By Akanksha Madan
As Yale-NUS College adjusted to a new normal amid COVID-19, the Student Government emerged as one of the key pillars of support for our community. By serving as a formal representative of student interests on campus, the Government creates a bridge between the student body and college administration with transparency, effectiveness, and accountability.
Elected in May 2020, the 7th Yale-NUS Student Government is led by President Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser (Class of 2022), Vice President of Internal Administration, Chan Shawn Kit (Class of 2023), and Vice President of Student Activities Gabriele Ramanauskaite (Class of 2022).
Having stepped into a term filled with uncertainty, the Student Government made it a priority to ensure that students were supported through the evolving situation. Hazeem said, “Most importantly, our goal is to provide safe and supportive platforms where student voices are heard and addressed through the combined efforts of the Senate and Executive arms of the Student Government.”
Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser (Class of 2022). Image provided by Hazeem.
This goal is reflective of the personal motivations of our student leaders. Having been a part of multiple student organisations since her first year, Gabriele decided to run for the Student Government to give back to the community and help the College grow to be even more welcoming and home-like for students.
Gabriele Ramanauskaite (Class of 2022). Image provided by Gabriele.
On a similar note, Shawn Kit said, “To me, this college community is worth fighting and putting in the effort for. The ideas, creativity, and passion generated by fellow students, staff, and faculty are amazing. At the same time, our community has needs that require attention. The Student Government’s purpose is to support our community by addressing those needs, like student initiatives, administration, and wellness.”
Chan Shawn Kit (Class of 2023). Image provided by Shawn Kit.
For example, a live FAQs document was shared within the College community to allow students to raise concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on the student experience. This internal platform was started by Secretary Bernard Boey (Class of 2022) in a personal capacity and then formalised with the Student Government after his election.
The FAQs document was launched within the first few hours of the announcement of Singapore’s circuit breaker measures, and allowed students to anonymously post their questions about student housing, travel, and other issues. As the document was updated regularly with responses directly from the college administration, it not only served as a channel for students to raise concerns but also bridged any information gaps between the student body and college administration.
Bernard Boey (Class of 2022). Image provided by Bernard.
Dean of Students Dr Dave Stanfield particularly noted the effectiveness of this ground-up student-led initiative. He said, “We cannot always predict what questions students will have in advance. Furthermore, the process proved to be a very efficient way to communicate timely information with students.”
As the new academic year drew closer, students used the FAQs document to seek clarity on the process of entering Singapore and serving their Stay-Home Notices.
Another initiative launched by the Student Government was to ramp up efforts and provide accelerated access to summer storage for students’ personal items and goods.
Although traditionally a smaller initiative, more students needed access to summer storage as they returned to their home countries on short notice and faced uncertainty about housing this year. In light of this, the Student Government sprang into action to organise a large-scale summer storage initiative.
Shawn Kit also negotiated to extend the College’s contract with the storage provider until the end of 2020, for students who could not return to Singapore after summer for the first semester of this academic year. He said, “It’s a worthwhile and necessary arrangement that should hopefully take the edge off for students who decided to or could not return to campus.”
The Student Government’s positive and collaborative relationship with the College leadership is the foundation of their ability to effectively address student issues. “We meet on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of campus matters that impact students. I rely heavily on the Student Government to help raise up issues and they consistently and generously offer an invaluable perspective,” added Dean Stanfield.
Besides addressing urgent student needs, the Student Government has been working with the College administration to prioritise and adjust the student experience and campus events despite safe distancing rules posed by the COVID-19 situation. For instance, Gabriele, who is also serving as Interim Director of Athletics, is planning the Inter-Faculty Games, a sports competition for all constituent colleges of the National University of Singapore. She raises student concerns and queries on physical contact, audience size, training venues, and so on.
Reflecting on her experience, Gabriele said, “Usually, the Student Government has more time to start their term’s work, such as define its goals and vision. However, with COVID-19, we had to jump right into it and figure things out as we go. Challenging as it was, I have probably never felt more involved in this community…we have an absolutely amazing, well-balanced team, and we know we can always rely on each other.”