On Sunday (April 21), the NUS Students’ Union (NUSSU) Executive Committee issued a statement on sexual harassment in NUS. In the statement, the union expressed its condemnation of any form of sexual harassment and highlights how this episode reflects on NUS’ policy regarding sexual harassment.
The statement was released after the recent surge in advocacy for better policies pertaining to sexual harassment on campus. Over the last week, undergraduate Monica Baey posted a series of stories on Instagram addressing her frustrations with NUS and how her reported case of sexual harassment was not handled as well as she had hoped. The posts spoke about her experience she had at Eusoff Hall last November, when she discovered someone taking a video of her showering. Monica told Mothership that she caught an iPhone appearing underneath the cubicle when she was grabbing her towel.
The Instagram stories later went viral, with fellow students sharing her story on their own Instagram accounts to spread the word. The posts shared details about the case, mentioning that the perpetrator, Nicholas Lim, was given a warning and that the school wanted her to keep quiet about the case. A screenshot of a letter of apology was also shared, a letter that was mandated by the school’s Board of Discipline as part of the punishment given to the perpetrator.
In the letter, Nicholas formally apologises for his inappropriate actions and speaks of his remorse for propagating the traumatic situation.
“I am extremely ashamed of what I have done and I am so sorry to have traumatised you in such a manner, nobody should ever have to go through such a traumatic experience.”
He later elaborates how he has reflected on the situation, viewing it as an “invaluable lesson” that urged him to “strive to be the best version of (himself) here on”.
Monica responds to the apology in texts accompanying the screenshot with “Yup. Ok. I feel so much better thank you”.
The incident progressively caught the attention of a number of media outlets. The South China Morning Post was one of the first that reported Monica’s demand for firm action from NUS.
On Saturday (20 April), NUS released a press statement addressing the issue, confirming the 12-month conditional warning from the police and announcing its plans to convene a committee to review the existing disciplinary and support frameworks. The committee will include representatives from the NUS Board of Trustes, will study the approaches used by other international institutions and glean opinions from various stakeholders.
Some students have expressed their discontent with the statement. In the comments section of the school’s Facebook page where the statement was also released, student Daryl Yang reveals that he is shocked that all the school is offering is to set up another committee. Students continue to live on campus with the impression that should there be a violation of their privacy, all perpetrators get is a mere slap on the wrist said Daryl. He hopes that a town hall will be organised to speak with the student community.
Other students described the University’s reactionary approach to the sexual harassment issue. In the same comments section, June See questions why proper action is only taken when there is pressure from the public and media. Similarly, Rey Ong wrote that the university had always known about this matter and merely kept it under the carpet until it was talked about publicly. This follows Monica’s account of how the school responded to her case, writing that “NUS wants to keep it quiet” on her Instagram story.
In NUSSU’s statement addressing sexual harassment in NUS, it describes of how punishment is only one aspect of how the school should deal with sexual harassment and that this episode emphasises how the NUS policy with respect to sexual harassment can be reviewed. The union advocates for a more preventive approach on the matter at hand, in contrast to the reactionary methods that school has impressed on the students, as expressed in their comments. The areas mentioned to be reviewed include:
- Increasing awareness and education of sexual harassment on campus, as a preventive policy;
- Improving social-psychological support for victims of sexual harassment;
- Greater transparency and education on how sexual harassment cases are dealt with in NUS; and
- Improving the culture of reporting sexual harassment in NUS, to create a safer environment for reporting harassment.
As the NUSSU Exco works with NUS and conceives an action plan to better address issues of sexual harassment, the union stresses that all members of the school have the agency and role to play in creating a culture where sexual harassment is unacceptable and encourages students to play their part in ensuring an empowering, safe and trusting environment for all.
According to Monica’s Instagram, there have been petitions circulating around students, calling for more action taken by the school to delineate clearer campus policies that protect students against any form of sexual misconduct and to establish a better network and support systems for victims of all forms of sexual misconduct.
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