Why It Matters

Get to root of orientation saga

The issue of sexualised orientation activities has become an emotionally charged controversy, after it was reported last week that some students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) felt coerced into taking part in risque games and cheers.

It led to intense public scrutiny of NUS orientation camps, with Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung weighing in on the "reprehensible" nature of some of the activities.

Last Friday, NUS took the unprecedented step of suspending all such camps. Many students have criticised this as a bid to pacify the public.

They have also taken umbrage at the vocal minority who have called out the misogynistic nature of some activities, including forfeits that simulated rape. Some fault these whistle-blowers for taking away the long-held tradition of orientation camps, which many regard fondly.

While some of the games are clearly inappropriate, a draconian crackdown is a solution that overlooks root issues.


Calls by the public for measures like an outright ban on physical contact between opposite sexes during games disregard the fact that university students are young adults who need to be empowered to make their own decisions.

The issue of sexualised orientation activities is hardly new and crops up every now and then.

The real issue is whether there are enough safe spaces for young people to have frank and non-judgmental discussions about sexuality, inclusivity and respect. What was problematic about some of the activities was not that they contained sexual references, but that consent was treated dismissively. For example, one of the cheers, "itai itai yamete" means "it hurts, it hurts, stop" in Japanese and can hardly be deemed acceptable in any context.

Attempts to repress honest conversations about sexuality in the name of defending institutional repute would leave future generations of the young worse off.

Instead, the saga can be a teachable moment about the need for mutual respect and consent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Get to root of orientation saga'. Print Edition | Subscribe