Photo Credit: College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT) /Facebook

CAPT’s former student shares harsh reality of the college and says it lacks diversity

The College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT) is a residential college of the National University of Singapore (NUS) where its curriculum focuses on active citizenship (AC) and community engagement (CE) through its formal and informal learning. This means that the college emphasises on the importance of both academic achievements as well as social and communication skills.

As such, Irie A, a former sociology student of the school penned down the reality of her life while she was studying in CAPT in her blog.

In her post dated 20 March (Wednesday), she started off by saying that the college is actually the reason why she became such a positive person in her life. This is because it has a supportive and thoughtful community where everyone in the school cares and helps out each other during all times, from bringing medication and food when she was sick to Resident Assistants (RAs) checking on her while she fights through anxiety attacks and bouts of depression.

“When you are surrounded by nothing but people who want to care for you, who want to share in great things with you, you want to be better for them. You want to give back,” she wrote.

However, she mentioned that although the school has its share of goodness, but it’s vital for her to be truthful and reveal the reality of the school. “Glorifying people – or in this case, an institution – is only doing everyone else a disservice. And while CAPT has not ‘died’, and is thankfully, thriving, my time in it has certainly passed, and I wanted to write something that could set the record straight.”

The downfall

Irie noted that she was thrilled to join CAPT after reading about CE on their website, and she had a great time in a few of the CE projects, especially the one where she had to mentor and tutor kids from low-income backgrounds.

However, after a while, she realised that CE in CAPT was “safe” and “politically correct”. It only focused on the good without highlighting anything that was bad or causes controversy. To top that, AC in CAPT was also neglected, and it was never actively promoted as CE. Besides that, socio-political discussion in CAPT was hardly encouraged too, unless it’s done in CAPT Café.

Although these issues didn’t bother Irie initially, but things took a different change when she participated in the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme (CTPCLP), which is a research program that looks into addressing community issues from the both top-down and bottom-up.

“It researches policies and programmes and ways to aid marginalized community in sustainable, effective ways, with the end goal of empowering them, and removing the need for intervention. It did a lot of volunteer work on the ground, yes, but made sure this was also part of a bigger picture. This blend of the micro and macro – or the individual and institutional – was honestly inspiring. This was not available in CAPT,” she explained.

Lack of diversity

Another issue that bothered her in CAPT was its lack of diversity – be it in race, sexuality and religion. The college is often joked as the Church of Alice and Peter Tan where majority of the students are Christians Chinese from middle/upper-class society.

According to Irie, even though CAPT calls itself secular -at least on paper – but in actuality, the college may be racist. This is because religion rhetoric, conservative ideas partially influenced by religion and other racial incidents were common enough in CAPT.

“Sociology helped me see the intertwining of both macro and micro social forces. And the more I saw, the more I felt despair and annoyance and suffocation, the more I felt like I didn’t and couldn’t belong; the more I detached myself from the college,” she wrote.

As a girl from the Malay community, she said that there were very less diversity in the college as they were actively filtering to recruit more Christian Chinese, making CAPT a homogenous community. Therefore, the institute is filled with conservative thinking individuals who made racist jokes, discouraged LGBT community and passed homophobic remarks to the queer community.

She also opined that they may be a serious systematic problems in CAPT that is beyond her scope to solve. To make things worse, she feels that CAPT doesn’t even realise that it has systematic problems.

“I’m fully aware of how certain people or groups saw me, when I decided to kick up a fuss about how CAPT was flawed, during my time there. But the thing is, the fault never did lie within me. It was always there: CAPT just never had someone who could very loudly articulate their problems. I refuse silence,” she penned.

After leaving CAPT, Irie said that she can’t go back to the residential college as she feels extremely betrayed, confused and cheated. After being exposed to the outside world, she realised that “CAPT was a microcosm”.

After returning to her alma mater recently, she sadly found out that the situation in the residential college still remains the same today.

Despite all the issues, she ended her post by saying that she loved her residential college but also “hated it for how laughable it could be, given its politics, its culture of indifferences; its potential for more that it does not try to do anything with”.