[Updated article]

Amid reports of freshman orientation activities in the National University of Singapore turning sexual and several NUS students defending these offensive actions, the university’s acting provost has issued an internal email condemning the turn of events.

In an email to NUS students issued Tuesday evening, acting provost Prof Bernard Tan said that the university expects orientation activities to be respectful of the dignity of all participants, regardless of gender.

“Our students, particularly freshmen, must feel safe, secure and respected at all times during orientation. If any student elects to opt out of an orientation activity, his or her decision must be respected and adhered to,” said the email.

“NUS does not condone any behaviour or activity that denigrates the dignity of individuals. In particular, any sexual innuendo or connotation is deemed improper.”

Prof Tan elaborated that the NUS’ Office of Student Affairs (OSA) conducts briefing sessions for students leading orientation activities, and warns them of dos and don’ts including examples of inappropriate activities. All activities must be cleared by supervisors such as hall masters and vice deans before they can proceed.

“We are very disappointed that in spite of all the above efforts, instances of offensive and inappropriate orientation activities have surfaced. These activities are neither approved nor endorsed,” said Prof Tan, highlighting that thorough investigations are ongoing and the OSA has met with student leaders of orientation activities to remind them of guidelines for acceptable activities. NUS staff will also be on site at such camps.

Prof Tan urged students who have concerns with such orientation activities to report them to Mr Seetow Cheng Fave and Ms Grace Chan – staffers at NUS’ OSA – on a strictly confidential basis.

[Original opinion editorial by Nicholas Chew dated Jun 28, 2016 at 3:07pm]

Sexual Indecency In Local Singapore University Orientation Camps: How Much Is Too Much?

University Freshmen Orientation Camps (FOC) are quite unique to Singapore, where every June – early August of each year you would see incoming freshmen and their Orientation Group Leaders (OGLs) running around campus in shirts, shorts and slippers.

But beyond creating a school culture unique to each host faculty or course, FOCs have always been the subject of controversies regarding the moralistically dubious interactions.

I refer to the controversy between camp participants of the opposite genders and the activities they are required to perform.

Once, I witnessed how a a fellow male freshie grew increasingly uncomfortable with the sexual nature of the games. Upon bravely voicing out his discomfort, he was told to suck it up. He promptly packed up his bags and left camp in response.

Common activities include having the guy do push-ups over a girl, having guys and girls pass MnM’s to each other with their mouths, or licking whipped cream off each other’s bare skin.

The issue of sexual indecency in Singapore’s university orientation camps has been under constant public scrutiny from as early as 2008, with the a more extreme cases making it to the news. This highlights the existence of risque activities that refuse to die out over the years.

The Problem

A large majority of the FOC participants enjoy these activities and feel that camp would not be the same without games that flirt with sexual tension. These are the eventual student leaders for subsequent camps, creating a tradition of sexually charged activities.

There is no question here whether the camp activities are too raunchy or not. They are. To many, they are gross, invasive, and not that necessary in order to have a good time.

The seemingly obvious solution here would be to voice out your discomfort with the camp and its activities. The camp participants are all future university graduates and surely they should be old and mature enough to speak up for themselves.

FOC is a place where people create new bonds, forge new friends. Nobody wants to be labelled as a spoilsport or a wet blanket even before actual term begins. Instead, those who feel uncomfortable endure the rest of the camp and its activities ending up feeling violated and traumatised.

To complicate things, it is hardly a secret that the Social Development Unit (SDU) provides sponsorship and funding to camps which create romance-friendly conditions and adequate interaction time between the genders in its bid to promote marriage and dating among university students.

Such “adequate interaction time” often finds itself in the form of the “Secret Pals” game, or SP games for short, where guys and girls are blindfolded while performing various activities with each other (undeniably) intended to create sparks of romance.

While the SDU has made a statement that they do not directly condone such activities, the games are ultimately run by seniors who, when unsupervised, will inevitably push the limits of what they can make the freshies do to each other.

What can be done?

Does this mean therefore that just because of standing traditions and culture that we should accept the way FOC’s are being run, and simply discount those who feel uncomfortable as freshies who were never really meant to be part of camps?

Not necessarily so.

In the past, FOC’s used to adopt a very different slant in its camp traditions, with practices such as having one’s head being dunked in toilet bowls and other similar activities. Yet, such activities are non-existent in camps nowadays.

If such a shift away from such a ragging culture is possible, what’s to say we should not attempt push away from the sexual tone of the camps today?

Furthermore, the long standing stigma against “wet-blankets” has been changing. Camps nowadays are becoming increasingly cautious of the potential scrutiny and condemnation their activities and games may attract.

As such, greater measures are being taken to ensure that all freshies still can have fun.

What’s next?

Some things will never change, like how forcing anyone to participate in activities they find inappropriate will always remain wrong.

Yet FOC’s have been adapting to that, adopting a more accepting and understanding tone throughout the camp, providing a chance for freshies with different expectations to have an equally enjoyable experience.

However this year, in my most recent camp, our camp director ensured that every safety briefing was accompanied with a warning to the seniors – not to take things too far, as well as an announcement for the freshies to speak up should they feel any kind of discomfort.

Its not a perfect system. Slip-ups will inevitably occur, but with a constant and growing awareness of the importance of being considerate, some change can happen.

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