Over 300 NUS students issue letter to criticise town hall meeting on sexual harassment

(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — More than 300 students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) sent a letter to NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye on Saturday (27 April) to criticise the town hall meeting on sexual harassment on campus held last Thursday.

The students expressed disappointment with NUS over three specific issues that surfaced at the meeting:

– The absence of initial members of the Review Committee of Sexual Conduct;

– The lack of accountability on the part of the administration, and transparency regarding the review process;

– The senior administration’s lack of knowledge about student life.

During the town hall, several NUS students revealed incidents of sexual harassment that they had experienced and lambasted the university for the subsequent mismanagement by its staff in handling their grievances. They also questioned the lack of transparency over the formation of the Review Committee and the inadequate security facilities on campus to deter would-be perpetrators of sexual misconduct.

The meeting was prompted by the furore over the handling by the university of the incident involving Nicholas Lim, a male NUS student who was caught filming undergraduate Monica Baey, 23, in a hostel toilet in November last year, and the perceived light punishments that Lim received. It was organised for NUS students, faculty and staff and chaired by Professor Florence Ling, Vice-Provost (Student Life) and Associate Professor Peter Pang, Dean of Students.

The NUS Board of Discipline had ordered Lim, also 23, to be suspended for one semester. In addition, he was banned from entering into hostel premises on campus, had to undergo counselling sessions and was ordered to write a letter of apology to Baey.

Lim, who was a first-time offender, was also given a 12-month conditional warning by the police. If he were to commit another offence over the following 12 months after the warning, he would be prosecuted for both offences.

In the letter, the students criticised the absence of the initial members of the Review Committee at the town hall to address their concerns on the issue. As such, they expressed a lack of confidence that their recommendations communicated via the panel or through email will be taken seriously.

“This raised the question among some students as to whether the town hall was merely an exercise in rehabilitating the university’s public image,” the students said.

The students urged NUS to hold another town hall with the initial members of the Review Committee before the end of the semester to address the issue. This meeting would be in addition to the scheduled town hall after the Review Committee report is released, they said.

In the second issue highlighted in the letter, the students said the lack of accountability by the NUS administration to tackle sexual misconduct was not adequately addressed during the town hall. Citing the controversy over sexualised orientation activities in 2016, they said NUS had failed to carry through its plan to work on a course covering “sexual respect and consent” for all NUS students.

In addition, there has been a lack of transparency about the review process and how the recommendations of the Review Committee will be implemented, according to the letter. Hence, the students proposed several recommendations including asking the NUS to clarify the review process, increase the number of student representatives on the Review Committee, and reveal and commit to a timeline on the deliberations of the Review Committee.

The students also flagged the third issue on the absence of awareness by senior NUS administrators about the cases of students who had experienced sexual misconduct on campus.

“During the Town Hall, Vice Provost Prof Ling and Dean OSA Assoc Prof Pang expressed that they were ‘disturbed’ by the testimonies of survivors of sexual misconduct who have been failed by our university. Given that both senior administrators are directly responsible for student life, it was shocking that this Town Hall was the first time they seemed to have heard about the serious shortcomings of the university’s sexual misconduct policies,” the students said.

To resolve this “clear knowledge gap”, the students urged the senior administrators to take “a more proactive approach” in gathering student feedback and improve the channels of communication on the issue.