7 July 2020: New student organisations discuss motivations, goals and challenges

By Evan See

Yale-NUS College has a diverse array of student organisations. Some were inspired by personal interests, while others were created by like-minded individuals who came together for a cause. For newly formed Club for Ruff Days, it was a desire to share their love of dogs with the College community.

For founders and “big time dog-lovers” Chang Huay Yueh (Nancy) and Chua Yijia (both Class of 2023), they were inspired to start the club after realising how much they missed their dogs at home while living on campus.

“We saw how popular the ‘chicken therapy’ was last semester and saw a need for a platform that could connect students and animals,” Nancy said, referencing an event organised in Semester one by the Elm College Office, where tame chickens were brought into the College for students to interact with for stress relief. Nancy and Yijia realised that there was an opportunity to do a similar thing through “play sessions” with dogs.

“There’s something comforting about how dogs are so blissfully unaware of our worldly concerns,” Nancy said. Yijia agreed, adding, “The moment I start playing with my dogs, I’m able to forget all about my worries and stress.”

Co-founder Yijia’s dog, Yumi, was a special guest at Club for Ruff Days’ welcome tea. Image provided by Chang Huay Yueh.

“We wanted to create an outlet for students to destress and take a break from busy school life,” Nancy said. “We also hoped to create opportunities for students to volunteer at dog (and other animal) shelters.”

Dogs, however, are not the only things that new student organisations hope will bring people together. After spending a semester abroad at Amherst College, Ng Yi Ming (Class of 2021) was drawn to the warm and meaningful conversations on secular living that he participated in through dinners held by the Amherst College Humanist Society.

Together with co-founder Prairie Soh (Class of 2021), he decided to start Singapore’s first student-run secular spirituality society Humanism.Yale-NUS.

“We wanted to provide a comfortable space for our College community, regardless of their beliefs and especially for those without any belief system, to have conversations about spirituality, ways of life, and how people who identify as humanist apply their beliefs to real world issues,” Prairie said.

Humanism.Yale-NUS has two broad functions. “The first function: the humanism core, seeks to cultivate a spiritual community and learning space for all students who identify with the philosophies of humanism and a liberal education, regardless of religious orientation. We achieve this through monthly dinner discussions engaging readings on these philosophies,” Yi Ming said. “Our second function: the humanity core, seeks to drive initiatives that connect humanity’s diverse knowledge and lived experiences.”

Through a series of activities, Humanism.Yale-NUS has engaged with the wider National University of Singapore (NUS) community. Yi Ming said, “One of our flagship initiatives is ProjectConnect, which is a U-Town community bridging initiative that brings together Yale-NUS and NUS students over meaningful dinner conversations to build community ties, reduce prejudice, and forge new friendships.”

The first iteration of ProjectConnect saw 11 Yale-NUS and NUS students coming together. Prairie and Yi Ming are featured 1st on the left (last row) and centre (middle row) of the picture respectively. Image provided by Prairie Soh.

Similarly, founder and president of United Nations Society Au Hei Kiu (Class of 2023) hopes to take its engagement beyond the Yale-NUS community.

After having started her own non-governmental organisation in Hong Kong and interning at the United Nations headquarters last summer, Hei Kiu became conscious that youths have a part to play in achieving the goals of the United Nations. “I realised how important it is for the youth to act as messengers and active drivers between the UN at the highest level and those who are driving change in local communities,” she said.

This motivated her to form the UN Society this semester. “I wanted to create a community at Yale-NUS College where like-minded, motivated changemakers and peace ambassadors can gather ideas and create a positive impact in their communities,” she said.

The UN Society has since organised activities like Human Rights Week, and plans to engage with local communities, schools, and civil society through educational materials that they have prepared, while seeking to raise understanding of global governance and international relations through e-publications. “We have mostly organised informative activities surrounding various issues that the UN tackles, such as the (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and human rights,” said club treasurer Bijaya Luitel (Class of 2023).

UN Society president Hei Kiu (top) at the club’s inaugural workshop, Action Towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Image provided by Joshua Vargas.

While bringing change and positive impact to their communities, these three fledgling student organisations have faced the challenge of this semester’s unprecedented circumstances due to the developments of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The current situation restricted our ability to plan large events that aimed to encourage interactions between like-minded people (or dog lovers),” said Nancy.

Club for Ruff Days originally planned several activities, including “Spreading Paw-sitivity”; an animal shelter volunteering programme, “Canine Chums”; an outreach programme run by local dog shelter SoSD that brings rescue dogs to campuses, and a BYOD (Bring Your Own Dog) day for staff and students.

“We had many more activities planned that we unfortunately were unable to execute,” Nancy lamented.

Still, these student organisations are determined to stay optimistic. “We have to be flexible and resilient,” Hei Kiu said. “Depending on how the next semester unfolds due to the pandemic, we have plans that would still achieve our aims, albeit remotely. For example, we would focus on developing our website and e-publications on global governance and the Sustainable Development Goals, and organise virtual lectures, talks, and discussions to talk about pertinent issues relating to the rapidly changing global context.”

Many of those participating in the new student organisations have found the experience very fulfilling despite the challenges faced. “The impact you’re going to make is huge,” said UN Society secretary Charis Tagtag (Class of 2023).

“It [this journey] epitomises what a liberal education at Yale-NUS is all about – inventing new possibilities to pursue egalitarian goals with a community of diverse yet like-minded students,” Yi Ming (Humanism.Yale-NUS) said.