Cultural student organisations at Yale-NUS promote interest in diverse cultures and societies

11 June 2021

By Dain Kim

“In Asia, for the world” – these words from Yale-NUS College’s vision statement are echoed across various aspects of the College, from analysing global issues through different lenses, to the diverse representation of cultures in our student population. Activities initiated by our cultural student organisations also aim to share more about the different cultures from around the world with our students.

One such group is the Society of Latinx (SOL), which gives a voice to Hispanic culture and heritage at Yale-NUS.

“We wanted to create a space where the Latinx community can come together and celebrate our history, cultures, and traditions,” said Beatrice Baquero-Salah (Class of 2022), one of the founding members of the organisation.

For Beatrice, who hails from Colombia, SOL was also an opportunity to share more about her home country to the wider Yale-NUS community. She observed that many people were unaware of where Latin America is, or the different countries in the region. “And I don’t blame them, because it’s so far away from Singapore,” she elaborated. “It’s also important for SOL to engage with the wider community to dismantle stereotypes and share about the complexity of socio-economic and political realities in Latin America.”

In the last academic year, SOL has hosted various events such as a Latin American food showcase, and a Latin dance workshop that featured Cumbia and Bachata dance styles. In addition, the group launched El Solecito – which translates to “The Little Sun” – a student publication featuring essays, poems, and art pieces from both Latinx and non-Latinx students.

A copy of the El Solecito publication and library exhibition. Image provided by Beatrice Baquero-Salah.

“Our student writers wrote about many topics that were close to their hearts. El Solecito is the product of their hard work and passion, which are the two things I would say characterise Latin America.” The publication was named the Publication of the Year at the recent Kingfisher Awards.

Another cultural student organisation that actively engages the Yale-NUS community is the Southeast Asian Society, which promotes the understanding of issues and trends in Southeast Asia.

For Cathy Choo (Class of 2024), joining the Society not only helped her discover more about her heritage, as her parents come from Malaysia, but also provided a learning opportunity about different industries, politics and issues in the region.

“Southeast Asia is filled with cultures and issues that aren’t discussed as much in the media because individual countries within this region are so small. Given how westernised and Eurocentric our world tends to be, it is important to actively discuss these issues,” Cathy said. “Furthermore, given Singapore’s geographical location, learning about our neighbours will allow us to be more engaged citizens in the Yale-NUS community and beyond.” For this reason, many events hosted by the Southeast Asian Society feature current topics, such as lectures surrounding technology, politics, and business developments in the region.

To promote greater appreciation of Southeast Asian cultures, the Society also held celebrations for different festivities, such as Loy Krathong, often called the “festival of light”, which is celebrated in Thailand and other nearby countries.

Krathongs – small decorative baskets made out of flowers – floating on the campus pond in celebration of Loy Krathong last November. Image provided by Cathy Choo.

The Afro Society at Yale-NUS is another student organisation making strides in promoting understanding and diversity in the College.

Leah Kioko (Class of 2023) shared that being a member of the Afro Society allowed her to experience a piece of home in Singapore.

“You don’t really see a lot of people of Afro-descent in Singapore, so the fact that there’s an organised way of bringing us together in Yale-NUS feels nice… it was a no-brainer to join,” she said.

The Jamaican Jerk Festival, celebrated by the Afro Society. Photograph taken in 2019 before the implementation of COVID-19 safety measures. Image provided by Leah Kioko.

Building awareness about Black culture and people, both within Yale-NUS and beyond, is an important part of the Afro Society’s mission. Leah shared that much of pop culture has its roots in Black culture. “I think it makes sense that we build awareness about people from my community because a lot of the world already reflects our culture,” she explained.

This year, the Afro Society hosted a book review for a novel titled How Europe Underdeveloped Africa to explore the effects of colonialism on African nations. Written by Walter Rodney, a Guyanese historian, this book was a chance for members of the College community to learn about history through a different lens.

 “It was a deep-dive into well-written, well-researched work about my own land, because the only way I’ve been able to learn about my land, even back in my home country, was through the colonisers’ eyes,” expressed Leah. “I had never learned about my country from the perspective of another African in a scholarly way.”

This event also highlighted the unique community of learning at Yale-NUS. Through discussions about the novel, students were able to learn not just from the text, but from each other as well. “Participants really took keen interest in the discussion, and it was nice because they cared about our story,” she said. “I learned so much through this experience, and it goes to show how much learning we can gain from one another.”

Cultural student organisations provide meaningful ways for students to connect with one another and learn more about themselves, and many others in Yale-NUS. Other cultural student groups include the European Horizons Yale-NUS Chapter, Japan Society, Yale-NUS Near Eastern Society, and the South Asian Student Society.

On the value of having these societies, Senior Manager of Student Organisations & Leadership Petrina Loh shared that they provide a safe space for students to find support and celebrate their cultures. “Through various student-led events, (the groups) educate and raise awareness about issues pertaining to their people, and reduce stereotypes of their communities. They are an integral part of our community and make Yale-NUS a better place!”