orientations and the issues of social programming

hilarious-tumblr-highlights-some-of-the-most-ridiculous-college-paper-topics

It’s difficult to say the words ‘We have a problem’. It means owning up to the pain we may have caused and admitting we’ve made mistakes, and it’s human nature to want to be in the right. But progress only happens when we accept the situation as it is, and identify ways to deal with it. When it was reported that the NUS Orientation Camp had activities promoting rape culture and sexual indecency, it was surprisingly disappointing how many people tried to defend these activities but in that same moment, it was also encouraging that people were talking out loud about their experiences because finally the dominant narrative was being challenged.

I have a number of thoughts, but I need to make some declarations and caveats to my arguments. First of all, yes I don’t attend NUS and attend a college in the US, but I am Singaporean and have been witness to the numerous activities either through Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram etc. as well as the anecdotes of my friends. Secondly, even though the programs I’ve experienced to address similar issues aren’t perfect and perhaps approach a different culture, the intent and themes are the same through and through.

My first issue with orientation programs is their intent. Traditionally, they’ve been designed as a form of induction into a college culture or program. This can come in the form of team-building, sharing of values, and establishment of a safe space. But many times, this also comes in the form of establishing a social hierarchy and perpetuating social norms. The activities that tend to aim predominantly achieve this, either explicitly or worse, intuitively, are what we in the U.S. call hazing. Hazing is when in order to ‘fit into a group’, people are pressured to conduct themselves in a way. There’s normally a psychological deterrent from not participating, commonly through exclusion, ridicule or expulsion. Why is this a bad thing? I hope it’s clear to most people, but for those who find it difficult to accept social hierarchies as innately wrong, I refer you to your own experience where you were excluded from a group simply because of a choice you made that aligned to your own principles. A university is designed to be a place for groups from all parts of society to come together and contribute to a learning environment that will help them grow. When someone is under psychological duress or social stigmatization, it becomes difficult to feel safe and valued in a college environment. While in many ways, it’s meant to prepare you for the real world, which is a dark and difficult place, college is also meant to help you incubate your ideas for change and be a starting ground for shaping your ideas for the future. And don’t worry, colleges tend to be dark and difficult places for a lot of people already, and your experience isn’t necessarily representative of those who suffer on a day to day basis from social stigmatization. Orientation games that contribute to this message need to be severely evaluated and addressed. Hopefully, it also becomes the first step to evaluating all aspects of a college environment that perpetuate the lack of justice and the spread of social hazing.

The second and more obvious issue with the orientation activities was the sexualization of the activities. Let me caveat by saying that anything consensual between two willing partners is completely fine with me. I am not trying to be a moral pundit on what form of sexual expression is appropriate, but what I do believe in is that it is no place of an institution (in this case, the orientation camp committee) to decide to have any activities that take away the agency of a person in deciding his own sexual fate. There’s a huge problem with Singapore’s approach to sexism and patriarchy, and I could write a whole post about it, but this orientation camp clearly is evidence of how pervasive rape culture and the lack of understanding of consent is. Men and women are fed into a patriarchal system where hypermasculinity for men means not saying no and taking up space, both physical and social, even at the expense of women. And for women, they’re told that that’s just how the world is, and they cannot be active agents themselves, but simply passive to the direction of men. So while a legal system can set the first step in hope for equal rights, a culture that clearly does not understand and accept the intention behind the laws is self-defeating. 

The scary part isn’t the activities themselves because as many students pointed out, it’s already been removed and the camp can exist without them. It’s in the normalization of the beliefs above, and that people can talk about rape in a joking manner, or believe that they have a say in someone else’s sexual life. It’s the normalization that it’s fine to put someone in a position of submission or weakness and make him follow your way through power mechanisms. It’s the normalization that the ‘real world fallacy’ is justification for your own abuse of power and privilege. Because for society and more importantly, for college students, to progress, we must reject normalization and the ‘way things are’, and continue demanding for a new society built on the values we choose moving forward.

I think NUS canceling the camps was a strategic move to regroup and avoid any future lapses. But I hope it takes the opportunity to through relook its whole culture and understand that systemically it may have a problem in perpetuating the wrong values. And this isn’t a problem just for NUS. It’s a problem for all schools in Singapore, Asia and even the world. I myself will take these lessons back to Northwestern and the institutions I’m a part of.

What I do encourage is for people to continue speaking up. Speak up about your injustice. Speak up because educational institutions in Singapore don’t have transparency on the pervasiveness of sexual crime in its institution even though there is a year on year rise in sexual crime . Speak up because more crimes in Singapore institutions go unreported because of internalized social hierarchies whether gender-based or not. Speak up because you can be an active agent of your own destiny and not a victim of the whims of those with power and privilege.

It’s scary to hear people say nothing is wrong with the way things are, or even that the problem can be easily solved by simply removing aspects of the program. There is a systemic problem and that requires all college students to actively fight to change the system. Don’t allow things to continue as they are, and continue to build a better future.

Keep believing.

hooah.

 

 

Advertisements

keep on dancing

Dance Marathon 2015 is over; 30 hours of dancing, meeting people and enduring the pain in my feet later and you stand accomplished at overcoming everything people said was senseless to do.

I’ve always had an aversion to gimmicky forms of fund-raising. It’s something to note if you could have raised money without the gimmick – or even have raised more money if you removed the cost of the gimmick. But after last night, I’m pretty sure NUDM is not a gimmick.  There’s a lot of effort to ensure the participants know what they’re dancing for and more importantly the brand created around NUDM (probably the most important thing in my opinion) has lent itself to more clout in soliciting donations. The Dance Marathon itself was personally a commitment I had said I would fulfill, as well as an opportunity to be part of something truly Northwestern.  It’s much more meaningful to the fundraiser than the person. There’s few ways you can raise  a lots of money for charity – but every successful fund-raiser has had a high element of celebriti-sation either through the drivers of the fund-raiser or the main draw of the event. At the end of the night, I felt connected with the beneficiaries I had raised money for.

One of best takeaways for me was the whole notion to “Keep Dancing”. As some of you know, one of my two mottos is to “Keep Believing”. It’s probably the only reason why I’ve rarely felt disappointment, and even if I did, I’d be able to quickly recover. Hope is the sword that the few but the courageous have the strength to yield –  because hope requires faith in the unknown.

Keep Dancing has the same sense of grit to it. Other than the literal implication of dancing to complete the marathon and successfully raise money for charity, Keep Dancing to me was about enjoying life too . Most dance parties I’ve been to have involved a healthy(okay, it’s never really healthy) level of alcohol to make it easier to get into the mood of the night. But this 30 hour party was as sober as it got, and I was reminded the sensation when I first started eating giants; being completely drunk on life. To dance because there’s a reason to celebrate living and being completely alive ; to dance because you want to express your soul’s murmurings.

I’m not a good dancer, far from it. But I dance shamelessly because it’s a personal moment. Sometimes I share that moment , with friends or more , but it’s still personal. Dance was almost meant to be a form of communication, not solicitation. It’s almost become corrupted to that though, in a lot  of places, and that’s  unfortunate. But we keep dancing still, because we still long to express the clawings of our heart. We keep dancing because when your feet hurt, the only way to keep the pain away, is to continue moving those feet. We keep dancing, because we know that when all is done , it’s the nights we danced that will stay embedded in our minds.

I’m glad I did Dance Marathon. So much happened in the 30 hours, and I became especially close with some people in the big white tent. I will keep these memories and I will remember the day I danced without reservations because I was glad to be alive.

and we keep believing.

geronimo.

frathouse by the prairie

“You would think seeing a whole place covered in snow would be beautiful, but you know what, I could honestly do without all of this environmental dandruff” Cindy said as she walked down the path with Rick.

“I find it fascinating.” Rick stared at the snow falling, putting out his tongue and letting the snow land on the tip. “But yes, I could do without the chilly wind ” he chuckled.

“I don’t get how you find all of this so funny. I’m freezing my ass off.” Cindy continued to dig her hands deeper into her coat , clenching the inner lining as if it would help her fight the chill. “Why did we even come out?” she continued whining.

“Well, if I remember correctly…” Rick started.

“Don’t you dare. You wanted to go to a frat party just as much as I did” she pointed her finger in his face.

He pushed his nose onto her finger. “Oh wow that’s a cold finger” he said. He did not want to argue with her ; tonight was supposed to be their night together. He would remind her the next day though , how she had continuously messaged him the whole week to find the parties that were to happen that night.

They had to endure a whole night of drunken stupor, dirty dancing, “Do you know someone here?”s and “Take a lap buddy”s . It was iced with some occasional fun moments though. The music at Sigma Phi was to his taste, and he had met a girl at Alpha Gamma that he had managed to have some corner fun with before he realised he had come with Cindy.

He despised the hookup culture on campus – but he kept being pushed to the corner by random people and just played along before his brain took over. Cindy offered something consistent. And that was the closest to romance he could get on campus.

“Let’s just get back to campus as soon as we can. My coat’s in your room right?” Cindy broke his train of thought.

He nodded his head, all the time staring right in front of him.

“Ce était une nuit incroyable!” he heard someone shout all of a sudden.

His heard darted right, allowing him to see a couple coming out, dressed in clothes he had only seen in the movies. Miami Vice if he wanted to be precise.

“Look at that!” he said, tugging at Cindy’s arm.

“It’s just a bunch of drunk grad students. Let’s head back. I’m freezing” she said, letting on a slight sense of annoyance in her voice.

“I’m pretty sure this isn’t a regular frat party. Let’s check it out ” he said. They walked up to the men on guard duty.

“What party is this?” Rick asked.

“It’s a password party, no password no entry” one of the men on duty said.

“Damnit ” he replied. His eyes were drawn to the lights leaking out of the house windows. The music that was seeping out didn’t sound like regular frat party music – there was a sense of elegance to it.

“Thanks Goodness. I was about to leave you here alone if you had decided to go in .” Cindy said relieved.

He looked at her with his face cringed . ‘Thank God she didn’t see that’ he thought to himself as he noticed her head facing forward. All of a sudden he felt a womanly touch on his shoulder. It was a lady with a large classy hat, and a gown covered with a faux fur coat.

“They’re with me” she said. “The password is magia” she whispered .

“Alright you guys can go on in” the man on duty said, waving his hand towards the front door.

Before he could take a step, he felt Cindy pull on his arm. “Let’s just go back to your place.” she said, with a pout on her face.

“Didn’t you hear the password? Magia… that’s magic in Espanol. This is our kind of party!” he said, a glimmer in his eye.

“It may be yours, but I’m done. I’ll just call an Uber and head back, if you’re not coming.” she replied , the annoyance pretty apparent at this point.

Rick looked at her, and then back at the house. The lady was still there , by the man on duty . She looked up and smiled at him, waving her hand. He looked back at Cindy , and felt a sudden limp. “I’m sorry Cindy, you know I have to do this. I wouldn’t forgive myself if I let a chance like this go. Let me know when you get back alright” he said and moved in to give her a hug.

She walked away before he could move in. “Sure” she said, curt and short.

Thank God I avoided that one, he thought to himself as he walked back to the house.

“Was that your girlfriend?” the lady asked him as she accompanied him to the door.

“You’re apparently not from here. Relationships don’t exist in this school” he said, head sinking slightly.

“That sounds horrendous.” she said. She slid her arm around his. “Well my name is Elaine, and this is the start of a beautiful night”

Rick turned towards her and smiled. “Seems like I made the right decision he said”

___

The party was unlike anything he had seen. As he walked in, he was transformed to another world. The room was decked with low hanging lights , the music was a fusion of jazz and electronic music, the people were dressed to impress.

“Why don’t you grab a drink? I’m going to say hello to my friend , he’s hosting the party. ” Elaine said into his ear.

“You know the host?” Rick asked , surprised.

“Oh yeah. Do you want me to introduce you to him?” she said.

“Why not” he replied quickly. He would love to meet the person who was creating this magic.

She led him by the hand to a couch at the far end of the floor. There were all kinds of people around , with all colours worn, and embellished with probably any foreseeable form of jewelry and apparel, and then some more. Amongst them all was a simple man, in a simple sports jacket and bowtie. “Is that him?” Rick asked, pointing at him.

“You have a good eye. He likes being called Doctor, but his name is Reinhardt. We all just call him Doctor”

“Is he a real doctor?”

“No one knows. He does know the solution to almost every problem we bring him though. So in a lot of ways, yes he is a better doctor than some”

Elaine walked on over to the Doctor, kissed him on both his cheeks and embraced him. She gestured over to Rick, and the Doctor came over.

“I see you chanced upon our humble get together. I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”

“I am, greatly in fact.”

“The night has only begun. You’ll notice there’s something special about this place. When are you from?”

“I’m from Chicago”

“I asked, when, my fine sir, not where. If you didn’t notice by now, this is not just a themed party. This is a party in what is known as the Roaring 20s. And by your response, I judge that you’re not a time traveller like the rest of us.” The Doctor turned back and faced Elaine. “You brought another straggler in?” he asked her.

“He’s cute” she said, and winked at him.

The Doctor turned back. “Watch out for her, she’s the most dangerous one amongst us all. Have a good time tonight, and don’t get lost. That has a different meaning here.” he said, slapping him on the back and walked away.

Rick stared past him and looked at Elaine. “I’m in another time?” he asked stuttering.

“Magia ” she said, and pulled him away to the dance floor.

They danced the night away, to the best music he could remember in a long time. As if Baz Luhrmann himself had transported himself to the 20s to be re-inspired, the music spoke of a different kind of ambition. Of ideals and hopes, rather than throwing one’s life to the dogs.

Elaine’s palms were wrapped around his arms, and she pulled him in closer.

“You know what’s making me in love with  tonight? I don’t feel like I’m here to make risky decisions I’ll want to have the chance to forget the next day. I actually want to live right now, I want to make risky decisions that I can live with ” Rick said, and planted his lips on hers.

They continued in each other’s embrace , and finally moved to the couch at the side.

“I didn’t expect people to be this open in the 20s” he said , chuckling.

“Honey, I’m not from the 20s. I’m a time traveller just like anyone else here. I’m from the 2100s. The 20s were my favorite period tho.” she said, placing her hand on his cheek.

“You dance almost like you fit in, especially in that attire”

“They still wear heels in the 2100s. I’ve yet to understand why” she laughed. Rick joined in, and they laughed for a good while. She leaned in on his chest, and lay there.

“Will I get to see you again?” he asked, playing with her hair.

“Well that depends. Now that you’re here, you get to choose. You can be trained as a time-traveller, or you can go back home. If you go back home, it’s unlikely we’ll ever meet again. But if you get trained, who knows? Maybe we’ll see each other soon.”

He continued playing with her hair in silence.

“What are you thinking?” she asked, holding his hand tighter.

“My whole life, I’ve been looking for moments like these. Pivots in life , that can throw you in a whole new direction. I’ve met people who are comfortable with what they know. But I’m constantly seeking things I don’t know. I’m always scared, because I may lose the progress I made – my family, my friends; but I’ve always ended up making new friends, and finding ways to connect with my past. What if one day I lose that ability? What if I keep pivoting till I forgot where I came from?”

She turned her head and looked at him.

“Those are exactly the questions I didn’t know the answers to. And you know what, there’s no other way to answer them other than to truly be forced to answer them. The only question that matters is “Will you?” . So will you?” she asked.

He stared at her ,and then took a look around the room, glancing at everyone in it. All the travelers, of time and space. He glanced at the door, from which he had left Cindy, and from which he had left what was a “consolation prize”. He found the Doctor , meeting new people from all over the timeverse , and then looked back at Elaine.

“Magia” he said, summing up the moment. And then he kissed her, like nothing before.

___

geronimo

the tribute to the un-imagined – we will dare

Image

it’s time to write something personal, as opposed to something vaguely political or social. we’ll have plenty of time for that. it’s time to look into 20 year old adolescence thing-a-majingums.

i’ve been pondering over what I should embark on in the six months between my trip to the US, and my matriculation to Northwestern. It’s crazy exciting – knowing that I’m going to be studying , living, fulfilling dreams and ambitions overseas. New friends, new campuses, new topics – these are things that excite me. “Potential” is a very energising concept.

there’s of course the regular response – get a job, or an internship. And that’s great and all. I  probably can get a job very soon – but with an A Level degree I’m looking at $800 a month.. unless I do a basic job and rack up $1600 for countless hours of work. It’s a value for money issue. I want to have time to work on The Hidden Good, learn German, travel and discover new skills. And I need money and time to support these.

So , I’ve gotten a few friends who’ve asked me to tap into my entrepreneurship abilities and start something of my own. and I discovered this post I made on my old blog (http://ilovelifeinc.wordpress.com) . and it’s crazy because the wishes are still the same. these are things I still care about. now the question is, one year later I’m in the position to capture the attention of people around me and attract them to work with me. So i’m putting a shoutout now – if anyone wants to help me with the below, especially 1&2 , let me know. We can plan things out. 

I like planning. I like doing. I like winning. And everything in between. 

I’ve started five funds – small ones each with a dollar in them. Now this isn’t  ask for donation – tho i’d gladly accept any. These five funds are to achieve five goals of mine by the time I die – and to do them in a manner that over-rides stereotypes and common problems with the industries. They’ll evolve as I go along but essentially they’ll remain (and have been for some years) the core of my goals for life.

 

1) Start a Talent Management Company that respects talent and grows them

2) Start a News Agency that respects facts and opinion with a divided line.

3) Start a School that respects children and education – learning and reading

4) Write a book that re-imagines a theme that has consistently been associated with the human consciousness

5) Travel the World – 2-3 countries in each continent and maybe Antarctica for a pit stop

 

I promise you I’ll achieve these goals – and I’ll probably blog on my WordPress more about each one but this is a declaration to shape my world.

 

Idealistic, naive, young. Go ahead. I’ll still do it – and I may die trying. But I look forward to the process of trying as compared to nothing at all.