SINGAPORE: Students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Thursday (Apr 25) called for the school to take responsibility for cases of sexual misconduct that take place on its campus.
They were speaking at a town hall held to gather feedback and listen to concerns about such cases and to discuss how the university could further strengthen its disciplinary and support frameworks. Scrutiny of NUS’ handling of such cases came after one of its students, Monica Baey, took to Instagram to call for tougher action against a student who had filmed her taking a shower at her hostel.
Her posts went viral and there was an outcry over the punishment meted out to the perpetrator. He was given a 12-month conditional warning by the police and suspended from the university for one semester – penalties which the education minister said were "manifestly inadequate".
READ: NUS to convene review committee after undergrad calls for 'justice' against man who filmed her in shower
The town hall saw Vice-Provost (Student Life) Florence Ling and Dean of Students Peter Pang addressing more than 500 students at an auditorium. So many turned up it had to be livestreamed to another.
Ms Baey, who was first to speak during the town hall question and answer session, said that there was a lack of victim support and bad communication by NUS. She said that she was left alone to talk to a male officer about her experience.
Prof Ling apologised to Ms Baey and the student body.
“I can feel that we have failed you, and I am seriously sorry,” she said. She added that NUS was setting up a unit for victim care, and that they would step up education workshops.
Some attendees criticised NUS' ways of dealing with sexual misconduct cases, with some taking issue with what they called the school's "victim-blaming approach".
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
Students who asked about how they could hold NUS accountable were redirected to a review committee that has been set up by the university.
A third-year University Scholars Programme student, who only wanted to be known as Devni, told CNA after the event, that NUS had not been transparent in its dealings with students. “What we’re expecting of NUS is transparency and accountability, but we’re not getting it, she said.
“They keep resorting to excuses like saying: ‘Oh, the committee will do this; the committee will decide this’ when they have a stake in collecting our voices and making sure the committee hears that."
At the town hall, students also came forward to share personal stories of sexual harassment. They accused NUS of wanting to hush up such cases.
One final year female student broke down while sharing her story of being molested by a senior.
Pointing out NUS' inadequacies in victim care, she said that she had been interrogated by two male staff members and one female employee who asked questions on what she had been wearing and "which side" the perpetrator had "squeezed first".
She said that she had received no apology, nor was there any warning issued to the perpetrator.
She added that she had been living with post-traumatic stress disorder for three years following the incident.
STUDENTS UNHAPPY WITH THE WAY TOWN HALL WAS HANDLED
While some students thought it was promising that the management organised the sessions, others who spoke to CNA after the town hall said it was a “disaster”.
“Overall, it went to show that ultimately, it was a little bit of tokenism on their part. They failed to adequately address the root of the issue,” said fourth-year law undergraduate Limin Chuan.
She added that she and her fellow students had expected the management to have more to offer, instead of directing questions and feedback to the review committee.
“We were expecting them to tell us how they want to change the culture, and make public the recognition that these things have to be top-down for them to be sustainable,” she said.
She added that they did not seem prepared for the “vitriol”.
Fourth-year political science undergraduate Suraendher Kumarr similarly said the management should have been better prepared.
“We did our homework, they should have done so too," he said.
Mr Wang Kai Richard, deputy secretary of student life from the NUS Students’ Union (NUSSU), said that multiple questions were about the review committee.
Some students questioned why the initial members of the committee - announced by NUS on Monday - were not present at the town hall and why there were only two student representatives on the committee.
There were also questions about the timeline for the committee to review the current disciplinary and support frameworks.
Some students also took issue with the amount of time allocated for the town hall, and that requests for a longer session were not met.
Assoc Prof Pang said, however, that another town hall would be organised, this time with the review committee.
In wrapping up the session, he said: “Our victim care is totally inadequate.”
He reiterated that a centralised victim care would be set up and that security would be strengthened at hostels.
Earlier this week, NUS president Tan Eng Chye apologised to the university's alumni, and said that the school was sorry that Ms Baey had to surface her concerns on social media for the university to take notice. He also said NUS "fell short" in providing her with support from the start.