14 June 2016: Diversity at Yale-NUS

By Clare Isabel Ee | Image provided by Dean of Students’ Office

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Yale-NUS College, much like Singapore, is a multicultural and multi-religious community. With over 500 students from 38 countries, the diverse make-up of the student body has influenced much discussion on campus about different facets of identity: from culture to race, religion to sexuality.

Ms Sara Amjad, who runs the diversity programming from the Dean of Students Office, has invested much time and effort in organising or helping to organise events with a focus on diversity for the community.

“It’s really about taking the multicultural to the inter-cultural aspects,” Ms Amjad explained the primary intention behind the diversity programmes. “We have numbers that show our diversity, and we also have engagement with those numbers and between those numbers.”

She added that the College also wants each individual to be able to “bring their whole self” to Yale-NUS, “and not feel like they have to hide a part of it or be ashamed”.

In March 2016, Ms Amjad launched Diversity Week, a week-long series of events that sought to create discussions on diversity.

“It was during a time when many things were already happening on campus, so we wanted to combine the different ideas we’d heard or seen in the past into one, effortless week, to give people the options to experience different kinds of programming,” said Ms Amjad.

The Week launched with an introduction to Hijab Day, organised in collaboration with two Muslim students, Ilya Katrinnada Binte Zubaidi (Class of 2018) and Hazirah Binte Mohamad Helmy (Class of 2019).

“Since my freshman year, I’ve been getting questions from my friends about my experiences wearing the hijab,” said Ilya, who had organised World Hijab Day on campus spontaneously in 2015 to give her friends the opportunity to wear the hijab for a day. She also took the opportunity to answer questions from her peers, and gave a brief explanation on the rationale behind the hijab beyond what is stated in the Qu’ran.

“With the help of the Dean of Students’ Office, we made [this year’s] programme more thoughtful, structured and elaborate to include our own personal stories about the hijab, as well as the concept of World Hijab Day and any problems associated with it—for example, the issue of cultural appropriation,” Ilya described.

For Ms Amjad, Hijab Day was a good opportunity to start conversations and “talk about disagreements in a civil way”.

She said: “When I evaluate ideas for events that come my way, I think about sustainability, consistency, but also how to make it more meaningful—how do we create meaningful engagements with some of these questions, and how do we root it in personal experience rather than intellectual disagreement.”

Apart from Diversity Week, this thinking is applied to all diversity programming, including one called Makan Makan (Malay for ‘eat eat’), where staff or students lead a trip to one of their favourite eating-places in Singapore.

“What we’re doing with Makan Makan is exploring personal connections to places through food,” Ms Amjad explained. “It’s about being able to show the personal connection, talk about it, and share food as well…It’s about being able to make some of our cultural exploration more meaningful and more rooted in personal stories.”

Mr David Royster, an Admissions Counseller, was the first person to lead a trip with Makan Makan. He brought the group of seven to his neighbourhood, Tiong Bahru, where they spent some time talking about the history of the area and his personal connection to it.

“It’s wonderful to get to know a place’s history—you become more invested, it becomes another home,” he shared. Mr Royster, who grew up in New York, USA, has lived and worked in four countries, and lived in three different areas of Singapore during his time here.

“What we have here at Yale-NUS is a unique opportunity to go further into conversations of diversity, equality and inclusion…it forces you to think harder, to question your assumptions, but also to reaffirm certain beliefs.”

Keep updated on Yale-NUS’ Diversity programming here!