Cancelled Yale-NUS College course not meant to train students to protest: Alfian Sa'at

Local playwright Alfian Sa'at said the programme would have given students access to ask questions such as why one's art or cause is so important, and what "creative tactics" they have used to "express dissent within the bounds of the law".
Local playwright Alfian Sa'at said the programme would have given students access to ask questions such as why one's art or cause is so important, and what "creative tactics" they have used to "express dissent within the bounds of the law".PHOTOS: ST FILE

The cancelled Yale-NUS College programme on various modes of dissent and organising resistance was not designed to train students to stage protests in public, said local playwright Alfian Sa'at.

"Any comparisons with what is happening in Hong Kong right now is off the mark," he said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

Mr Alfian was to have led the one-week course, which was due to take place later this month before the college withdrew it last week.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin had made the link between the course and the ongoing Hong Kong protests in a Facebook post on Sunday. He said: "Given what is happening in Hong Kong and elsewhere, do we believe that this is the way to go? Is this the liberal education that we need to get us into the future?"

But Mr Alfian said the course was designed to "guide students to think about dissent in Singapore". "What is a dissident? Why does the media persist in labelling certain individuals or groups as 'troublemakers'? Who are they making trouble for? One of the best ways to get these insights is to meet some so-called dissidents face to face."

He added that the programme would have given students unfiltered access to ask questions such as why one's art or cause is so important to them, and what "creative tactics" they have used to "express dissent within the bounds of the law".

The proposed course would have included film screenings, a workshop on sign-making and dialogues with activist Jolovan Wham and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

 
 

Yale-NUS College president Tan Tai Yong had earlier said the college found, after a review, that the course did not critically engage with the range of perspectives required for a proper academic examination of the issues around dissent. He said the activities and speakers proposed would have infringed on the university's commitment not to advance partisan political interests on its campus, and may put students at risk of breaking the law.

Yale president Peter Salovey said on Sunday he has asked vice-president and vice-provost for global strategy Pericles Lewis to conduct fact-finding to better understand the reasons for the cancellation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2019, with the headline 'Course not meant to train students to protest: Playwright'. Print Edition | Subscribe