20 March 2020: College Speakers’ Corner: Student-led initiative promotes diverse discourse on campus

By Wisha Jamal

From left: Eleanor Wong, Daryl Yam, and Balli Kaur Jaswal discuss their writing journeys. Image by Ashbel Chioh for Yale-NUS College.

At Yale-NUS College, a significant part of student life and academic inquiry is driven by student-led activities. One such activity, The College Speakers’ Corner initiative aims to facilitate discourse on a variety of topics of interest to the student body. These range from going behind the scenes at arts institutions in Singapore to unconventional pathways for law students. The discussions were organised by seven like-minded students from the Class of 2023 who wanted to create a space for diverse perspectives to be shared on campus.

One of the organisers, Adriel Yong (Class of 2023) said, “We believe that this is in line with the ethos of a liberal arts college — to engage with a range of perspectives and issues, rather than being liberal in values (as some might mistakenly think).”

According to Adriel, the initiative is a way to facilitate discussions with a wide range of people at the College, not just for students to learn from them, but also for them to get to know Yale-NUS students. The panels themselves are either pre-planned discussions of broad topics like professional prospects in the legal sector, or timely engagements with current events like the recent political developments in Malaysia.

Adriel added, “We try our best to ensure the panel make-ups are diverse, especially for potentially divisive issues. In our panel on Art Institutions, we decided to invite both the Deputy CEO of the National Arts Council and a film producer, to have both the policy-maker’s point of view as well as that of the individual who is affected by, and who interacts with, the policies in place.”

Members of the College Speakers’ Corner, all from the Class of 2023: (front row) Benjamin Peck, Ryan Kueh, Adriel Yong; (back row) Dakshayani Ravindran, Kaezeel Yeo, Elizabeth Koh and Kristen Oliveiro. Image provided by Adriel Yong.

On 21 January, the Speakers’ Corner team organised a panel called ‘SingLit: A Ground Up Perspective’. The invited guests included playwright Eleanor Wong, poet Daryl Yam, and novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal, who is a Part-Time Lecturer at Yale-NUS. The discussion was aimed at answering questions about the nature of Singaporean Literature – what constitutes ‘SingLit’? How has the Singaporean Literary scene changed and grown over the past few decades? And how does SingLit serve as a conduit for the Singaporean identity?

Additionally, the speakers shared their own experiences in writing: what inspired them to start and keep on writing, the challenges of publishing or organising a performance, and how feeling the burden to represent their respective communities translated into their work.

Ren Jie (Class of 2020) came to the talk wanting to understand what the label ‘SingLit’ meant, but ended up taking away much more than that. “I got a richer understanding of what literature is about and the power it has to convey not just social commentary but also a depiction of life. As a liberal arts student, I found it immensely valuable to understand the power of words and how I can contribute to telling richer stories as I go along,” he said.

The team has also organised a variety of other talks, such ‘UnLawful Paths,’ a panel which discussed unconventional professional paths available to law students and how the law is relevant in all kinds of fields.

Besides tackling broad topics of interest, the team also arranges discussions on current affairs. On 11 March, they invited three speakers to talk about the resignation of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and the current state of politics in Malaysia. Held at the Tan Chin Tuan Lecture Theatre, the event was attended by Yale-NUS students, faculty and members of the public.

The panel consisted of Ariel Tan, Deputy Head of Policy Studies and Coordinator of the Malaysia Program at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Dr Dian A H Shah, the Deputy Editor of the Asian Journal of Comparative Law and Chirag Agarwal, an Associate with Vriens & Partners and a former Singaporean diplomat.

The speakers delved into topics such as party politics in Malaysia, the role and implications of a constitutional monarchy and the absence of anti-hopping laws, which prevent politicians from easily switching between political parties, in the country.

Yau Yen Ching (Class of 2022) attended the discussion in order to get a better understanding of the political situation in her country. She said, “It was really interesting to learn about the current Malaysian political landscape. The panellists helped me understand how the situation might pan out in the coming days.”

Together with Professor Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-NUS College, the team is planning a Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) programme next semester. The Week 7 LAB is a flagship programme organised in collaboration with the Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE) in which first-year students, faculty and staff engage in learning projects of up to a week that explore themes of the Common Curriculum outside the confines of a traditional classroom. The planned programme will focus on the challenges of governing Singapore by engaging with stakeholders in government, business and civil society.