Safety, consent must be paramount in camp activities

There are two issues at stake in the recent discussion about orientation activities: safety and participant consent ("NUS suspends all orientation activities"; last Saturday).

I hope the National University of Singapore will place emphasis on creating a culture of consent, rather than merely focus on which activities are allowed or not allowed.

There will be certain games and activities that fall into a "grey area", which would require mature handling on both sides, so student leaders, camp organisers and camp facilitators need to be aware of the safety risks for all activities.

The onus falls on camp facilitators to ensure an environment of trust, where participants, who may be younger than them, understand that all activities are voluntary. This is the most tricky issue because orientation games often try to build bonds by putting participants in situations of pressure and tension.

Games can be fun and inclusive, without making particular groups of people feel uncomfortable.

There is no need to eliminate or minimise physical activity in camps, as they can make camps more fun, exciting and memorable.

However, organisers have to ensure that the necessary safety protocol is followed.

If organisers feel the need to "up the ante" with more provocative activities, it is important to make it clear to the participants that all activities are strictly voluntary and there is no pressure to participate if they feel uncomfortable.

Hazing activities in the United States have resulted in deaths. These happen because people who are barely adults have assumed authority over others and get carried away in the name of "fun".

At the end of the day, camp facilitators need to learn that no matter how much planning has gone into organising the camps, what matter most are the safety and consent of the participants during the event itself.

It would be a sad day if a tragedy were to happen to any participant.

Samantha Wong Shin Nee (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Safety, consent must be paramount in camp activities'. Print Edition | Subscribe