Local universities reviewing how they handle sexual misconduct and support for victims

Both Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University have sent internal circulars to their students on April 24, following the recent case of sexual misconduct at the National University of Singapore.
Both Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University have sent internal circulars to their students on April 24, following the recent case of sexual misconduct at the National University of Singapore.PHOTOS: ST FILE
The other three local universities - (from left) Singapore Institute of Technology, Singapore University of Technology and Design and Singapore University of Social Sciences - are reviewing their own disciplinary processes for sexual misconduct.
The other three local universities - (from left) Singapore Institute of Technology, Singapore University of Technology and Design and Singapore University of Social Sciences - are reviewing their own disciplinary processes for sexual misconduct.PHOTOS: SIT, ST FILE, SUSS

SINGAPORE - The other five local universities are reviewing their own disciplinary processes for sexual misconduct, even as the National University of Singapore (NUS) comes under fire for how it handled a Peeping Tom case on its grounds.

In response to queries, all of them said they are paying more attention to sexual misconduct and are looking at how to improve their policies and support victims better.

They also said they have existing security measures such as surveillance and campus patrols, as well as 24/7 hotlines for students to report suspicious persons and call counselling centres.

In their statements, however, the universities did not say whether they had shared NUS’ two-strike policy, which has come under heavy criticism.

A spokesman for the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said it recently strengthened its policy and procedures on harassment in January to provide students with proper channels to seek help and to investigate reports of harassment.

A similar policy for NTU employees also took effect in January.

The spokesman said it is now relooking certain policies and how effective they are. It is also reexamining whether there is sufficient support and care for victims, and rehabilitation and sanctions for offenders.

He said that this review will also consider "evolving social norms and expectations".

NTU said it will also introduce an online module on anti-harassment in July this year to all freshmen and student organisers of its orientation programme.

 
 

The module, designed in consultation with student leaders, will complement the mandatory briefings on related topics for student organisers and freshmen participating in orientation programmes, and will eventually be rolled out to all NTU students.

Singapore Management University (SMU) president Lily Kong said it has already started a review of its disciplinary mechanisms for sexual misconduct cases. She said the outcome and follow-up actions will be shared later.

"SMU does not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form," she said, adding that every related complaint will be investigated in a "fair and objective manner, while ensuring that the privacy and interests of the parties involved are treated with the appropriate level of sensitivity and balanced consideration".

Professor Kong said affected students can also seek help from counsellors at the Mrs Wong Kwok Leong Student Wellness Centre at SMU or by external psychologists or psychiatrists.

They will also get support in the rescheduling of classes or other arrangements to ensure they can continue with their studies in a conducive environment, Prof Kong added.

She also said security measures are in place around the SMU campus, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at building access points and in common areas, as well as regular campus patrols.

A spokesman for the Singapore Institute of Technology said: "We will take an active role to develop a university-wide approach to sexual harassment intervention, including increasing students' awareness through structured programmes."

She said that on top of security measures such as CCTV and campus patrol, it has a Student Grievance Resolution Policy where students can come forward to report incidents confidentially.

It also has counselling support and trained students who serve as a bridge between the counselling team and the student body.

Similarly, a Singapore University of Social Sciences spokesman said it is reevaluating its disciplinary mechanisms. It currently has surveillance and enforcement measures, as well as a counselling centre for students to go to for help.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design said it conducts a review of its student disciplinary processes every two years, and it is in the midst of a review.

Apart from regular patrols, surveillance and restricted card access to toilets, the spokesman said student leaders in hostels are trained every year to warn their peers against circumstances that can lead to sexual harassment acts.

"They have also been taught to identify and surface red-flags if they suspect that a hostel resident is a victim of sexual harassment," she said, adding that female residents in particular are cautioned to keep their room and toilet doors locked at all times and look out for each other's safety.

In a newsletter by NTU's Student Life team on Wednesday, the university said its recent strengthening of policy and procedures includes a list of non-exhaustive examples of harassment, such as bullying, stalking and sexual harassment.

The newsletter said: "The anti-harassment policy and procedure ensure that all reports of harassment will be thoroughly investigated and dealt with under the University's disciplinary procedures. Anyone facing or witnessing harassment should report it immediately."

Students can call the security hotline, the Director of Student Affairs or approach any professor, school officer, or senior faculty-in-residence for assistance.

Support will be provided by counsellors from the University Wellbeing Centre and by the respective school’s pastoral care team.

A member of the staff will discuss with the victim the options for redress.

NTU also encouraged students going for internships and starting work to find out about workplace harassment policies.

In an e-mail sent to students and staff that was seen by The Straits Times on Wednesday, SMU's Prof Kong said that in line with the university's efforts to improve its policies, its review, which has already begun, will consider best practices around the world, as well as seek input from stakeholders.

"I hope that this will reassure you of SMU's continuing commitment to you in providing a diverse, inclusive and safe environment for working, teaching and learning. We will share the outcome and follow-up actions with you at an appropriate time," she said.

Prof Kong is a former vice-provost of NUS and is part of the university's new committee reviewing its disciplinary and support frameworks.

She said the expectations for responsible and appropriate behaviour are "clearly communicated in the Codes of Conduct for faculty, staff and students".

On security measures in place around the SMU campus, she added: "All SMU buildings have 24/7 physical security presence, and access points of the buildings via side doors and turnstiles on level 1 of SMU buildings are also electronically locked at 2330 hours and at 0000 hours respectively."

She said: "I urge you to immediately report all instances of sexual misconduct, which will be escalated to trained colleagues for investigation, in a way that ensures confidentiality and timeliness."