More than 500 students flocked to the auditorium in the Stephen Riady Centre at the National University of Singapore (NUS) yesterday evening (25 April) with the expectations of having their voices heard regarding their concerns about sexual misconduct and have them addressed through NUS’ investigation and disciplinary procedures.
The town halll — led by Vice-Provost (Student Life) Florence Ling, Associate Professor and Dean of Students Peter Pang as well as Ms Celestine Chua from the University Counselling Services —generated backlash from the students when the management kept deflecting their feedback and questions to the review committee that will be set up by the university to review its current disciplinary and support frameworks.
This town hall was set up between NUS and its students following the recent case of Nicholas Lim secretly filming Monica Baey when she was showering. Ms Baey, 23, had flown back from an exchange programme in Taiwan to attend the session and speak out about her traumatising experience.
She described the lack of support and communication from the university about the incident and disciplinary process, such as leaving her to deal with a male police officer on her own and providing “incomplete information” during follow-ups with the university staff over the phone.
Ms Baey then suggested that NUS set up a separate office and a 24/7 hotline to provide emotional and administrative support for sexual assault cases. She also urged NUS to consider 2-years suspensions, “no-contact conditions” between the victims and perpetrators, and for the offences to be documented in a student’s record.
In response, Ms Ling apologised to Ms Baey for the university’s inadequacies in handling the situation and elaborated that a victim care unit would be established to attend to the victim by providing the necessary support. Campus security would also be improved.
However, Ms Baey was not the only victim with a story to tell. A female student recounted her experience of being molested by one of her seniors in the Faculty of Science. She was solely interrogated by university staff who accused her of being “inconsistent” with her testimony. Her case was dismissed a month later due to lack of evidence and her offender had since graduated.
A male student also recounted another case on behalf of a female friend, who was the second victim of another voyeur still studying in NUS. The student alleged that the Office of Campus Security (OCS) had responded to the matter in a highly inappropriate manner by giving his friend a rape whistle to use. The victim had also been pressured by the school’s counsellor to drop the case to give the perpetrator a chance at “rehabilitation”.
Besides that, there were other students who stood up to question NUS’ “zero-tolerance” policy-making on sexual harassment and the final outcome of Mr Lim’s punishment, among other things. There was even an unpopular opinion by a student who felt that a harsher punishment for Mr Lim would set a precedent for future cases just because a victim was more articulate.
In spite of the students’ queries and proposals for more transparency and security, the management of NUS responded by deferring all decisions to the review committee. Prof Pang explained that the committee would be more involved in the next town hall meeting.
The petition on Change.org seeking for heavier punishment for Mr Lim was updated by Wayne Wee in which he spelt out the good, the bad and the ugly details of the meeting. One of the biggest negatives pointed out in the petition was the constant deferment to the yet-to-be-formed committee.
Mr Wee said, “Whenever questions were asked about whether certain actions could be taken, the facilitators declined to answer, citing that it was the responsibility of the Review Committee. Whilst it is understandable that facilitators would be unable to give an on-the-spot reply, it is also only reasonable that NUS already have potential suggestions in place that could be discussed in the meeting.”
This session not only left many issues unanswered and students dissatisfied, but requests to extend the meeting were denied as well.
On the delay, Mr Wee said, “At best, this was a failure to take into account the possibility of a delay, even despite having knowledge of the scale of the dissatisfaction amongst the student body. At worst, this was another example of NUS not taking matters like these seriously.”
“To say that the first Town Hall was a failure would be an understatement. Here’s to hoping the next one would be less of a disappointment,” he concluded.
In the end, Prof Pang acknowledged NUS’ shortcomings and admitted that the university can do better, saying: “We acknowledge that the university has let you down. We have not met your expectations. We need to create a safer environment for all of us. There have got to be changes, this cannot go on. We have to take a tougher stand.”
Below is a Twitter thread by @KellynnWee, documenting the entire meeting live:
I am gong to live-tweet the NUS Town Hall on the Monica Baey sexual misconduct case–going to quickly summarise what's happened so far to try and catch up
— Kellynn (@KellynnWee) April 25, 2019