New guidelines for NUS orientation to include more training and safety measures

An orientation activity at National University of Singapore (NUS)’ University Town on June 27, 2016.
An orientation activity at National University of Singapore (NUS)’ University Town on June 27, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) has released new guidelines for its freshman orientation, which will involve more training for student leaders and reinforced safety measures.

The freshman orientation framework will be ready by April next year, and training sessions for staff advisors and student leaders are also expected to begin next year.

This follows a controversy over the inappropriate nature of activities at the university's freshman orientation in late July, including complaints of students being forced to simulate a rape scene. Some also said they were coerced into taking part in other sexually suggestive activities.

It led to the suspension of some student-organised orientation activities, and calls for a comprehensive review of how activities at such camps are carried out. Disciplinary action was also carried out against 30 senior students for their role in the activities.

In a circular sent to students on Monday (Nov 7) afternoon and obtained by The Straits Times, Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS' deputy president (academic affairs) and provost, stated the recommendations made by a 13-member Orientation Review Committee, which included faculty members, student leaders and alumni.

About 160 students, including orientation committee members and freshmen living on campus were also consulted.

NUS management studied the committee's report in detail, and accepted all of its recommendations, he said.

These include:

* Setting up a freshman orientation framework, which will guide student organisers when they plan activities. This includes objectives that remind students that orientation is meant to "foster a sense of belonging and pride for NUS", and that freshmen should feel "welcomed, assured and supported".

* Developing a customised training programme to ensure that students and staff advisors will be able to lead activities in a "safe and respectful" manner. Important areas that will be covered include crisis management and sensitivity to vulnerable students. These will be conducted in a workshop format, involving face-to-fact interaction.

* Setting up a stringent selection process for student leaders of orientation camps. A selection panel, consisting mainly of student leaders, will put candidates through a detailed assessment that tests their responses to various scenarios to "gain an understanding of their values and moral compasses". Staff advisors will also be appointed based on their ability to serve as a role model for students, and their ability to develop students and set high standards for student leaders.

* Additional checks and safeguards will also be introduced. This includes appointing at least one student to play the role of a safety officer at each orientation camp, with more of such officers at larger camps. The safety officer will be in direct contact with the staff advisor, check on both freshmen and seniors, and report on or put a stop to inappropriate behaviour. Avenues for feedback, including going to the safety officer or staff advisor, will be made known to students at the start of each orientation camp.

* More workshops that "promote diversity, sensitivity and respect among the student community" should also be adapted and incorporated into orientation programmes by more student groups.