NUS Orientation Camps controversy (2016)

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On 26 July 2016, The New Paper reported that university orientation camps have become sexualised based on the feedback of camp participants.[1] The report included recounts from students who shared details of the camps’ games and forfeits. Following this report, other cases of camp-related incidents surfaced in the media. The issue prompted online debate and official responses from NUS and the acting Minister for Education, Ong Ye Kung.

Origins of controversy

Screengrabs from the dunking video involving Sheares Hall. Photo from The Straits Times.

Newspaper report

The newspaper report from 26 July 2016 contained a comprehensive list of activities that were deemed inappropriate and risque. A student revealed her unease when playing the game ‘Burning Bridges’ where participants were asked negative and scandalous questions. The examples cited include: ‘Who among them is the sluttiest?’ and ‘Who would never get married and die alone?’. The student added that some of the camp’s cheers contained innuendos which hinted at parts of the male anatomy. Another female student revealed the details of a camp’s inappropriate forfeit where a male student had done push-ups on top of the female student.[2]

Dunking video

On 27 July 2016, a video of students getting forcefully dunked into a body of water was circulated online. The male student being dunked had been held onto by each of his limbs. There were a total of four "dunkers" in the video. Later in the video, a female student was also given the same treatment. The final portion of the video shows topless male students shouting obscenities while crawling on the floor.[3] NUS confirmed that the activities conducted in the video took place in Sheares Hall.[4]

NUS response

Following the newspaper report, NUS released a statement on the same day. The statement asserted that NUS does not condone “any behaviour or activity that denigrates the dignity of individuals, and that has sexual connotations”. It also stated that investigations were underway and action would be taken against the perpetrators.[5]

Suspension of NUS Orientation Week

The Office of Student Affairs held an emergency meeting on 29 July 2016. The statement from this meeting announced that all camps were temporarily suspended. This ruling affected six NUS camps.[6] The only activity excluded from the ruling was Rag and Flag, which is the annual charity fund-raising event organised by the NUS Students Union as part of Orientation Week.[7]


From 8 August 2016 onwards, the suspension of student-organised orientation camps was gradually lifted. Later that month, NUS convened an Orientation Review Committee to assess the current procedures for freshman orientation programmes and raise any suggestions they have to improve future camps. The committee consisted of 14 members and includes faculty members, student leaders and alumni of the University. Heading the committee is Professor Tan Tai Yong, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS College.[8]

Disciplinary action

30 senior students were found responsible for the incidents which occurred in July 2016. They were mostly from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as well as the NUS Students’ Union.[9] On 13 October 2016, NUS sent a notice to existing students detailing the various penalties imposed on the guilty students. Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS' Deputy President (Academic Affairs) and Provost revealed the following range of punishments:[10]

  • Suspension for one academic semester (roughly 17-18 weeks)[11]
  • Fines of up to S$2,000
  • Mandatory community service of up to 100 hours

Other responses

One of the inappropriate forfeits as described by a camp participant who had been interviewed by The New Paper. Photo from Lianhe Wanbao.

Student body

Many undergraduates were upset by the suspension of Orientation Week, stating that they are “old enough to decide what is appropriate for them, and do not need parents and the authorities breathing down their necks”. They also added that the actions of a few do not speak for the majority. Most student organisers follow the rules and guidelines set by the Office of Student Affairs when conducting these camps.[12]


Two student groups - ‘The G Spot’ from Yale-NUS College and ‘Gender Collective’ from NUS - issued a joint statement of concern regarding the suspension of all freshmen orientation camps. The statement asserted that the move did not tackle the “fundamental” problems of these camps. They urged the administration to adopt a more “consultative approach” by involving the students. As of 30 July 2016, over 150 people have signed in support of the statement.[13]

Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung

Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung weighed in on the matter through a Facebook post on 27 July 2016. In his post, he condemned the inappropriate activities that happened during the camps, saying that such acts cannot be tolerated.[14]


On 16 August 2016, Minister Ong Ye Kung released a written response regarding NUS’ decision to indefinitely suspend all freshmen orientation camps. He expressed that the decision was made after careful consideration and that the “demeaning” and “reprehensible” activities had “no place in a university”. Addressing the Sheares Hall dunking video, he clarified that dunking was a tradition in Sheares Hall not just reserved for freshmen. However, he asserted his support of NUS’ decision as “ragging” is prohibited in NUS.[15]

NUS Students’ Union

On 31 July 2016, the NUS Students’ Union, which was embroiled in the incident, released an official statement on their Facebook page addressing the matter.[16] They stated that the submitted camp proposals were approved after thorough scrutiny by the NUS administration. It was also clarified that the inappropriate activities had not been planned. The statement also mentioned that the Students’ Union were assisting the NUS administration with the investigations. The NUS Students’ Union appealed to the public not to view the “behaviour of a few errant students” as an accurate representation of the “entire NUS undergraduate population of over 28,000”. The post ends by encouraging NUS students to stay united in light of the incident.[17]

Revised regulations for NUS camps

A picture depicting Arts Camp participants and facilitators during beach day. Photo from FASS CLUB.

2017

On 26 January 2017, NUS sent a notice to students regarding the revised framework for freshman orientation camps. The new framework will be imposed 24 hours a day, covering activities held after the formal camp hours, and bans activities which cause or include the following:[18]

  • Ragging
  • Physical harm
  • Mental harm
  • Violation of one’s dignity
  • Promote deliberate close body contact

All activities must also be thoroughly checked by the camp’s organising committee, a staff advisor and the Office of Student Affairs. These activities include cheers and forfeits. Only approved activities can be conducted and all student leaders have to partake in a compulsory peer leadership course. Sporadic inspections will be carried out during the camps by staff advisors to ensure that no one flouts the rules.[19]


During two on-campus camps organised by Engineering students in June 2017, drones were used to monitor student behaviour. NUS explained that the drones were on a “trial basis” to see if they could replace “in-person spot checks”. They were employed for less than 10 minutes each time and student leaders had agreed to be monitored beforehand.[20]

2018

In 2018, all NUS orientation camp leaders were tasked to complete the Situational Judgement Training and Reflection assessment to become facilitators. The questions consisted of a few real-life scenarios which were provided by participants of the 2017 orientation camps. The quiz was meant to prepare the camp leaders for unexpected scenarios and to make informed decisions.[21]

References / Citations

  1. Sun, David. “Games at NUS camps increasingly sexualised, say students”. The New Paper. July 26, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/games-nus-camps-increasingly-sexualised-say-students
  2. Sun, David. “Games at NUS camps increasingly sexualised, say students”. The New Paper. July 26, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/games-nus-camps-increasingly-sexualised-say-students
  3. Sun, David. “NUS suspends all student-organised freshman activities”. The New Paper. July 29, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. To watch the video: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore-news/nus-suspends-all-student-organised-freshman-activities
  4. Koh, Fabian. “NUS suspends freshmen Orientation Week after reports of inappropriate activities”. The Straits Times. July 29, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/nus-cancels-freshmen-orientation-week
  5. Sun, David. Heng, Linette. “NUS to crack down on sexualised games”. The New Paper. July 26, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore-news/nus-crack-down-sexualised-games
  6. Sin, Yuen. Koh, Jeremy. “'Sexualised' uni camps spark fierce debate”. The Straits Times. July 31, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/sexualised-uni-camps-spark-fierce-debate
  7. Sin, Yuen. Koh, Jeremy. “'Sexualised' uni camps spark fierce debate”. The Straits Times. July 31, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/sexualised-uni-camps-spark-fierce-debate
  8. “Factual inaccuracies in The Straits Times report - "Action taken against NUS students for role in inappropriate orientation activities"”. National University of Singapore. September 22, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://news.nus.edu.sg/press-releases/factual-inaccuracies-straits-times-report-action-taken-against-nus-students-role
  9. “30 NUS students punished for 'sexualised' freshman orientation”. The New Paper. October 13, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore-news/30-nus-students-punished-sexualised-freshman-orientation
  10. Yang, Calvin. Koh, Fabian. “NUS disciplines 30 over risque orientation games; punishments include suspension, fines”. The Straits Times. October 13, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/nus-disciplines-30-over-risque-orientation-games-punishment-range-include  
  11. National University of Singapore. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://www.nus.edu.sg/registrar/calendar.html
  12. Sin, Yuen. Koh, Jeremy. “'Sexualised' uni camps spark fierce debate”. The Straits Times. July 31, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/sexualised-uni-camps-spark-fierce-debate
  13. Sin, Yuen.“Students 'disappointed' over NUS' suspension of freshmen orientation activities”. The Straits Times. July 30, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/students-disappointed-over-nus-suspension-of-freshmen-orientation-activities
  14. Ong Ye Kung. Facebook. July 27, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/ongyekung/posts/1368850089796256
  15. “Decision to suspend student-organised freshmen activities made 'carefully': Ong Ye Kung”. Channel NewsAsia. August 16, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/decision-to-suspend-student-organised-freshmen-activities-made-c-7858092
  16. NUS Students' Union. Facebook. August 16, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/nus.students.union/posts/10154961835309119
  17. Ho, Olivia. “NUS Students' Union apologises for 'indecent, reprehensible' orientation games”. The Straits Times. July 31, 2016. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/nus-students-union-apologises-for-indecent-reprehensible-orientation-games
  18. Tan, Tam Mei. “New NUS framework to bar 'negative' activities from freshmen orientation camp”. The Straits Times. January 26, 2017. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-nus-framework-to-bar-negative-activities-from-freshmen-orientation-camp
  19. “NUS to ban 'negative' activities from freshmen orientation camps”. Channel NewsAsia. January 26, 2017. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/nus-to-ban-negative-activities-from-freshmen-orientation-camps-7543332
  20. Valluvar, Revathi. “Drones monitor orientation at NUS”. The Straits Times. August 13, 2017. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/drones-monitor-orientation-at-nus
  21. Tan, Sue-ann. “Situational Judgment quiz introduced for NUS freshman camp leaders”. The New Paper. May 21, 2018. Accessed on 7 February 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/situational-judgment-quiz-introduced-nus-freshman-camp-leaders