At least 14 NUS undergrads disciplined over risque orientation games

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has taken action against at least 14 undergraduates for their role in inappropriate orientation activities in July.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) has taken action against at least 14 undergraduates for their role in inappropriate orientation activities in July. PHOTO: ST FILE

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has taken action against at least 14 undergraduates for their role in inappropriate orientation activities in July, The Straits Times has learnt.

Sources said the punishments included warnings without record and mandatory community service. The duration of the community service was not known.

It is understood that they were involved in organising or facilitating orientation camps, among them for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the NUS Students' Union.

  • Orientation Review Committee convened

  • The university has convened a 14-member Orientation Review Committee to review and make recommendations to improve freshmen orientation.

    Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS' deputy president (academic affairs) and provost, said that the committee has been asked to "consider new approaches to freshman orientation" and look at current practices that should be extended and preserved.

    The university said on its website that the members comprise undergraduates, faculty staff and alumni. The committee, which was set up late last month, is expected to submit its report in the middle of next month.

The undergraduates can appeal against the decisions.

When contacted on Wednesday, NUS declined to give details. A university spokesman told The Straits Times: "To safeguard the fairness of the proceedings and the privacy of all concerned, student disciplinary matters are internal to NUS."

In July, The New Paper reported about how orientation games for freshmen were getting more risque, with one even simulating rape. The report triggered a public outcry.

Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung called some of the risque acts "reprehensible" in a Facebook post on July 27.

Student-organised orientation activities were suspended on July 29, except for several events such as the NUS Students' Union's Rag and Flag activities.

This came after a video was posted online showing freshmen being dunked repeatedly in a pond in Sheares Hall. The suspension was gradually lifted from Aug 8.

The matter was later raised in Parliament on Aug 16, when Mr Ong said the inappropriate activities are not widespread, and happen "when staff and faculty are not watching, and when some students decide to deviate from approved plans".

While personal safety and respect for the dignity of others are key priorities, he said, there is no need for draconian measures. There was also a "fairly strong view" that orientation is useful for freshmen, he added.

A student who faced the disciplinary board told The Straits Times he was "relieved" that his punishment was not harsher, and he will share the lesson with his juniors.

"I will tell them explicitly what they can or cannot do. We always think we can do something without getting caught. But now, we got caught," said the undergraduate, who did not want to be named.

According to sources, the university's investigation began with fact-finding at the start of last month. The sources said orientation group leaders and student camp councillors met staff from the university's Office of Student Affairs and Office of the Provost. They were briefed on the need for integrity and told that what they said would be used in the investigations.

They were given questionnaires which asked about the sexualised games,whether the student did anything to stop it, and who led the activities. Staff then went through the questionnaires with each student.

At least 14 students - including orientation camp leaders, orientation group leaders and student camp councillors - later appeared before a disciplinary board made up of faculty members and student representatives. Among the accusations they faced were using unapproved items, such as tampons, during the orientation activities, consuming alcohol beyond university-designated premises and events, and providing false information during investigations.

The NUS law faculty's student- run pro-bono group offered to help the undergraduates facing the board understand the disciplinary process, according to documents seen by The Straits Times.

Most undergraduates whom The Straits Times spoke to thought the students involved had been treated fairly.

Final-year environmental engineering student Zenn Lin, 24, pointed out that most orientation activities are not risque. "This investigation helps to weed out the black sheep," he added.

Note: Our reporter had sent queries to NUS which declined to answer them. Instead the university asked that The Straits Times not run the story.  An NUS statement sent on Wednesday stating there were "factual inaccuracies" in our report made much of some minor aspects of the story. The substance of the story still stands.  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'At least 14 NUS undergrads disciplined over risque orientation games'. Print Edition | Subscribe