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Hundreds of students issue open letter to NUS leadership after disappointing town hall meeting on sexual harassment

The open letter criticised the absence of initial members of the Review Committee at the town hall meeting, the administration's lack of accountability and transparency on the review process, and the senior administration’s lack of knowledge on student life at NUS

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Over 300 National University of Singapore (NUS) students have issued an open letter to the university’s leadership, in the wake of the disappointing town hall meeting on sexual harassment on campus that took place, last week.

Sexual harassment at NUS became a hot topic after an NUS student Monica Baey revealed that a voyeur filmed her without her consent and knowledge while she was taking a shower at NUS’ residential Eusoff Hall.

The way the university handles such cases drew criticism after it was revealed that the perpetrator, 23-year-old student Nicholas Lim Jun Kai, was given a one-term suspension, a 12-month conditional (sentence) warning and ordered to make a written apology to the victim.

On 25 Apr, NUS convened a town hall meeting to discuss sexual harassment on campus. After the meeting, several students expressed disappointment and criticised the school’s leadership for their hesitance in answering several pertinent questions. One student, Facebook user Wayne Wee, recounted:

“In spite of clearly stating their goals of the meeting, when asked about the current procedure following a case of sexual misconduct, one of the facilitators declined to answer, claiming that answering the question was unnecessary, as a review committee was already in the midst of formulating new laws- clearly not understanding that students wanted an explanation for prior failures of the NUS administration when handling cases of sexual misconduct. This perhaps justifies the skepticism of many of those who, in speaking up, also demanded concrete assurances that the administration made sure that changes promised would be put into place.”
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Praising Ms Baey’s speech and suggestions at the meeting, Wee revealed that some of the measures to curb sexual harassment, proposed at the meeting, include:

“Punitive: Suspension of perpetrators for the length of time the victim has not graduated; a no-contact order; an official record tied to a perpetrator detailing his offences; possibility of expulsion, which the facilitators implied was not ruled out
“Security: Full length shower cubicles, questioning the ability to enforce a ban from school residences
“Victim Support: a 24/7 center dedicated to assisting sexual assault victims; easier access to university mental health services; suggested emulating AWARE’s current measures
“Education: standardised courses initiated by the management and implemented university wide”

Wee further said that the “incompetency of NUS in handling sexual harassment cases was exposed” as a number of students came forward to “share their stories and NUS’ mishandling of their cases.”

He further criticised the school’s leadership for denying a request to extend the meeting so more questions by the student body could be put to the board. The meeting facilitators also drew flak for declining to answer certain questions on actions that can be taken and for constantly deferring these questions to the Review Committee.

Particularly criticising one professor whose “apology seemed forced and rehearsed,” Wee wrote: “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.”

Another meeting attendee outright called the meeting a “s***show”. Sharing his views on Reddit, u/TheStateofIt wrote: “The three panelists, especially Prof. Ling, were woefully underprepared, like as if they weren’t ready for some of our questions.

“Half of the s*** they said was “Leave it to the Review Committee” or “I’m sorry”. And then, they had to leave at 6.30 on the f***ing dot, without extension. Like as if we weren’t important.”

Asserting that the panellists seemed to treat the meeting like an exercise in “damage control” and that there was no plan in place, the netizen added:

“We really felt like as if our comments may fall under deaf ears. Harsh, yes, but given the dismissive nature of most answers, it feels like our comments would just be taken into consideration by the review committee without any action. We need to know if what we say is really considered and not just to appease our need to voice out.”

Wayne Wee and the Reddit user are not alone in their criticism of the town hall meeting. An independent NUS group of students, NUS Students United, publicly released a list of nearly 30 questions NUS students had for the school’s leadership at the meeting. Read the questions HERE.

Hundreds of students have since issued an open letter to to NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, criticising the town hall meeting.

Released on Saturday (27 Apr), the open letter criticised the absence of initial members of the Review Committee at the town hall meeting, the administration’s lack of accountability and transparency on the review process, and the senior administration’s lack of knowledge on student life at NUS.

Read the open letter in full here:

Dear President Prof Tan Eng Chye,
cc: Chairman, NUS Board of Trustees Mr Hsieh Fu Hua; Chair, Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct, Mdm Kay Kuok; NUS Senior Deputy President & Provost Prof Ho Teck Hua
As concerned NUS students, we regret the unsatisfactory Town Hall held on 25 April 2019 with Vice Provost (Student Life) Prof Florence Ling, Dean of Office of Students Affairs (OSA) Associate Prof Peter Pang and Ms Celestine Chua from the University Counselling Services.
While it was encouraging to see the university leadership commit to making NUS a safer community, we are troubled by three issues which surfaced during the Town Hall:
1. The absence of initial members of the Review Committee of Sexual Conduct;
2. The lack of accountability on the part of the administration, and transparency regarding the review process;
3. The senior administration’s lack of knowledge about student life.
1. The absence of initial members of the Review Committee of Sexual Conduct It was disappointing that the main response which students received was either that the feedback will be directed to the Review Committee, or to email our views and recommendations to the given email address (nuslistens@nus.edu.sg).
Given that Vice Provost Prof Ling and Dean OSA Pang repeatedly emphasised the important role of the Review Committee, it was troubling that none of the initial members were present during the Town Hall to listen to and address students’ concerns and recommendations.
In the absence of the Review Committee members and the panellists’ reluctance to provide direct assurance in response to our recommendations, students have expressed a lack of confidence that their recommendations would be 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.
To demonstrate that NUS is serious and sincere about working with students to address this issue, we urge that another Town Hall be convened with the initial members of the Review Committee before the end of the semester to address the many student concerns that remain unaddressed. These concerns are highlighted below. This is in addition to the already scheduled Town Hall after the Review Committee report is released.
2. The lack of accountability on the part of the administration, and transparency about the review process
The issue of accountability on the part of the NUS Administration was not adequately addressed, although it was raised by many students during the Town Hall. There remains no measure or follow-up action for the student body to hold the Administration accountable to its promises.
As one student highlighted, the NUS Office of the Provost had previously reported that it was “working to develop a course for all NUS students on… sexual respect and consent, respect for diversity…” after public uproar over sexualised orientation activities in 2016. However, this has not been implemented and it has taken another national controversy for the university to revisit the implementation of this course.
Further, there remains a lack of transparency about the review process. It is unclear who will be included in the Review Committee, why and how they were selected, when the Review Committee will begin and complete the review process, and how the recommendations of the Review Committee will be implemented.
We are concerned that there are insufficient measures for students to hold our university administrators accountable during and after the review process. To address this, we propose the following recommendations that President Prof Tan should adopt:
1) Clarify the process by which members of the Review Committee are selected;
2) Increase the number of student representatives on the Review Committee, in particular, representatives who are survivors of sexual assault and sexual minorities;
3) Commit to a timeline made publicly known to all members of the NUS community;
4) Provide regular and timely updates to the NUS community through both emails and Town Halls on:
a) the progress of the Review Committee’s review process;
b) the progress of the implementation of its recommendations; and
c) the minutes of every meeting convened by the Review Committee.
3. The senior administration’s lack of knowledge about student life The Town Hall revealed a clear knowledge gap on the part of the senior administrators about the concerns and experiences of students.
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.
To address these issues, we urge the senior administrators take a more proactive approach in engaging with students and collecting student feedback. This may include regular student engagements, stronger feedback channels and a demonstrated willingness to listen to students. This will rebuild trust between the student body and NUS Administration, that the Administration sincerely values and wants to work with its students to make NUS a safer community for everyone.
In closing, we urge NUS to take this opportunity to build a more consultative and collaborative relationship between the Administration and its students. Failing which, the hitherto lack of engagement with the student body will only become more entrenched and it will only be a matter of time before yet another public uproar erupts over another student life issue.
Thank you for your time. We value your work in making NUS a safer community, and look forward to concrete steps taken by the University to address our concerns.
Yours Sincerely,
Concerned Students

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