’ devotion to finding love was suggestive of those elements which I found familiar. We believe in what we most want to.
So I’ve laid plain my hopeless romantic heart and what more could you ask for on Valentine’s Day.
Welcome. Have a seat, dear. For those of you who might not know what I do, as an Aunt Agony, my role is to provide advice to those who have romantic problems. While I hope to keep things interesting for readers in the way I write my responses, the advice I give will be practicable.
“Dear Aunt Agony,
My partner and I have different love languages: I am all about verbal affirmation, giving gifts, and showing how I feel in actions. My partner, on the other hand, is the type to know that we love each other without feeling the need to put them into action: they barely text me first, doesn’t give me gifts on special occasions (even our anniversaries or my birthday) and rarely calls me. But when we do see each other I can really feel they love and care about me. Is it selfish or a turn off to be asking for these things? If I need to ask for it I would rather not have them but I get quite jealous when I see other couples do things for each other…
I get anxious about our future knowing that my partner is not financially ambitious- they grew up in a comfortably rich family whereas I struggled a lot trying to afford school etc. Our difference in upbringing, of course, leads to different outlooks we have on life, but I’m scared that I want somebody who is capable of being financially independent and that if we struggle living together in the future I’ll be disappointed in them.”
I can tell you this and I can tell you it for free: the real problem in your relationship is communication. Now I don’t mean to imply that this communication issue is inherent in the relationship. It exists on at least one of three levels:
You personally: Are you scared of open conversations about your differences? Are you assuming a priori that your partner will not be receptive to these conversations?
Your partner: Has your partner done their best to ensure that you feel comfortable to communicate openly with them?
The relationship generally: Have you as a couple created a norm of open communication? Can you be vulnerable with each other? Can you let each other know your needs and wants without taking things personally?
You deserve to be loved on your own terms, and while relationships are work, they’re not 5MC mods in emotional labor. Tell your partner exactly how you want to be loved, and there is no reason they wouldn’t try to accommodate you. Alternatively, if you’re not a confrontational person and don’t want to have a sit-down conversation with them, you might say something like, “I really liked it when you got me that gift,” or “I love it when you compliment me.”
As to the second part of your question, this is a you problem. I understand that you both have different approaches to money— we are all products of our upbringings so if your family struggled with money, it’s understandable that you would be more conscious of it.
However, if they don’t have the same stress about money, then good for them. It’s not every day The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. They’re probably not stressed because they know or believe something you don’t. Maybe they know their parents will support them financially, or maybe they are more liberal with their money because they just have more of it. The question you should ask yourself is this: are they living above their means for someone of their means? If they aren’t then great, but if they are, maybe it’s time for another conversation.
If this is pissing you off from now, though, imagine you’ll feel when you’re trapped between the lines of a BTO contract. You’re already doing compare and contrast with other people’s relationships over comparatively small things. Imagine how this will feel when it’s over the 5Cs instead. You will end up resenting this person for not helping you build every part of the life you wish you had.
You need to be more honest with yourself about what you want in a partner, while also believing in your right to have it. I’m not suggesting you throw in the towel, but, as you mention, in the long-run these issues may be more serious than they currently are. Communication, however, will help resolve these issues as they arise.
I think it’s great that you are aware of these issues because now you can begin to work on them together to come to a mutual understanding moving forward. All the best and invite me to your wedding.
“Dear Aunt Agony,
I am evergreen. I have never been in a relationship with anyone in all my years of growing up. It’s not that I’m antisocial or that I don’t know how to talk to people. It’s just that I don’t know when things should move beyond friendship and into the realm of relationships. Especially in Yale-NUS, where everyone knows each other (almost), relationships that go south just leave a bitter taste in your mouth. How do I get started, and do you have any tips for getting into relationships in general? Perhaps I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have to be content with being single first, ain’t it?”
How about don’t start with “I am evergreen”. It’s giving incel energy.
In all seriousness, you’re right to question whether you’re ready to date. Dating will reveal things about you that you never even knew, and will therefore require a lot of introspection which can at times be emotionally exhausting. Being happy by yourself is a good measure, but remember not to expect to be perfect.
If you are ready to date, then go ahead, but I’m going to give you advice which some people wouldn’t agree with. Don’t shit where you eat.
Many of us arrive at college with little to no romantic experience and are therefore eager to start dating in this exciting new environment. At this point, tinder has become Yale-NUS’ eleventh common core module.
However, this lack of experience means that things can get messy very quickly. Dating is a skill: if you don’t practice it you’ll never learn how to do it. It’s not easy to simultaneously learn communication, compromise, and commitment in addition to R-Studio.
Navigating dating within such a small community can, and more often than not does, end badly. As you mentioned, too many times friendship groups have been torn down the middle by romantic relationships which ended sourly. If these people had taken time to practice maturity outside of YNC, the community would probably be in a better position.
My advice would therefore be to get to know people on a romantic level within explicitly romantic contexts before dating within the college. When I say explicitly romantic contexts, I don’t necessarily mean dating apps. You could ask your friends if they know anyone who’s interested in dating, for example. The key point is that you should both know that you’re pursuing something romantic, rather than platonic.
Going on dates with people who you know for a fact are at least interested in you removes the first question of whether or not they like you. Your time dating will allow you to learn how to navigate romantic relationships for yourself, and once you have practice, you can use your skills to start dating within YNC if that’s what you want.
No matter where you want to date, though, it is important that you follow auntie’s golden rules of dating:
Be sincere about your intentions with people. If you like someone and want to know them better on a romantic level, then just ask them on a date. Life isn’t a K-Drama and crushing on people for weeks/months without telling them is a bit creepy, and to be honest quite sad. On the other hand, if you’re not looking for anything serious, be open about it with anyone you’re dating from the start. No one wants to feel led on.
Be mature. If you do ask someone out and they decline, don’t take it personally. Rejection is a part of life, and it is necessary. Understand that romantic rejection is not a rejection of you in your entirety. Rather, the other person just doesn’t want to take the relationship to a romantic level, and that’s okay. Don’t jump into the rabbit hole of questioning why things couldn’t work out. Instead, accept your emotions, feel them, and when the time comes, move on.
Make sure to communicate. I would say that 75% of issues in dating and relationships can be solved through open communication. As I said to the previous sender, communication should not be sporadic, or when the relationship reaches breaking point. It should be a norm.
Don’t just date— date around. When you’re inexperienced, it’s hard to know what you like and what you don’t when you’re only going on dates with a single person. You wouldn’t buy the first house you looked at, so why would you date the first person you liked? Take time to explore what you like in different people before committing to a single person.
Don’t be so blue, Evergreen. Follow my advice and one day, you’ll find someone.
Disclaimer: The advice provided in this column is no substitute for professional advice, and should not be treated as such. The Octant understands the sensitivity of such issues. If anyone has any complaints, concerns, or comments please feel free to contact The Octant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: This article was written and edited before Jan. 28. The Dean of Students Office has since updated The Octant that all international students have received necessary approvals to re-enter Singapore.
Editor’s note: As campus life resumes, international students would usually head back to Yale-NUS College a few days before the semester starts. However, in this COVID-19-stricken academic year, they have to secure entry approval from the Ministry of Education (MOE) before they are allowed to fly back to Singapore, which is not always granted in time. In this piece, Shikhar muses on his mixed feelings about the ongoing, long-winded journey back to the college
If one were to make an accurate list of the largest mammal migrations in the world, the 5.3 million international students making their way to their home countries and back to their schools would likely be featured somewhere near the top, right between fruit bats and wildebeests.
As an international student who has followed the rhythms of the academic calendar and made the pilgrimage a few times, I can safely say that the journey means a lot. It is a pit stop in an otherwise endless circuit of assignments and classes. It’s a chance to pause and reconnect and, when the calendar dictates, come back with renewed vigor.
Over the past few months, most of us international students applied for our entry approval into Singapore, got it, and completed the pilgrimage with a minor halt in the form of a Stay Home Notice. A few, like me, found themselves in that much dreaded state of waiting.
How exactly the MOE determines that one gets an entry approval is unknown, but it is reasonable to assume that the COVID-19 situation in one’s place of departure has something to do with it. Applying from New Delhi, I found my applications rejected week after week a total of five times.
The intense sense of anticipation that accompanied me was something that I wasn’t ready for. If anything, these migrations in the past have been the opposite of waiting. There was always something demanding my immediate attention. I often found myself writing essays or filling out course evaluations right until the moment I boarded a flight.
But this time, there was nothing to do but wait. On weekends, I would update my Overseas Travel Declaration, which declared my intention to apply for entry approval. Then, for the following week, I would just wait. If the application was rejected, rinse and repeat.
During those weeks of waiting, I was neither really home nor at the college. It didn’t make much sense to make plans for the coming semester as I would remind myself that I might not get the approval. It also didn’t make sense to make too many plans for home on the off-chance that I might have to leave. The clockwork-like rhythm of the academic calendar went straight into the trash can.
I couldn’t even spend too much time speculating about why I didn’t get in because there was no information, nothing I could do to help my situation. All I could do was wait.
Once the college semester began, however, I was occupied by a very familiar feeling: fear of missing out (FOMO). It was as if I was in line to ride a roller coaster and the entire roller coaster just grew wheels and took off without me. But I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Niall Shah ‘24,who finally got an entry approval after repeated rejections, says, “I was planning to play in the [Inter-College Games (ICGs)] and I didn’t expect [my entry approval to get rejected]. I thought [I’d] easily get there in time.”
The experience of missing out is not just limited to ICGs; I personally had to let go of modules that I really wanted to take, either because they couldn’t be offered online or because the hybrid experience was just painful.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are joys of waiting as well. Waiting forced me to rethink my priorities: What do I want? What is important to me? What am I running away from and what is it that I’m chasing? This entire gamut of banal questions suddenly became all too real and urgent when I had nowhere to go and no calendar to tell me when to get there. It’s in this period of painful and forced introspection that I feel I am beginning to make any progress in my journey of self-making. Ironically, it was to face these questions that I came to college in the first place.
Angela Hoten ’23, who spent the holiday season navigating the bureaucratic maze to resolve her visa issues, was also faced with dejection when she couldn’t secure entry approval in time. She describes how this difficult time has helped her learn more about herself. “It was a big learning curve for me, and it just made me very aware of how I react to situations I don’t plan. I know that in the future, I’m going to face a lot of difficulties. It’s just about learning and growing.”
While the whole process of waiting is deeply isolating, especially since there was little the college could do, Angela did point out that someone from Student Services was regularly checking in with her. A Facebook group consisting of online learners was also helpful for students like Angela and me, as it allowed people in similar situations to share information and provide support.
I still find myself worrying about all the things I am missing out on by not being on campus, but there’s so much here that I would’ve missed out on if I were there. The waiting has given me the chance to engage much more patiently with my family and friends. When I find myself witnessing my nephew’s first steps or spending serious amounts of time with a loved one, things which would have been hard to cram within the beats of the academic calendar, I honestly cannot say for sure that I mind the waiting too much. That is, of course, until the alarm goes off for the 6 am online class.
Yale-NUS College was designed to be a fully residential college where students are required to stay on campus for four years. To accommodate around 250 students in each of four classes, the college’s architects designed a campus with 1,001 rooms.
Seems intuitive, right? Wrong.
In the past few years, Yale-NUS was able to house students and give them a high degree of flexibility, but the ongoing pandemic has put extra stress on the housing supply. In order to resume in-person classes, starting last semester the college has had to maintain a minimum number of vacant suites for isolation of suspected COVID-19 cases, as per government regulations.
Hence, to allow as many students to attend in-person classes as possible, the college has requested local students to volunteer to live off campus and commute to school instead.
What the architects of Yale-NUS failed to account for is the 5% of students who, according to Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students, do not graduate within the standard time frame of eight semesters within a four-year period. Delayed graduation may occur for a variety of reasons: students may fail or underload classes and have to make up for them, or a Leave of Absence (LOA) due to family, health, or professional reasons.
In an interview with The Octant, Mr. Stanfield explained, “Housing continues to be a challenge because we have more students that want rooms than we have rooms, and of course we have a graduation requirement that students must live on campus for eight semesters. Most importantly, insofar as possible, we want students to have the opportunity to live on campus because the residential experience is an important aspect of the Yale-NUS education.”
However, Mr. Stanfield continued, “When [COVID-19] is no longer an issue, demand will still exceed supply because we have 1,001 rooms, and the College will always have more than 1,000 students at any given moment since a sizable number of students do not graduate in four years primarily due to LOAs. This issue further compounds each semester.”
Another reason for the persistent housing shortage is that students are empowered to decide their suitemates, and they even have the freedom to opt for gender-neutral suites regardless of whether they identify as non-binary. This leads to vacancies in suites when gender preferences cannot be matched.
Mr. Stanfield went on to speak about how the housing allocation process has been somewhat inefficient.
“Until now we’ve had the luxury of giving students a lot of choice and say in their housing allocations, but it’s at the expense of efficiency in terms of maximizing room occupancy. An unequal gender distribution within the student population, coupled with a disproportionate number [of] vacancies in single-gender and mixed-gender suites, pose complications for incoming housing allocations. Ultimately, [this] all leads to vacant rooms that become very hard to fill.”
Mr. Stanfield was clear in his conviction that this system was unsustainable, and that it would have to change from as soon as next year.
“We’re already projecting that housing demand is going to be an issue for [the] next academic year. And so, we’re going to concentrate this semester on getting input from students and coming up with a reasonable policy modification and consider other creative solutions… What we’re trying to accomplish is very difficult given how much students care about suite arrangements. We will need to make a policy revision that allows us to house as many students on campus as possible while ensuring healthy suite dynamics.”
Cory Owen, Associate Dean of Students, who was also present at the meeting, praised Yale-NUS for its flexibility and understanding in how late it grants LOAs, whilst also noting its drawbacks. “Yale-NUS’s flexibility is one that I have never seen at any institution before. It’s lovely and it’s wonderful, but it’s contributing to some of the complications on the administrative side.”
To address this housing shortage, all students were initially offered a residential waiver, which would waive the campus housing requirement for one semester. When there was a shortage of volunteers, however, the college referred to the general housing priority order list, which The Octant was provided with by the Dean of Students Office.
The housing priority is as follows, with the highest-priority students first:
All Yale-NUS students in their first four years of study since matriculation,
International exchange students,
Local super seniors,*
Double Degree Program (DDP) Law fifth-year students,
Local visiting students.
*Super seniors are defined as students who matriculated more than four years ago, excluding students who took an LOA due to foreign military service requirements (e.g. Korean students who take LOAs to fulfil their mandatory military service are not counted as super seniors).
Within super seniors, there is also a distinction made between internationals and locals, as well as the reasons for which the student took an LOA. This priority list is as follows:
International super seniors,
Local super seniors.
Medical-related LOAs (mental & physical health)
Unanticipated LOAs (e.g. cancelled study abroad midway through a semester);
Voluntary LOAs (internships, etc.)
Daniel Wong ‘21, a final-year DDP student who was asked to live off campus this semester, discussed his experience living at home this semester. “I’m completely fine with my current situation given my living situation at home and the fact that I do not have a lot of in-person Yale-NUS classes… But for someone involved with school activities or who has a lot of Yale-NUS classes, it would be a lot more convenient to be in school.”
In an unprecedented move, Mr. Stanfield also explored the possibility of alternative housing arrangements for lower-priority Yale-NUS students in residential colleges in University Town (UTown). “NUS has indicated a willingness to help with our problem. Housing Yale-NUS students in UTown would be an ideal solution. It is more likely that we’ll be able to acquire some rooms in UTown in a non-COVID-19 semester.”
Shaf Sukkoor ‘21, a local senior who took a one-year leave of absence, also falls at the bottom of the housing priority list, and is therefore living at home this semester. “I personally wouldn’t opt for UTown housing, as the entire reason I would want to stay on campus is due to the immediate proximity to friends. Having said this, I am also very lucky to be staying close enough to school that commuting isn’t that much of a hassle, and my home environment is safe, so that isn’t a concern for me either.”
However, any remedies will come at the cost of students’ college experience. As Sukkoor explained, “Without the residential experience, community building would have been infinitely more difficult and I feel like the divide between international and local students would be even wider.”
“I would say that [residential living] is absolutely crucial to the Yale-NUS experience,” Sukkoor added.
In the coming semesters, Yale-NUS will have to make difficult decisions about its housing, deciding between efficiency, student choice, and college experience. It remains to be seen how the impending housing crisis, which has had to be confronted for the first time this academic year, will be solved.
While the Admissions website still paints an idealistic picture of Yale-NUS as a “community of living and learning,” the question remains: how do we build “intimate nested communities for every student to call home,” when access to “the intimate yet intercultural setting” is limited for some?
Photo | Nathaniel Tan, Yejin Ahn, William Lee and Annabelle Mou
We’ve all been there—viewing the countless “Day In A Life” videos on YouTube and wanting to record our own. You might have even tried to start vlogging, that is, until you realized that it takes way too much effort. However, there is a small minority within our community who are able to juggle between editing essay drafts and video cuts to grow their own YouTube channel.
Curious to find out more, I interviewed Nathaniel Tan (Nat) ‘24, Yejin Ahn ‘24, William Lee ‘24 and Annabelle Mou ‘24 about their content creating adventures. The four of them are all first-year students who post their videos on YouTube. They film, edit, and publish a wide array of videos themselves, such as the typical vlog, informational tips video or a “Study With Me.”
What got you started into content creating?
Nat: Since I was a boy, I always loved entertaining my relatives by creating parodies of shows that I watched using my family’s video camera and eventually cell phones. (I still have one of the clips from back when I was 11 years old.) Over the Circuit Breaker, I reconnected with this passion of mine and started content creation.
Annabelle: I started my YouTube channel when I was serving [my] Stay Home Notice upon arriving in Singapore, purely out of boredom. My first video was an unboxing of the care package I received from the Orientation Committee. My friends back in Taiwan continued to motivate me to make more videos because they’re curious what quarantine is like, and because a lot of them couldn’t fly overseas to their universities, they got to somewhat experience college life through my videos.
What’s your vlogging routine?
William: I usually have an idea or theme in mind that I want to execute through my vlogs. I then try to get as much footage as I can with my phone, and then proceed to edit them with music that bops. Many ideas come and go on a whim so it really depends on what I’m inspired by!
Annabelle: My filming is very spontaneous and I almost never follow a specific schedule or plan. I film with my phone and most of the time I just try catching all the interesting things on camera, and then go through them to see what kind of video I can produce with the segments.
In the rare times when I do plan what kind of video I want to make, I think about what angles and video content I want to be included, and I also bring along a tripod to film longer, still scenes. For editing, I use Final Cut Pro, it’s very convenient and easy to navigate!
How do you manage your time between your Yale-NUS studies/commitments and your content?
Yejin: I think of vlogging and editing as a method to de-stress, so I don’t worry too much about time management. I create during my free time!
Nat: I practice blocking out chunks of time throughout my day to either work on my videos or school commitments. If I don’t complete my work within the allocated time, it’ll be fine as long as I know roughly at what points of the day I’m working on my videos or school commitments.
How do you motivate yourself to continue creating content and vlog?
William: I film to document my daily life and anything I find interesting, fun, or just extremely enjoyable. Thus, it is more of a motivation to keep these memories as opposed to creating content.
Annabelle: I tell myself that these moments are worth documenting and remembering, and that future-me would definitely want to have something to look back and reminisce on.
Are you ever concerned about sharing too much of your life online?
Yejin: I don’t show my face or publicize my Instagram on my YouTube channel due to concerns about sharing too much about who I am online. The public can only see as much as I decide to share in my videos!
William: Since lots of my friends appear in my vlogs, I make sure to always get their consent before posting. However, I am wary of how much I should share on the Internet. I think it is a matter of balance and knowing what you are comfortable with.
Nat: [I have] always believed that my life is an open story book, even my imperfections, as I believe that they make me who I am today. Without knowing the true and full me, I doubt anyone will really understand me.
Any advice for those who want to get started with creating content?
William: As with most people, I started off documenting my daily life through photos. Slowly however, I realized that videography brings these photos to life, and thus I felt that it was just a much better way of capturing the essence of your day to day life. I guess my advice would be to find a reason for why you want to create content, and hold onto that reason dearly as you create it!
Annabelle: It’s never too late to start, and you always gotta start somewhere. But I think one important thing is to refrain from imagining too much about how well your platform will do. When you set your expectations too high you begin to feel frustrated when your content does not get as [many] likes, views, [or] shares, and you get devoured into the desire to make it big. Just go along with the flow and treat your platform as a leisurely thing for you to do.
Nat: If you’re a Singaporean dreaming of being a content creator in Singapore, remember that it will only get easier. We are in a unique position where “culture cringe” is prevalent in the creative sphere where our work will be unfairly compared with more influential and established international standards. But know that if you are genuine and passionate about content creation, your audience will be able to feel it as well, so ignore the haters and focus on your supporters, they’re ultimately the ones who matter.
These content creators aren’t expecting to become the next Shane Dawson, they’re pursuing a passion and making memories that will last at the same time. You may not watch their videos now, but you might in a few years’ time to reminisce, together with the incoming students who are trying to find out as much as they can about the school. But one thing’s for sure: they’re definitely enjoying what they do, and they’re not stopping anytime soon.
A treasure trove of student activities, lectures in grand performance halls brimming with eager young minds, daily self-service dining hall buffets with an endless flow of cuisines from around the world…
I reminisce on these exciting musings that had once buzzed through my pre-matriculation mind, as I watch my suitemate lay her plate down, piled high with boiled broccoli and carrots, sighing to me with defeat, “The dining hall uncle gave me too many vegetables again.”
Since January 2020, Yale-NUS College has adopted an array of precautionary measures against the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time I had moved into my suite in August 2020 to begin my first days as a university student, these regulations had only grown all the more stringent, to everyone’s dismay.
My family and friends were not allowed to visit the living space I would be spending my next four years in. To date they still do not know what my room looks like. In addition, as much as the Orientation Committee tried to make our first-year orientation as engaging as the previous years, playing games of slipper toss or the mass dance never quite felt as fun when we had to gasp for breath through a mask most of the time, or when I could not even see the faces of the fellow first-years I was meant to bond with through these activities. The downsizing of the A-Maze Orientation itself—a program that was initially supposed to be an island-wide activity—to a reimagined school-wide activity was an even bigger blow of disappointment for us.
My suitemate, Betty Wang ’24, also shares these sentiments. “Since my high school was more structured with strict timetables, and what I learnt and who I met in school was more restricted, I expected…more freedom in meeting people and doing what I want to do, and having more autonomy compared to back in high school.”
However, with the list of COVID-19 related restrictions on our everyday actions still present, it appears much of the autonomy us first-years had hoped to gain—even the freedom to sit close to our classmates—has been lost to the virus.
Being an avid foodie, one of the restrictions that devastated me the most was the downsizing of the daily dining hall buffet spread. I remember gushing over pictures of the daily Yale-NUS buffets, eagerly showing them to my parents and bragging in a teasing manner that I would be enjoying four-course meals thrice a day at my luxurious university. Now, looking back on the six months since my orientation week, the four-course meal I had dreamt of feels as far away as the end to this pandemic.
COVID-19’s presence has caused the closure of numerous food stations in the dining hall such as the salad bar and cereal station, slicing the variety of cuisines served in half. Students are also no longer allowed to take food for themselves. Instead, dining hall staff scoop the food students choose and place it on a plate for them. The downside to this change is that most of the time, the food proportion on the plate will be one of two possibilities: a mountain entirely concealing the plate underneath it, or a single spoon’s worth fit for a serving at a five-star restaurant.
Lectures and seminars didn’t escape unscathed either. Having suffered through a 7.30pm to 9pm Literature and Humanities 1 seminar every week last semester, I cannot help but believe that my surviving of late-night classes would have been easier had I not needed to wear a mask the whole time. Constantly feeling the warmth of my breath trapped behind my mask for hours made it monumentally harder for me to keep my eyelids from drooping every ten minutes when I was already exhausted, even though the seminar was one that I was genuinely interested in.
With a white piece of cloth plastered to the face of every student, the once interactive in-person seminars feel much more impersonal. My classmates all sit apart from me, the masks on our faces muffling our words and concealing our facial expressions. The unfamiliar environment sadly makes the discussion space in the classroom less encouraging of my shy self to contribute to as my classmates evermore appear as a tough crowd for my already insecure self to attempt to engage.
The constant restraint necessary for almost every activity on campus had me wondering if my start-of-school experiences were that different from my friends at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who were spending their first semester entirely through remote lectures and seminars. Tan Siow Huan, a first-year student in the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, laments that even though “doing university online was actually very convenient especially when it came to lectures, [it] also distressed me because of the lack of social interaction.”
“I did not know anyone in any of my modules and I felt alone and did not know if I was doing things right or missing out on anything I needed to know.” Tan concludes her reflection on her first semester that “[attending university remotely] clashed with what I expected university life to be—lots of interacting and socializing besides studying.” It is undeniable that annoyance and disappointment are the most shared sentiments amongst students encumbered by a global pandemic.
Each of us first-years came into university with our fair share of expectations which were unfortunately dashed by the reality of a pandemic occurring around us. I really do resonate with my roommate’s reflection that us first-years truly “don’t know what [Yale-NUS student life] was like in previous years.” We have no knowledge or memories of college life from a time before COVID-19. We are told stories from our seniors about university days we have not experienced, the endless salad bars and cereal stations in the dining hall, sitting shoulder to shoulder with classmates during seminars or lectures in a crowded Performance Hall, and inviting your family and friends over for a visit.
But at least we have these stories to remind us of such days that are worth looking forward to. They remind us that our college journey comprises much more than just a first year hijacked by COVID-19.
Looking back, despite all the downsides the despised virus has brought to our college, I can still reminisce my first semester at Yale-NUS with a chest full of happiness. We may well be among the luckiest first-year students of 2020, being endowed with luxuries other colleges could not afford: professors who continue holding in-person seminars and lectures for our learning benefit (in a time of widespread Zoom lectures and remote classes), dining halls open three times a day to fill our bellies, and just being able to see our schoolmates (almost fully) face-to-face every day.
Although I sigh thinking about attending another seminar wearing the same mask and being separated the same way from my classmates, I soften up when I realize it is these very precautions that allow me to feel safe while a global crisis rages on beyond the campus gates. This indeed is a sense of security we are lucky to possess, one borne from the college’s earnest efforts in protecting us in unpredictable times.
So, even as we continue our natural human tendency to whine about the inconveniences of our first year at university, let us all just take a breath, and remind ourselves that things can only go up from here.
A new semester is upon us. With it comes new faces, loosened COVID-19 regulations and exciting initiatives. However, there is also a sense of fatigue from those adjusting to campus life who were unable to go home over the winter break or were stranded overseas last semester.
Maleeka Hassan ’24, one of the many international students unable to travel home over the break due to COVID-19, said: “Semester 2 so far seems more exhausting because of the lack of separation between the place where you take your break, and the place where you work and study.”
Living on campus is a quintessential part of the Yale-NUS College experience—it means students have access to a close-knit, supportive community and a multitude of opportunities to socialize or access academic resources. However, an environment like this can also become overwhelming; there is seemingly no way for students to escape the constant pressures of academic life. Instead of being a respite from the expectation of being productive, the bedroom too turns into a place of work, particularly in the post-COVID-19 world where the normalization of platforms like Zoom means meetings may often be held late into the night.
COVID-19 and travel restrictions have also meant that a number of international freshmen were unable to be in Singapore in their first semester of college.
However, adjusting to campus life has not been a universally poor experience. Sundarimaa Erdembileg ’24, who has just begun her initiation into campus life, shares: “I think even before coming to campus I had the expectation that most people would have formed friend groups and that I’d be left out. But so far, thanks to my suitemates and the overall friendliness of the student body I’ve been adjusting quite quickly.”
As Phase 3 of Singapore’s re-opening began, larger gatherings and events could resume. It is clear that we are fortunate to be here during this uncertain period as other universities around the world continue distance learning and tighten restrictions.
Indeed, some students such as Nyana Wright, a first-year student at Wellesley College, have opted to spend a semester on exchange at Yale-NUS for this very reason: “[Coming here] was a unique decision because I wouldn’t normally choose to go back home to Singapore for an exchange. However, given COVID-19 and how that is affecting higher education in the US at the moment, I thought this would be my best option.”
While there is still time before the difficulties posed by COVID-19 die down, it is heartening to see that Yale-NUS continues to buzz with life.
Semester 2 brings with it an array of new student organizations, including a farming collective, a new theatre club, an architecture collective and a chess club.
Students are also eagerly anticipating the vibrant series of events planned for Diversity Week in late January.
CORRECTION: a previous version of this article overlooked the fact that Infrastructure, Safety and Security team is also involved in the investigation. and mistakenly stated that the questionnaire was done by an external consultant. The Octant apologizes for these mistakes.
Following Student Government (StuGov) reports of many Yale-NUS students feeling unwell after eating at the dining halls on Monday, January 18, dining vendor Sodexo, the Dean of Students (DoS) Office, and the Infrastructure, Safety and Security team had begun investigations at the time of writing. The investigation has since been taken over by the Ministry of Health and Singapore Food Agency.
The following day, representatives from the Student Government reached out to affected students for details to share with Sodexo and the Dining Experience Team.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the DoS sent an email addressing the suspected case of food poisoning, urging all unwell students to seek medical attention.
Students were also invited to fill in a questionnaire as part of a formal investigation by Sodexo and the College.
Meanwhile, Sodexo has released an interim statement stating that the safety and well-being of students, staff and community continued to remain “top priority” and their health and safety team will conduct a “full and thorough” investigation with the college.
Both DOS and Sodexo assured students that updates would be provided as the investigation progressed.
This semester marks the end of Sodexo’s existing contract with Yale-NUS College. The college is changing their dining hall model and is in the process of identifying a suitable vendor, as announced in an email by the DoS dated in October, 2020.
On Dec. 8, 2020, the National University of Singapore (NUS) launched the College of Humanities and Science (CHS), a collaboration between Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Faculty of Science (FoS), while incorporating an interdisciplinary common curriculum.
CHS is set to enrol 2,000 students in autumn of 2021, who will be able to choose any of the 30 majors previously offered by FASS and FoS. The number of required modules for majors will be reduced to make space for the common curriculum modules.
Comprising 13 modules, or one-third of the total curriculum, the common curriculum hopes to impart essential foundational skills and broadens the students’ intellectual foundations. It comprises:
Five new integrated modules: Asian Studies, Integrated Social Sciences, Integrated Humanities and two modules in Scientific Inquiry;
Six General Education modules: three existing general education modules and three new modules in Design Thinking, Artificial Intelligence and Community and Engagement;
Two new interdisciplinary modules: a basket of offerings that students can choose from.
The discussion about the new college was especially heated within the Yale-NUS College community, which developed its Common Curriculum when it was founded, similar to CHS’s one. As many questions about the launch of CHS emerged, Yale-NUS’s satirical magazine, The Mocktant,parodized the establishment of CHS as a love-affair turned sour.
So what exactly is CHS, and does this scaling up of interdisciplinary learning mean Yale-NUS is becoming less relevant in the scene of Singaporean higher education? The Octant investigates.
Common Curriculum: Uncanny Similarities and Misunderstood Differences
The similarities between both colleges’ common curriculum are apparent.
Melvin Yap, associate professor in Psychology at NUS and part of the CHS Steering Committee’s key members, said “the Humanities integrated module will revolve around analyzing texts, appreciation of the importance of history, and qualitative critical thinking about the human condition.”
In comparison, at Yale-NUS, Literature and Humanities 1 and 2 aim to “cultivate the cultural, aesthetic and rhetorical literacy needed to become a cosmopolitan reader of human experience,” according to the online course description.
At CHS, the Social Sciences integrated module will “revolve around the empirical study of people and society, and help students appreciate the social complexity being studied by social scientists”.
In a similar vein, the learning outcome of Comparative Social Inquiry at Yale-NUS is that “students should be in a better position to question why societies are the way they are and to consider how to bring about desired social change.”
The similarities between CHS and Yale-NUS Common Curriculum don’t end here. Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Scientific Inquiry 1 and 2 have their homonymous counterparts in Yale-NUS.
As an evaluator of one of Yale-NUS’s majors, Chew Fook Tim, the Vice Dean of Faculty of Science at NUS, said: “We are fully aware that Yale-NUS has Scientific Inquiry and Quantitative Reasoning modules, too. Some of my colleagues teaching these courses at Yale-NUS have also given us inputs as well, very useful ones. However, we also evaluate and learn from other liberal arts colleges and larger universities.”
Agreeing that the interdisciplinarity will be similar to Yale-NUS, Mr. Chew said, “the difference [with Yale-NUS] is that we have a very direct goal: we are hoping to expose students to what we think the future would be like, to prepare them for a complex and changing world—one that is digital and data-driven.”
He went on to explain that this is why digital literacy is one of the key components in the common curriculum. “I understand that Yale-NUS also has Quantitative Reasoning within the common curriculum, but maybe our thinking of quantitative reasoning is more than just about learning how to do statistics. It will also include looking for patterns in large datasets, how one handles such data, and about teaching them how certain conclusions come about.”
Yet, Yale-NUS’s QR is also not a statistics class. Joanne Roberts, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS said, “QR has many goals, and different faculty will have different perspectives, but one thing I think is particularly important is to develop the skills to assess quantitative arguments critically.”
“I sometimes hear arguments where data is given some special status, where if someone says ‘well I’ve got the data’ then others may assume their argument must be correct or valid. This is not the kind of critical thinking I hope we cultivate here.”
Hence, the academic offerings in these two NUS colleges seem to have more in common than they initially appear to.
Responding to the similarities, Mr. Yap said, “our teaching faculty and folks involved in the design of CHS are widely aware of and draw inspiration from cognate programs from around the world. In this respect, Yale-NUS is no exception, given the many ties of friendship and collaboration between the NUS main campus and Yale-NUS. ”
However, there were many interdisciplinary programs from before the existence of Yale-NUS in NUS, and “It is, therefore, natural that we will draw upon these existing capabilities and depth of experience more than anything else,” added Mr. Yap.
Building on Existing Modules and Expertise
Bernard Tan, Senior Vice Provost at NUS, told The Octant that the university started planning for CHS at the beginning of 2020. During “circuit breaker,” Singapore’s 2-month long COVID-19 lockdown, “the CHS Steering Committee meetings were held, starting in the summer, to shape the curriculum,” he said.
Mr. Yap said that NUS has been offering smaller-scale interdisciplinary programs for decades. Such examples include the Special Program in Science, University Scholars Programme (USP), the University Town College Programme, etc.
Agreeing, Mr. Chew said: “The idea of [CHS] has been years in the making. In fact, Yale-NUS is also part of our learning, isn’t it? We observe how Yale-NUS developed its curriculum, the successes of what Yale-NUS has been doing right. And of course, we also learn from whatever Yale-NUS has not been doing well and are improving on.”
Among the 13 modules that will form the Common Curriculum, some already exist (e.g., writing, computational thinking, quantitative reasoning), although modifications will be added, and others will be entirely new (e.g., integrated modules, design thinking, artificial intelligence).
Would faculties have sufficient time to develop the modules within a year while dealing with other teaching and research workload?
“Yes, definitely!” Mr. Yap said, “[new modules] will be based on the valuable experience gained in existing modules.”
“Let’s take the Humanities integrated module as an example. Associate Professor Loy Hui-Chieh, the instructor leading that effort, will be drawing upon experience from a related humanities-based seminar that he has been teaching for the last nine years in the University Scholars Programme, and a large gateway module he has been teaching for the last five years.”
There will be some early testing of the curriculum and materials as well. The CHS committee intends to use some of the newly designed materials as preambles to “iron out some of the niches and rough out the corners,” such as using them as sample courses or materials in summer modules, Mr. Chew said.
Acknowledging that the first iteration of the course might not be perfect, Mr. Yap added: “We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but instead stand ready to make any necessary refinements to our modules in the years to come.”
Concerns about Practicality Abound
Those not directly involved in the planning of the college tend to be more cautious than optimistic about the new college.
Understandably, FASS and FoS are among the largest and most established faculties in NUS. Collectively, they have over 20 Departments, 30 majors, and 700 faculty members; over 1000 modules are offered each academic year, according to statistics provided by Mr. Yap.
The public first learned of the new college on Sep. 10, 2020, in President Tan Eng Chye’s opinion piece on the Straits Times.
Right after, experts commented that it is “easier said than done” for faculties designing interdisciplinary classes as they tend to overvalue their own academic focus.
A student from USP, another interdisciplinary college in NUS, also expressed doubts. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said in our text exchange: “I think the announcement is too rushed—students have less than a year to prepare for a new program in NUS. It doesn’t give me the confidence that they thoroughly and rigorously planned the curriculum.”
Within Yale-NUS, doubts about the college are common given that Yale-NUS has a very different beginning: its common curriculum was developed from scratch by faculty members specifically hired for the college.
Neil Mehta, one of the inaugural faculty of Philosophy and Political Thought 1 and 2, recalled the founding years of Yale-NUS: “All faculty were heavily involved in building the common curriculum from nothing, and it took us a full year to have a first draft of the common curriculum. It was an intensive process.”
“We met in 2012 at Yale. We had outside experts who we flew in to help us understand certain texts that we did not understand ourselves, and we did a lot of consulting with each other and with outsiders.”
Yale-NUS’s inaugural class was to experience the first iteration of the curriculum in 2013, which was far from perfect. At that time, “There was an attempt to teach Plato’s Republic—the entire book—that was a disaster, and we’ve never done that again,” Mr. Mehta said.
The faculty members adjust the curriculum annually based on the feedback from instructors and students. In 2015, they wrote a 98-page self-study of the curriculum detailing its achievements and challenges. A new round of Common Curriculum review at Yale-NUS just commenced in semester 1 of AY 2020/2021.
Mira Seo, the Director of the Common Curriculum and one of the co-chairs of the Review Committee, said: “The common curriculum is very costly in a lot of ways for students, for faculty and the college. What I worry about for the future and what I would like the review to address very effectively is to make it more sustainable for everyone, so that more people can participate in it, more people can enjoy it, more people can learn from it.”
Comparing Yale-NUS’s program and its counterpart, Ms. Seo expressed sympathy towards NUS: “[CHS] is a large program that’s being imposed on existing faculty, rather than our program which was designed by faculty specially recruited and dedicated to this task.”
Adding to that, she said: “We don’t have that many people to deal with, whereas if NUS is going to do a structural change, they have to use a huge amount of activation energy to put it together. I’m not sure there’s going to be faculty energy for that.”
“If they can deliver by August, that would be a great achievement. It’s an enormous task to create a new form of general education for all Arts and Sciences undergraduates on such a large scale.”
To this, Mr. Yap said that large scale provides more resources than challenges: “Our access to a large, wide-ranging, and deep pool of talented researchers and teachers makes us well-positioned to offer and sustain a suite of high-quality modules for the Common Curriculum.”
Other Differences: Scale, Student Make-up, Specialization
Two colleges’ founding stories set the tone of their distinct characters.
Firstly, the class size is starkly different. The CHS’s inaugural cohort of 2,000 students will be eight times bigger than the Yale-NUS student cohort of 250.
Secondly, CHS allows greater room for early specialization and more choice in the common curriculum. Yale-NUS students would spend the majority of their first three semesters on the common curriculum. They are rarely allowed to switch the sequence of the common curriculum courses and, except Historical Immersion, students take the same set of courses as everyone else.
Mr. Chew said, “students at CHS are allowed to declare their major from even the first day they are in the college, or if they are undecided, declare them at a later stage.” They also have more flexibility in what common curriculum modules to take and when to take them.
Students would need to take more modules to fulfil the major requirement at CHS, allowing them to go deeply into their areas of specialization.
Regarding the student make-up, Mr. Bernard Tan said. “International students are likely to make up less than 10% of the enrolment in CHS.” This means that the school character will be different from Yale-NUS, whose international students comprise 40% of the enrolment.
Lastly, Mr. Yap said, “Keep in mind that even though CHS has elements of a liberal arts education, it isn’t a ‘liberal arts college’ in the traditional sense.”
“Rather, CHS is a large college embedded within the context of a large research university. In this regard, the ‘College of Letters and Sciences’ found in large US universities are more appropriate conceptual equivalents.”
CHS to Yale-NUS—Sister or Competitor in the Making?
Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS, said: “Beyond the basic shared aim of promoting broad-based, interdisciplinary learning, CHS and Yale-NUS have fundamental differences.”
“At 250 students per cohort, Yale-NUS houses its majors within a single college and operates on a much more intimate scale.”
Yale-NUS is also “structurally more integrated” than CHS because it has “its own campus comprising learning and residential spaces to nurture its tight-knit community.”
Another distinction is that CHS does not have residential requirements.
“Yale-NUS’s education model is a fully residential, immersive experience where students will be engaged in small group teaching,” he added, and comparatively, “CHS students will have to participate in the programs offered by Residential Colleges at University Town if they are keen on a residential learning experience.”
The NUS side sees CHS as a large-scale interdisciplinary program, the biggest that NUS has rolled out to date. Yale-NUS is but a small segment of the expansive interdisciplinary programs in NUS.
Mr. Chew highlighted that scale will be CHS’s advantage: “We are building on the strength of two very large and very well established faculties established since 1929. Just by virtue of the numbers, the repertoire of the fields and the repertoire of the areas that we work in, we are larger already.”
Mr. Chew said: “We want to be able to do in CHS to do the same as [Yale-NUS] and even better but at scale.”
Ms. Roberts pointed out that both colleges have a shared pedagogical goal: “Although our small residential and fully integrated experience will be difficult to replicate on a large scale, I’m excited to see some of our curricular and pedagogical innovations being scaled to bring a larger benefit to Singapore and Singaporeans.”
While the senior administrations focus on the structural distinctions, several Yale-NUS students The Octant spoke to perceive that the academic climate in these two colleges will be very different.
A recent alumnus of Yale-NUS college spoke to The Octant on the condition of anonymity: “I think the new college will be a sterilized version of Yale-NUS—it is driven by a desire to cultivate employable skills rather than liberal arts values.”
Meanwhile, prospective students that The Octant talked to express uncertainty over the lack of available information.
Samuel, who recently graduated from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), finds interdisciplinary learning attractive and plans to apply to both Yale-NUS and CHS. Comparing both colleges, he said, “I see that both universities have a lot to offer … so I will weigh the benefits and costs by considering factors such as the community, environment, subject flexibility, co-curricular activities and academic programs.”
Not all students are fans of interdisciplinary learning. Jordan Chan, who recently graduated from Temasek Junior College, said: “I think that the new college will be useful, but I don’t see myself enrolling in it since I personally would prefer to specialize in doing science in the university rather than still do both arts and science.”
Mr. Tan Tai Yong commented, “I see a positive and mutually supportive relationship between these two colleges … each will attract different types of students. Those seeking a truly liberal art and science experience with a rich residential component will find Yale-NUS an attractive option. On the other hand, students wishing to pursue specific disciplinary specialization might find the structure offered by CHS and the range of disciplines available at FASS and FoS more appealing.”
Closing off the interview with The Octant, Mr. Chew commented: “Obviously we will be bigger, but the issue is not who is bigger, it’s about preparing each and every one of our students from both colleges for the future and contributing significantly to society.
“After all, we are sister colleges together. If you do well, we do well; and it is in our interest to see all of us do well.”
In a year where almost nothing has gone according to plan and progress seems to be undoing itself, it’s worth revisiting the words of Oscar Wilde:
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at,” wrote Wilde, “for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”
Getting to utopia, however, often involves some disagreements, especially at a certain liberal arts college in Asia.
Like most idealistic freshmen, my Yale-NUS journey stretched out invitingly, rather utopian-like. Or utopian-lite, with mask-wearing and social distancing in place for the foreseeable future.
At The Octant’s first in-person session for freshmen, much of the evening was spent discussing article pitches. As hand after hand went up and ideas filled the whiteboard, it seemed most freshmen were criticising some aspect of the school we’d only known for two weeks. The upperclassmen’s shared anecdotes only seemed to reinforce this – they spoke of The Octant’s role in accountability and transparency, as if facing an actively antagonistic administration.
Perhaps after twelve years in the Singapore education system, I could not comprehend the idea of a school publication where students expressed dissatisfaction so openly. This was college, after all! Welcome to the real world, idealistic JC kid.
Okay, that was a tag overdramatic. Later, when I browsed The Octant in a more rational state of mind, it was hardly dissertations of dissent. Most were personal, lighthearted pieces with a poetic tinge. Critical pieces were infrequent and some were directed at the Yale-NUS student community, not the college administration.
But what explains most of The Octant’s prospective writers’ dissatisfaction? More broadly, why did Yale-NUS students generally seem dissatisfied with the administration?
(The author is aware that The Octant may not accurately capture the views of all Yale-NUS students and it would be unreasonable to expect it to do so. Subsequent sections of this article discuss the larger Yale-NUS student body, rather than focusing on The Octant.)
Instead of letting a thin layer of dissatisfaction fester, this drama seems like it could have been avoided with better communication and understanding on both sides. In the case of StuGov stipends, it would have been better to make this knowledge public earlier to set context, rather than have rumours flying.
On the other hand, students also need to understand the administration may operate under constraints or context unknown to us. Although we are not privy the decision-making at higher levels, let us assume good intent until proven otherwise, Like all institutions, the college administration fails us at times. But we might not know the circumstances under which some choices were made.
In particular, we need to understand Yale-NUS’ position in the wider NUS community. Although officially an autonomous college, the distinction is often glossed over by NUS students who think we are ‘basically another RC or faculty’. For example, when Yale-NUS students had the option to S/U modules during the harried transition to online learning, NUS students raised it as an option because to them, we had set a precedent.
To ensure a healthy, functioning relationship, both the college administration and Yale-NUS students must actively work to foster understanding.
This does not mean dissent has no place in Yale-NUS. Change is wrought in many ways and dissent is a powerful tool if used widely. Perhaps it is not unexpected that students admitted for their willingness to change the world would start with the campus around them, questioning their privilege and challenging institutions. It may well be a mark of intelligence, not petulance, to debate the principles behind issues that affect you.
Dissatisfaction with the status quo is human. We hold Yale-NUS’ students and administration to better and higher standards because we believe they have the potential to meet them. Like any institution, Yale-NUS needs loving critics and critical lovers, not sycophants.
While the journey to utopia might involve some detours and tempered expectations, it might not be such a Wilde idea after all.
It’s fair to say that Singaporeans are not proud of Singlish. We may teach our friends from all over the world how to place las at the end of their sentence awkwardly… la. We may laugh with a fuzzy feeling of recognition, every time we see a caricature of a Singaporean speaking with an absurd amount of Singlish jammed into an otherwise run-of-the-mill sentence.
For those not familiar with Singlish, it is English infused with Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, Tamil, and Teochew—the languages spoken by the various groups that call Singapore home. It is perhaps the most organic manifestation of the complicated and inextricably interwoven relationships between these groups in a nation that has bureaucratized everything else relating to race and ethnicity. To speak Singlish is to tell the story of our country as it is, not as what the government defines it to be.
Yet Singaporeans, especially those with higher levels of education, make fun of those unable to code-switch back to Standard English. We think less of those who speak with the very same la, hor, sialas peppered throughout their speech—the very same colloquialisms that we teach our foreign friends. We subscribe to the notion that people who speak Singlish are somehow less intelligent than we, the college educated elite, are.
I have heard Singaporeans tell their foreign friends who are interested in learning Singlish many times: “No! You have such a nice accent now. Don’t ruin it by speaking like me.” Evidently, we find ourselves embarrassed about the way we speak, especially when we talk to (white) foreigners. We drool over accents like the British one, or its bastard cousin the Aussie. Why is this so?
The answer is an uncomfortable one. I think it’s a devilish amalgamation of governmental influence, classism, ingrained orientalism, and an affinity to the idea of emulating our colonizers.
The government, nigh-omnipotent as it is in Singapore, can and should be held responsible for the negative connotations many of us harbor towards Singlish. It has run a multitude of“Speak Good English” campaigns that have become imbued into our consciousness via academic arteries like secondary schools. These campaigns, while seemingly innocuous, bear dangerous fruit. It meant that those who already spoke “good” English were necessarily rewarded with recognition, while those who could not were seen as inferior. Yet the government is not the sole arbiter of influence. To claim that it is would be to discount other factors at play. And if it were, we wouldn’t have Singlish anyway—we’d all speak the Queen’s English.
Another reason is classism. Make no mistake—being able to speak and write Standard English is a privilege. Studies show that English ability is strongly correlated with affluence: people who speak and read English tend to perform better in Singapore, a nation that uses English as the medium for international commerce.
If one is unable to have access to the English language as a young child—as is so often the case when one’s parents don’t speak the language or have a limited grasp of it—then one is often left behind. If a person isn’t used to speaking perfect English at home, then they would often find themselves failing to enunciate words the standard English way.
In an educational system that places great emphasis on and conducts lessons in English, this can prove to be very disadvantageous to the person who simply cannot avoid the linguistic minefield that English proves to be— “colonel” being pronounced as “kernel,” for instance. The very reason many of us Singaporeans here at Yale-NUS College were able to do well enough in school to find themselves enrolled in our hyper-exclusive college is our Anglophonic privilege, which is in turn indicative of our economic privilege.
To then turn around and sneer at those who don’t have parents who speak fluent English and therefore were unable to have the head start we enjoyed from birth (literally—studies have suggested that babies cry with an accent), resulting in them speaking “broken” Singlish, is pure classist discrimination. For instance, I’ve heard comments on campus like “How did he even get in? He speaks like a typical ah beng [the Singaporean equivalent of a ‘chav’, ‘roadman’ and other classist equivalents]”. Perhaps we have forgotten that ah bengs like my friends from secondary school didn’t have parents who spoke English to teach them the basics even before entering kindergarten.
For a college community that so often purports itself to fight for the underprivileged, we sound performative when we look down on the way the less privileged speak—a mockery I’ve occasionally seen, especially in interactions concerning Singlish between Singaporeans and their foreign friends here on campus. Of course, this is not limited to Yale-NUS—I would indict white-collar circles in Singapore as well—but it’s especially glaring in a college that many Singaporeans deem to be irrevocably leftist. I wonder what commenters labelling us as bleeding-heart liberals on any given Straits Times article concerning our school would think of our obvious classism.
Another reason we associate Singlish with general incivility is due to the ingrained consciousness of Orientalism. How could it be otherwise, when the birth of modern Singapore was rooted in Orientalism? We were made the “other” by our colonizers when they came to this exotic tropic and made those already here foreigners in their own land. Having established the framework of white dominance, they then supplemented the rungs with other subjects that have already been dominated—the Chinese, the Indian, and the Malay.
Necessarily, we became the uneducated, the unintelligible, and the crude. We may dress in the white man’s clothes and copy his gestures, customs and perhaps even be able to compete with him economically, but the charade is betrayed when we speak. To hate Singlish is to hate that we have to drop the façade—an illusion as we never become neutral in a framework that Orientalizes us, we remain the other even as we attempt to imitate the white man—every time we speak.
To hate those that dare speak Singlish is to hate the idea of someone breaking the illusion that Singapore is, if not part of the civilized West, then at least closely linked to it. Of course, this idea of civilization rewards proximity to whiteness.
To not accept our accent as no less professional than a British, Australian, or American accent is to accept the Western hegemony that has limited space for people who look like us. If to cover up our accent is to accept Western hegemony, those who cannot or refuse to do so are closer to our true selves than we are: to hate the way they talk is to hate who we are as non-Western people.
That is not to say we are fully to blame for code-switching to a neutral accent or one that is similar to our colonizers. Why wouldn’t someone do that, if it meant social clout and progression in both the academic and professional sphere? A system that rewards a white-passing accent is one that necessitates imitation. Yet we must be sure to recognize that we must understand the intersection of class and racial space that Singlish occupies despite this, rather than attempt to replace it with the linguistic hegemony that oppresses us.
In a country so devoid of organic spontaneity, the last thing we need is yet another soulless standardization. That some can speak only Singlish is not an indictment against them. In fact, I think they are more in tune with their heritage than any of us at Yale-NUS who sneer at them can ever be. They are not conforming to a universalism that suppresses any deviation from whiteness.
Singlish is an important cultural phenomenon in a nation that has an identity crisis. We need to remember that we are not white. We as Singaporeans have such a beautiful history, and we should make sure to embrace it. The pronunciation of “colonel” doesn’t make sense, yet I don’t see British people scrambling to explain that they’re embarrassed of the way they pronounce that word. To accept that their interpretation of English, a language that they imposed on us, is the only right one is chauvinist at best and colonial at worst. Perhaps the most obtuse example of this would be the fact that the Singapore Ministry of Education put out advertisements in the Guardian, a British newspaper, for “Native” English speaking teachers—though I suspect what they were really looking for were white British teachers.
If Singapore is to be remembered as more than a commercial hub when we cease to exist as a nation (and we will, eventually), then we have to build a cultural identity rather than a purely economic one. The Romans are better remembered for the Colosseum than for the strength of the denarius in 87 CE. So the next time you hear someone slip a la into conversation, or call someone bodoh, think twice before labelling them an uneducated ah beng or matrep. More likely than not, you’re reproducing classist discourse rooted in an oppressive racial dynamic. Better yet, just embrace Singlish la.
“I also speculate that our faculty would stop being so overwhelmingly American—it is quite clear that the current system privileges professors from American institutions. I contend that it’s time we had decolonized our faculty selection process anyway. After all, what business do white American professors have teaching Chinese studies in Singapore? [emphasis added]”
While Sagna makes the laudable contention that we should decolonize our faculty and faculty selection process, his rhetorical question implies that white American professors should not be teaching subjects outside of their cultural and ethnic sphere, such as Chinese studies. I argue that this is a problematic attitude.
I contend that such an attitude cannot be the ground for discrimination against such faculty, for such willful discrimination against qualified white American professors is counterproductive to learning and education.
For example, at a recent Chinese Philosophy roundtable, I witnessed an experienced white Chinese Philosophy professor being talked down to by a Singaporean Chinese graduate student. Instead of responding to the objection the white Chinese Philosophy professor gave, the student dismissed it by claiming that “this white man knows nothing because he is not Chinese.”
Clearly, this sort of response is unwarranted and rude. Importantly, attendees of the roundtable did not learn anything (except that the student was rude) from such disparaging remarks. Similarly, to say that white American professors have no business teaching Chinese studies in Singapore is unwarranted and rude. Such attitudes exclude students from having a productive discussion on the professor’s particular reading of a subject or text. Problematically, the attitude that Sagna asserts implies that the study of Chinese Philosophy, or any other form of cultural knowledge, should be limited to those that bear its color, culture, ethnicity, or some implicit, but nebulous, identity marker. As I have shown, this attitude of willful discrimination is counterproductive to learning.
To be clear, I agree with Sagna that we need to decolonize our faculty and faculty selection process. However, it cannot come with the attitude of willful discrimination against faculty who are clearly qualified to be teaching outside of their cultural and ethnic spheres.
Instead, a just manner of decolonization should involve scrutiny of hiring and tenure data. Then, we should ask the proper question: “did the hiring of a white American professor displace a non-white, non-American professor who is more qualified for the role?”
Further, in teaching these subjects and texts surrounding specific cultures and ethnicities, are the faculty respectful of the lived experiences of students, staff, and other faculty that are embedded in them?
In asking these questions, we should also scrutinize whether certain subjects and texts have been canonized over time to systematically select for certain professors that have been privileged in their learning of such canonical texts. After all, their familiarity and inclinations to such canonical texts might otherwise form barriers to decolonizing our curriculum.
To be fair, there has been some progress in decolonizing our curriculum. Beginning with the Class of 2023, the Common Curriculum module Literature and Humanities 1 now includes the 17th century Malay Annals (Sejerah Melayu), and the epic of Sundiata (Sundiata Keita). Still, more can be done, and for good reason.
Lastly, in having conversations about decolonizing our faculty and faculty selection process, let us also remember to include non-academic faculty and the staff of Yale-NUS.
It is only then that we can say that we have begun to justly decolonize faculty (and staff) at Yale-NUS College.
The views expressed here are the author’s own. The Octant welcomes all voices in the community. Email submissions to: email@example.com
On Oct. 13, 2020, Dr Philip Johns, Senior Lecturer of Life Sciences at Yale-NUS College, presented a compelling lecture on Singapore’s otter population during a Rector’s Tea in the Cendana Rector’s Commons. Throughout the lecture, he presented a range of fascinating insights into our local otters’ behaviours. Specifically, the lecture discussed the interactions of Singapore’s approximately ten otter clans with monitor lizards, hunting practices, and territorial disputes marked with Shakespearean violence and drama. Despite their seemingly cute appearance, otters can demonstrate both violence and the adorable behavior that we so often see in Internet videos.
Take their relationship with monitor lizards, for example. Otters demonstrate a degree of aggression towards the kleptoparasitic (food-stealing) reptiles. Monitor lizards have been spotted targeting otter pups and showing aggressive or defensive behavior towards otter groups. However, otters have demonstrated violence against the lizards and have even been spotted demonstrating pro-social (helping) behavior by grouping to attack antagonistic lizards.
Otters follow a range of interesting social behaviors. They practice communal playing and, apparently, teach younger pack members. Groups sometimes collaborate to herd fish. However, herding behaviors in Singapore were only observed when groups were large and when pups were involved. Juveniles contributed more to herding behavior, suggesting that packs use herding as a means of teaching pups to forage. According to Dr. Johns, researchers from the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS have extensively explored over 11,000 audio recordings via software such as Warbler and found a wide range of calls that may be used in relation to group status and identities. Unfortunately, this analysis may be biased since evaluating their sounds is a somewhat subjective task.
Aside from their behaviors with monitor lizards and within their packs, otters have even been observed demonstrating egregious violence between groups. The famously Shakespearean conflict between the Bishan and Marina clans effectively illustrates this point. Following the tragic passing of the Marina patriarch, possibly due to rat poison ingestion, the Bishan clan descended upon them and killed members of the opposing clan to assert authority and usurp territory. Fights between them were violent and brutal, compelling some observers to try and forcibly separate the combatants against the basic ethics of animal observation. The Marina clan has primarily been decimated and is, as far as we know, still in search of a more stable, sufficiently-proportioned territory. The now powerful Bishan clan also happens to be one of the most human-habituated families in Singapore.
Despite the cute, puppy-like appeal that otters hold for many in Singapore, we must remember that they are “vicious, territorial and prone to dispute,” as put by Dr. Johns. Nevertheless, we can continue to protect, observe, and attempt to understand the complex hierarchies and behaviors of a locally-loved urban predator.
In an email on Oct. 23, 2020, Dean of Students Dave Stanfield informed Yale-NUS College’s students of the plans to explore a new dining model starting from Academic Year 2021/2022. As our current vendor’s dining contract expires, the Dean of Students Office (DOS) plans to move away from the school’s current all-you-can-eat buffet model, instead pursuing a “hybrid-buffet dining concept.”
Under the proposed concept, one dining hall meal tap will entitle students to one set meal (out of four cuisine options) with no refill option, as well as access to free-flow drinks, breads and salad. Students can also access one portion each of soup, fruit, and dessert. The set meals would not be pre-plated, allowing diners to request for a larger or smaller portion depending on their preference.
Café Agora will also likely be reinstated as the central collection point for Grab & Go options, allowing students to redeem a sandwich, a fruit option and a drink per tap.
The new dining concept is the product of “a year or so” of careful consultation between DOS staff and industry professionals, and it aims to ensure the “quality”, “quantity” and “nutritional completeness” of food served at every meal, said Muhammad Erfaan, Residential Housing Operations Executive, and Natalie Ang, Wellness Manager, both part of the DOS office at Yale-NUS. The duo co-lead Yale-NUS’ Dining Experience Team (DXT), which oversees the college’s three dining halls.
“Over the past semesters, we’ve seen numerous instances of feedback regarding inconsistencies in food quality and a host of other menu/dietary preference related issues,” Mr. Erfaan and Ms. Ang explained. “Through the set meal concept, we can expect that many of the concerns raised by the students and food industry experts to be met.”
Nicol Yong ‘23, a student associate for DXT, further elaborated on how the new system would improve food quality. “It is very hard to predict the amount of each dish that should be prepared. All 16 dishes (in a non-COVID semester) have to be available at all three dining halls throughout dining hours. Food has to be replenished within 10 minutes, meaning the vendor has to have trays of food ready to go out at each meal service. This is costly and produces a large amount of food wastage.”
“The new system provides F&B vendors with greater predictability when it comes to what and how much they should prepare, allowing them to focus more on the quality of the food.”
The hybrid concept could benefit students with dietary restrictions. “Under the current system, there have been many lapses in how nutritious a meal is for vegans and vegetarians/ Muslim students—students might not have enough protein options, or have too much carbohydrates in a single meal,” said Huang Huanyan ‘23, another DXT student associate. The dedicated Indian/Halal and vegetarian/vegan stations could help control this problem.
Looking forward, DXT is continuing to review student feedback on these proposed measures. “The proposed dining concept will continue to be tweaked and may evolve as we engage with the prospective vendors to understand their capabilities and specific proposals in the coming weeks and months. We really appreciate all of the supportive and constructive comments we’ve received so far, and hope to use the feedback to implement a suitable, renewed and revitalised dining experience for everyone!”
Student reaction to this new development has been mixed. While some were supportive, others had deeper concerns about the model.
“I’m actually quite optimistic about the change! The idea that a limited set of food would lead to better quality is quite intuitive. I predict that the caterers would waste less food in the long run, and so they’ll be able to focus their efforts on the quality of the food,” said Michael Sagna ‘23.
“This is the logical step for the administration to take after four years of consistent complaints about food quality—they’ve tried different cuisines, different dishes, different caterers, and so a different system is naturally the next step to take.”
This sentiment was shared by Afiya Dikshit ‘23 and Sewen Thy ‘23, who had both attended United World College (UWC) boarding high schools in Singapore which featured a Sodexo-run meal setup similar to the new proposed model. “It could definitely be worse. At UWC, we had a set meal system for lunch and a buffet for dinner. The lunch quality was considerably better, mainly because we had choices to change the cuisine style more often.”
However, some students with dietary restrictions raised concerns that the new system would restrict, rather than improve, their dining options.
“As a vegetarian, I’m glad that the college is pushing for more nutritious food options, but I’m worried that under the new system, this will come at a significant cost of options,” commented Tanya Sharma ‘23. “While non-vegetarians can still consider whether they would prefer to have Asian, Western, Indian, and so on, the vegetarians have no option but the couple of items given under the vegetarian section. If on a particular day, the main dish isn’t very good or something I’m not comfortable with—mock meat, for instance—I can’t simply avoid that. While I do really appreciate the school’s efforts in improving nutrition and quality, I wish this didn’t involve severely sacrificing choice of cuisine.”
Other students wondered if they would get their money’s worth from the pricey (and compulsory) meal plans.
“A set meal without the option for refills would objectively cost less than a buffet-style concept,” mused Ivan Leo ‘22. “As such, would our dining prices be justified under the new system?”
These criticisms come even with DOS’ explanation that the current buffet-style model is financially unfeasible for vendors. Ivan pointed out that SATS (the dining vendor prior to Sodexo) had been keen on renewing their contract with Yale-NUS in 2018. “Surely that points to the fact that our all-you-can-eat model could be profitable.”
Beyond costs, students hope that the dining system—whatever form it takes—is able to assure quality. “Honestly, I’m fine with either dining system as it is, as long as vendors are able to consistently provide acceptable food,” said Thet Yin Zaw ‘23. “If costs are the issue, I’m personally okay with fewer but high-quality dishes.”
This translates to the larger issue of vendors’ accountability, an issue that students hope will be addressed regardless of dining concept. “I do understand the quality argument, but why do vendors need to constantly be reminded that they need to provide quality food?” asked Binderiya Oyunbaatar ‘23. “Our vendor seems to always begin the semester with a rocky start, only improving food offerings after numerous reminders from DXT and the students. Are there any repercussions when vendors don’t live up to the school’s specifications, and how will moving towards a new dining system help to enforce this?”
It remains to be seen if the new dining concept will be implemented as proposed. However, beyond the dining format itself, the issue of vendor accountability seems to be a perennial concern.
Heightened transparency between school administration and students—providing students with more clarity on vendors’ expenditures per meal, or instating a clear accountability process for vendors, for example—could go a long way in building mutual trust and understanding between students, vendors, and DOS. On students’ part, actively raising dining concerns through existing feedback channels could also provide the DXT team with valuable insights into key concerns on the ground.
Students’ names have been anonymized to promote authenticity and to protect their privacy.
Yale-NUS College likes to think of itself as progressive. We pride ourselves on having more forward thinking and student friendly policies than other universities in Singapore. However, some students feel that there is not much information surrounding the sexual healthcare available, and how much it costs.
What are the procedures in place for seeking treatment for sexual health related issues? Could Yale-NUS do more to protect the sexual health of its students? I had the opportunity to interview Student Services to learn about Yale-NUS’s policies on sexual health, largely relating to insurance coverage and survivor support.
The information in this article was compiled from communications with both the University Health Centre (UHC), the Survivor Support Centre, and MYCG & Partners (Yale-NUS and the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) insurance provider). Students also spoke candidly with me about their personal experiences seeking sexual health support from UHC.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
In an email interview, Student Services stated that the health insurance “cover[s] only medically necessary treatments for known diagnoses,” but that “this excludes treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.” “This is the norm for most health plans in Singapore and applies even to those purchased by individuals for personal health coverage,” Student Services added.
This means that students are expected to pay for their own testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. STI testing at UHC is also chargeable “depending on the tests involved, the prices range from $40-$165,” Student Services stated, going on to mention that a consultation with a doctor is required. Concerning prevention, “Hep[atitis] B and HPV vaccinations are available, subjected to stock availability.”
Likewise, if a student tests positive, they are expected to front the costs of the medication for the infection. When asked about what students are expected to do if they cannot afford treatment or testing, Student Services said that “the College can provide emergency funding via an upfront loan if required, similar to loans given out for other medical issues.”
Simon*, a student at Yale-NUS, gave a statement about his experience after seeking treatment for anal warts at UHC. “A long time ago, I discovered warts on my anus, and finally went to UHC for a check up after a lot of stress and anxiety,” he shares.
“The doctor did a quick rectal examination, and pronounced very judgmentally and ominously ‘Papilloma warts. VENEREAL DISEASE!’ …As he was examining me, a nurse walked in because he didn’t lock the door and screamed ‘doctor!’”
“[The doctor] wasn’t very helpful with resources or prognosis—he just said he would write a referral… I opted for a direct referral to the skin centre, rather than the polyclinic route which would have been subsidized, because I was already traumatized by this and I didn’t know how long more the treatment would take or if things would get worse.”
“In short, my mental state merely got worse over the next few weeks until I got treated completely at the skin centre.”
To promote safe sex, the college provides condoms which can be found in residential college offices, common lounges, laundry rooms, the intercultural engagement space, and the wellness office. “The College encourages students who are sexually active to be safe and healthy,” Student Services stated. “With this in mind, Dean of Students (DoS) provides a limited quantity of male condoms,” which are “intended for emergency use and not intended to be students’ sole source.” Lubricant is not provided.
Isabella Nuñez, Class of ‘21 and President of the G-Spot, stated that the organisation also “has a supply of condoms as well as lube which have been donated by Action for AIDS (AFA). We have periodically provided these at events, in the intercultural engagement space, and sometimes in little goodie bags across campus,” she also explained.
However, Sonia*, a Yale-NUS student from the Class of 2022, described having bad experiences with the condoms provided by the DoS office. “These condoms are notorious for being crappy. Everybody knows you should only use them in an emergency and at your own risk, which is problematic because you expect a condom to do its one job. They have broken not once, but twice on me.”
Despite the fact that she tried to get Plan B on these occasions, Sonia explains “ultimately I was discouraged by the cost and the fact that I would have to go see a doctor. It would also take way too long, feel like an invasion of privacy, and I wouldn’t know how much the whole thing would cost… I did what a lot of people do, which is just pray for your period to come soon.”
Concerning birth control, Student Services explained “UHC provides consultations” and that “fees are kept to minimum.” They provided the example of contraceptive pills, which start at $6.60 a month. While UHC offers Plan B and birth control pills, it does not offer other methods of contraception such as the intrauterine device, the contraceptive injection, the implant, nor the patch.
Priti* recalls going to UHC for Plan B, otherwise known as the morning after pill, a trip she made twice. “The first time was before COVID hit really hard… It was a relatively fast experience. At the pharmacy, the pharmacist was nice about explaining how to use it and actually answered my questions about side effects really patiently too.”
“[The second time] my experience was more eventful because I think I got the same doctor or another one that had access to my records. I say this because she knew that I had come two weeks ago for the same thing and made a remark that Plan B was not an appropriate method of regular birth control and I did feel a little bit judged.”
“In all, I think my UHC experiences were pretty smooth, but I did feel very ashamed that I had put myself in this position to begin with, so any side comments made me want to cry. I think what added to it was that I felt that I was the only person on this earth who had to get Plan B and I had internalized that Plan B was for irresponsible people so I felt terrible about myself.”
Mariah*, an alumni from the Class of 2020, also described feeling uncomfortable at comments made by a doctor at UHC after consulting a doctor for strong period pains. “The female doctor asked me about my sexual history, and when I told her that I am not sexually active she praised me for being a good girl. She said quite dismissively [that] I should not engage in sexual activities like many of my peers who got various kinds of sexual transmitted diseases.”
Sonia had a similar experience of unsolicited comments being made when seeking treatment for a urinary tract infection. “It was an old man doctor who asked me if I do dirty activities like have sex. And he was like, looking at my vagina. I was like ‘what do you mean dirty activities?’”
When asked about abortions, Student Services stated that “Abortions are not available in UHC and not covered under the NUS Student Insurance. Prices vary hence it is best for students to call the respective hospitals or clinics to enquire.”
Funding and Finances
When asked about funding for different types of birth control, including those explained on posters around campus (pictured above), Student Services stated that “[students] may approach Carol Pillai, Associate Director of Student Services, for emergency funding for emergency contraception.”
Despite the fact that Yale-NUS only offers funding in the form of loans for treatment for STIs, the procedure is slightly different when it comes to emergency treatment in the forms of morning after pills, abortions, and Post-Exposiure Prophylaxis (a drug which can lower the chances of HIV infection after exposure). If students require funding for these, “this would be deemed as emergency funding under the context of survival support. Thus, it would not be in the form of a loan.”
Yale-NUS’s approach to survivor support is organized through designated staff members. Student Services explains that “Survivor Support Advisors (SSA) can serve as an initial point of contact for survivors of sexual assault or misconduct on campus. An SSA serves as a consistent presence to mitigate the harm caused in survivors being asked to retell their story when navigating internal processes to support their healing.”
“SSAs are trained in trauma-informed protocol and support provided is individualized to the survivor’s needs. This can include emotional support, regular check-ins, guidance on resources and options available, requesting AD notes, emergency funding, accompaniment to the police or hospital, and general logistical adjustments.” Student Services also added that survivors may visit the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC)—an external organization which provides resources and services related to sexual assault.
“[Survivor support funding] is not in the form of a loan. Survivors have the agency to visit the SACC at any time without informing the College. We have a confidential billing process with SACC which allows us to fully cover the fees for the survivor without SACC having to disclose any details to us.”
In response to the information in this article, the G-Spot, a student organization which aims to raise awareness about gender and sexuality issues, identified three main gaps in Yale-NUS’s sexual health policies.
“Firstly, that information on what exactly is covered can be hard to come by—we often rely upon dated info or word-of-mouth to assess potential prices and insurance coverage. Secondly, we lack health experts on campus (such as a nurse) who could clarify these policies for us and refer us to the correct place. Thirdly, sexual health measures beyond condoms are not financially accessible to many students—and, in the vein of broader questions of financial accessibility on campus, measures of mitigating this economic inequality (such as Emergency Funding) are sometimes inconsistent and students may not feel welcome to pursue them,” Isabella Nuñez, President of the G-Spot, stated.
“I recognize that our health insurance policies and the practices at UHC are difficult to change, since they are NUS-wide systems, but there are also several actions which can be taken at the level of Yale-NUS to improve the health, safety, and comfort of our students,” Nuñez added.
Kingfishers for Consent (KFC), a consent and accountability advocacy group on campus, also emphasized its view that “these are conversations that should happen openly without any stigma or shame associated with them. In addition to the workshops we do to hold conversations of this kind, this semester we’ve introduced a ‘Kingfishers for Consent Lunch Tag.’ On Fridays from 12:00 to 12:30 you can find KFC members to chat about anything consent or sexual wellness related in an open and friendly way!”
The Octant reached out to UHC for comment on the accounts of Yale-NUS students. Dr. Lee Chian Chau, Deputy Director of UHC, stated that “Sexual health-related issues are often highly sensitive, and our doctors are trained to be cautious in medical consultations and diagnoses on such matters. We will remind our doctors to be more sensitive when seeing patients on sexual health-related issues, and to exercise more care and empathy in their patient communications.” He also added that “Patients who have any feedback on our doctors or UHC service can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Dave Stanfield, Dean of Students at Yale-NUS, also provided a statement in response to the experiences of students at the college .
“Every year, DoS reviews the practices we have in place and takes further action where needed to promote sexual health and wellness at Yale-NUS. Regarding insurance coverage, we plan to more explicitly highlight to newly admitted students the coverage limitations of the student medical insurance plan with respect to STI testing and treatment.”
“We will continue to work closely with KFC to consider other ways to promote sexual health through the committee and support them in their design and distribution of an informative poster on STI and HIV testing and treatment, forms of birth control, how to put on a condom, etc. DoS is also considering a new web page dedicated to sexual health with relevant insurance information, including a list of clinics with affordable places in Singapore for STI and pregnancy testing.”
It remains to be seen, however, how both the University Health Centre and the Dean of Students will fulfil their promises to students in the coming years.