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The significance of Monica Baey’s judgement call to challenge the status quo that was disadvantaging her and her peers

by Joseph Nathan

When Monica Baey escalated her case publicly, I was surprised that some people actually highlighted her plight to me in various chat-groups and messages. I had to disagree with most of them. This young lady does not need our pity. In fact, we ought to be thanking her, her parent and her mentors for teaching us a critical lesson here.

In a nutshell, some guy violated her by taking a video of her while she was showering at her hostel in NUS campus. She reported her case to the police and NUS. The police investigated and after two months of investigation, decided to hand the perpetrator 9612-month conditional probation. NUS followed with their disciplinary action and the authorities expected the case to be closed, just like the rest. Status quo prevails.

While the perpetrator got a slap on his wrist, the victim got the blunt end of the deal when she has to live with the trauma of socializing with him in school like as if nothing has ever happened. It is natural of her to be questioning if the act of such a violation warrants no real consequence. Something is not making any sense here and the police and NUS have a lot of explanation to do as this case is unlikely to go away any time soon.

When she realized that she cannot afford to be victimized again and again by the trauma, she bravely rejected their prescriptions and makes a judgement call to demand for zero tolerant against such perpetrators. Both the police and NUS probably underestimated the merit of her case. The vital point raised by Monica was that hers was not an isolated case but such cases have become one too many for young female students like her to be enduring at their student hostels at the NUS Campus.

If taking a shower is an issue, one wonders how those female students could even be sleeping in peace. Is there no rocket-scientist in NUS who could explain to their senior management the effect such traumas have on female students and why firmer action is needed in addressing such issues to truly demonstrate that NUS has zero tolerant against all form of sexual violations?

By making her judgement call, Monica shows that she knew her rights sufficiently to be holding NUS responsible and accountable for their repeated failures to protect the basic rights of female students like her reasonably. When their hostel’s security system was breached by perpetrators, who have managed to circumvent so often, it also shows that the current approaches and actions taken by NUS are clearly inadequate in the prevention of such incidents, much less in addressing their traumas.

Her parent and that of other female students, and the public ought to be outraged by the repeats of such incidents that are so detrimental to the well-being of the female students at NUS and should also rightly question NUS why it is leaning more towards the perpetrators than the victims.

By rejecting the status quo, she saw a need to be addressing the issue as it has been repeating itself once too often. When the issue was properly identified as a problem by her, she was right in effecting for a change-process to be taking place so that the problem can be addressed more holistically. In the management term, she is displaying highly sought-after attributes of real Problem Solving skill.

Mistakes are costly to any organization and having it repeated is not an option for any Learning Organization in the private sector. When the incident happens, they are carefully addressed, just like what Monica has done. The end result is for the organization to learn as a whole and not repeat the same mistake again, or worst, again and again, like in the case of NUS. Problem solvers like Monica are celebrated and cherished in any Learning Organization.

If only NUS, being a centre of excellence for education is able to practice the concept of Learning Organization or more specifically Problem Solving skill that it teaches at its Business Management and Social Science faculties, such an incident would not have repeated itself so blatantly until it becomes such a public scandal. NUS obviously have the resources at its disposal and its students could also be roped in to resolve this issue and learn first-hand the importance of solving a real problem, just like any Learning Organization would.

Looking at the statement from NUS to the Straits Times yesterday, I think some individuals in a position of power at NUS may have no concept of what Learning Organization is all about or the ability to be appreciating the essence of Problem Solving skill. By issuing their standard statement, NUS may have just opened another can of worms by trying to defend the indefensible.

NUS ought to be engaging a consultant who could explain to them in simple English that Monica is not a problem but merely a catalyst, critical for change in solving this particular problem. Why can’t NUS just reach out to her and seek her critical feedbacks and understand the traumas female students have to endure firsthand and address the matter more adequately?

Instead in the statement issued, NUS only create more unwarranted tensions by stating that it is reaching out to Monica to offer her support and assistance. Question will naturally be asked as to why it took NUS more than two months to be reaching out to her after such a traumatizing incident. Clearly, this could not be its standard protocol in its trauma-management for its students. Are there no trauma-experts in NUS to be advising them too?

When NUS further listed the five factors of concern that its Board of Discipline will be reviewing from, such as severity of offence, need for justice for the victim, rehabilitative need of the perpetrator, safety of its community and, the decisions and penalties imposed by the authorities, it just shows their lack of sensitivity towards victims like Monica.

Given that this is not an isolated incident, it is already so obvious that the security and safety of its female hostel, which forms part of its community, is already an issue. If such a violation of its female students is not severe, how severe must it be before NUS treat the issue with greater urgency? More can be questioned about some of the unwarranted contents of its statement.

It is good that more students are finally coming out into the open to share their own encounters and demand that NUS adopt a zero-tolerant against such violations. The Hard Truth is whether NUS is even capable of learning from its students and practice what it teaches.

Inspirational Factor

What I find most aspiring of Monica lies in her ability to think critically and question the status quo that disadvantages her and her peers. Our children ought to be learning from this Hard Lesson and not allowed themselves to be rolled over or be overly submissive whenever questionable status quo demanded of them. The notion of being better is always better makes sense here.

Her mother’s open support of her also deserves our support as this is exactly what we ought to be teaching our own children – to always act in good conscience and fight critically for what they truly believe. We don’t raise our children to be pushovers.

This is so important as many parents have been lamenting on behalf of their children whenever they got deprived of a place in our universities and polytechnics by foreign students, or when they were denied the choice of their preferred studies or how parents have to fork out extra saving to fund their children’s higher education in private schools. As a parent, I shared their experience that our education has some build-in discriminations that are against our own children yet favour foreign students or elite ones who are under our government radar.

Some parents were further enraged when their children graduated into unemployment while many of our good paying jobs have been going to foreign talents as a result of our government signing of highly questionable Free Trade Agreements “FTAs” such as CECA with India etc or how foreigners used dubious qualification or groupthink to favour a particular nationality over our own.

If our children are unable to think critically and challenge such unfair “status quos” more decisively when in schools, then their future will indeed be very bleaks should they be further disadvantaged in their workplace and country? Critical thinking matters and can make a big difference in our children lives. They must not be pushovers when it matters most.

As a nation, our future will be bleak if our children cannot think critically for themselves and their peers. With critical thinking ability, they can solve real problems, contribute more effectively to society and can also critically question the government of the day on any given issue that they are facing. Collectively, such a skill set is good for any nation that seeks to be progressive and forward-looking.

I hope more political leaders will also weight in objectively and demand that NUS demonstrate greater care and sensitivity, and learn to apply what it teaches. Given the importance of critical thinking, it may be desirable that our schools grant greater autonomy to our students so that they can champion and speak up on relatable social causes that matter to them.

Parents can also be more assured that all their effort in raising their children are not in vain as they are more than capable of defending and fighting for their own rights where it matters most. This may be the most crucial attribute we may have to articulate in our own children, besides ensuring that they do not bully, exploit or violate others like those perpetrators.

Do not pity Monica but rather appreciate and support her on the significance of her judgement call. The lesson that we can all learn from her has great significance on the development of our own children. After all, as a nation, Singapore truly deserves better

This was first published on Joseph Nathan’s Facebook page’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.