This interview series at the five-year mark seeks to feature perspectives from students and fellows in Tembusu College, some of whom have just joined the college, and others who have been with it since its inception. This week on the series, the President and Vice-President of the 6th College Students’ Committee (CSC), Ryan Ee and Goh E-Yang, talk about their roles as part of the CSC for two consecutive years, the importance of continuity and some visions for and of Tembusu.
Ryan is a Pharmacy major who entered Tembusu College in 2013 and is now in his third year here. He has served in the Tancho House Committee and the 5th and 6th College Students’ Committees. Ryan would like to play frisbee and learn to code more if he had more free time.
Joining Tembusu College in 2014, E-Yang is currently a second year Psychology major. He has served in the 5th and 6th College Students’ Committees and was the Debate Club president last year. E-yang would like to become more proficient in Japanese and actually get sleep if he had more free time.
What would you say the function of the CSC in Tembusu is?
E-Yang: Do you want to have the first word or do you want me to just…
Ryan: I’m thinking… You’ve already thought about it?
E-Yang: Yeah, I’ve already thought about it.
Ryan: That was fast.
E-Yang: Okay, I guess the main role of it, apart from what people always say it is (to be the voice of the students and whatnot), is to enact structural changes in Tembusu, especially with regards to events with the way Houses function, the way IGs function, the way Tembusu as a whole functions. The CSC is one of the best places to utilise the connection between the professors as well as the students, to actually create all these different things that could help improve either the lifestyle of people in Tembusu or to help maybe foster new cultures. So as a whole, the CSC is more or less not only just to deal with getting feedback, fixing the daily problems that Tembusians have, but also to help foster changes to help enhance and promote different cultures within Tembusu, and this is done mostly on more of a management or structural level.
Ryan: Just to add on, what is commonly not seen is actually the administrative role of the CSC. We do simple things from posters, to going through all the finances and even student events which are not organised by us. The majority of student related activity in the college goes under the purview of the CSC so the CSC is there to be more a liaison between the faculty and the students. We also want to make things as stream-lined and easy for the students as possible. I think the function of the CSC is really to empower students to do what they want because if you don’t have such a body, anyone who wants to come up with something may have no idea who to look for. That would result in a lot of time wastage, so if they just want to do something, they can just come to us. We’ll help them with everything we can and give them the logistics and the funding they need.
This function is mostly standard throughout all CSCs right? So with that in mind, do you think there’s a different role this CSC would play as compared to previous CSCs?
Ryan: Administrative tasks-wise it’d probably be the same, but every year things change a lot so every CSC starts differently. If you listen to election speeches, they actually always promise different stuff because every year the problems people in Tembusu face are different. Similar to previous batches, the CSC is there to solve as many problems as we can. Last year, I believe the previous CSC fixed some of the systems-wise kinds of things, as well as the more process-related things. I believe our CSC can focus a lot more on interacting with students. So in a way our goal is actually different.
E-Yang: I’ll say that the time for experimentation is over. In the sense, although Tembusu College is relatively young – we’re only like 6 years in? That’s 6 CSCs. I would say that the previous CSCs had the role of trying to find exactly what would be a good system to help structure Tembusu and facilitate things in Tembusu. So the role of the CSC now I feel is not really that of trying to find and stumble in the dark, but to build on upon what already is there, build and see how we can tweak certain mechanisms, how we can tweak certain things to actually make the lifestyle of Tembusu much more enriching as well as fulfilling for students. So like Ryan said, our goal now basically is more or less to involve the student body with the CSC more because I think it’s quite apparent, especially if you were here last year, that the CSC has always been a bit detached from the student body. So that’s something we’re trying to fix, or for lack of a better word, we need to brand ourselves. We feel that the CSC needs to promote its image, to make sure that the people are excited about the CSC, in the sense that we want them to feel that the CSC is really a place where you can do a lot of changes to Tembusu if you really care about it. I think that’s one of the main reasons we all decided to join.
My next question was actually going to be: why did you choose to join the CSC?
Ryan: The both of us actually joined this year to establish this continuity, because we felt that having been members of the 5th CSC, it was a big advantage then to have people like Moazzam and Johandy leading the team, as they were from the 4th CSC and we could kick start everything immediately. We could immediately go into discussion and on to fixing stuff because we already knew what went wrong. And I think this year I would say that the 5th CSC and 6th CSC are pretty close in terms of interpersonal relationships, so I would think we would have even less of that information gap than before. I think one thing E-Yang said earlier was that we both believe the CSC is a really good place where we can make positive changes to the college and I mean I think this is a place you can have impact on the whole college at once. You can actually change things that affect every student living here. So I think it’s quite powerful and I think it’s quite good that someone who has some experience joins again and I think that’s one reason we joined.
E-Yang: It’s a very interesting nature about how Tembusu has a very cyclical system, in the sense that every one or two years you will see different people come in with different ideas and try to create something different. This is especially evident in IGs I think. Something I observed about how IGs usually handover their leadership positions, which is also the same for the previous CSCs, usually there’s this like immediate detachment in the sense that there is like no bridging point where the previous batch sort of mentors the next batch on what exactly to do. They might give a brief rundown of what exactly is required, but they won’t actually guide them step by step. So I think that’s something that should be changed, because honestly speaking, this causes quite a few problems. For example, you may have people who have no idea of what to do running the show, and they have to hit the ground running which may be a bit stressful for them and also may cause them to in a way be unable to do whatever they actually want to do. They may take two to three months to adjust to the new system and especially when it comes to big structural organisations like the CSC, this could be a big problem. So we think that it’s very important for people to actually be able to have this sense of continuity in the sense that you make sure that your next batch is actually ready to, right from the get go, start and set out to do whatever they want to do so that lessens the amount of transitional structural change.
What part or aspects of Tembusu do you like the most?
E-Yang: For me, because I came from NUS High, we had this one year of mandatory hostel stay during JC1/Year 5 and I really enjoyed the idea of living in a hostel and just making friends with people because you can do a lot of crazy things together. You can have a lot of parties, go around make friends with people, bully each other and mess up each other’s rooms for their birthdays that kind of thing. So it’s quite a fun experience and one thing I really enjoy about Tembusu I guess, is that you can actually make a lot of new friends and actually learn quite a fair bit from other people, especially since in NUS you spend most of the time with your faculty and you usually don’t get a chance to interact with people outside of your faculty if you’re not in a residential estate or residential hall. But I think the thing that struck me the most out of Tembusu apart from all the other colleges in University Town, would be the fact that the community, I think, is one of the better ones in the sense that Tembusu tends to be a place where we actually do have a lot of initiatives, a lot of eager people who want to actually meet new people, who want to actually share ideas. It allows you to also expose yourself because people here are generally much more friendly (generally) and I think it’s a good thing because it really bonds you together with, for example, your house, because the houses really create this house culture and you will actually make a lot of good life-long friends here. So I think that’s one of the main reasons why I chose Tembusu, that’s because of the community I guess.
Ryan: Tembusu promotes the idea that you can really just explore what you want, do anything you want. While maybe in another residence, the culture can be strongly influenced by the faculty and pushed down on the students, but I think Tembusu is quite special that they don’t really do that at all. So you can really come up with the weirdest IGs, weirdest projects, host a random Tea and really invite the weirdest person and then talk about the most unusual topics. I think that’s the best part.
So do you have any hopes or ideals you would like the Tembusu population to achieve?
Ryan: I think I would like, similar to the previous question, the population to be even more engaged and recognise this culture and push for even more regarding this said culture. Given the opportunity to really do anything you want, I think we should make the most out of it. To put it simply, we should not just keep starting new stuff every year. We can start stuff, but we should also think ahead, we should move on, we should keep pushing forward. I think this is what I would like to see change eventually. Probably not in this one year, but I would still like to set it in motion. This will really let us explore and let Tembusu move forward to achieve stuff we never thought we could. When you actually have a vision for an IG, there’s really no limit to what Tembusu can achieve. I think that’s what I would like to see for students or for the whole population.
E-Yang: For me it’s something similar, it’s basically the idea that you can try and do whatever you really want to do. I think a very common mind set, especially when you come to a new place it’s that maybe you’re a new person, you’re a new face here, you should actually look around and see and observe maybe people in leadership positions, not just the CSC, but maybe even like House committee, maybe like IGs for example, or even just trying to invite people down for Student Teas, because I think there’s really a lot you can do within your first year. One of the reasons I joined CSC back in my first year was because I wanted to create a few different changes to Tembusu, which was that of getting more people down for Student Teas as well as bridging the gap between not only Alumni but also seniors and juniors in terms of ‘Now-You-Know’ sessions. I was also quite interested in promoting e-sports, and I guess that created E-IHG so I guess that was one of the structural changes that happened, but for me one of the main messages I would like to tell the student population, especially the Year 1s, would be that really this is your time. You do not need to be afraid due to the fact that you are Year 1. I think that as a Year 1 you should explore new things because you have even more time to learn and know how to actually change things in the right way should you fail. I would think it best that you do try, do create whatever IGs that you are really interested in starting up, invite who you really think should come down, and you really do whatever you really want to do in Tembusu and the CSC will definitely try and help you to create these things.
Ryan: I think to add on a bit because he mentioned the freshman part, I think one random fun fact is that Tembusu CSC, compared to the other CSCs; we are actually the only one that is welcoming to Freshmen. For the other CSCs, their election term is such that freshmen can only join in Year 2. Basically they have a recruitment term where you look for people in semester 2, and when semester 1 starts and the freshmen come in, the CSC has already been elected 3-4 months ago. So this batch of freshmen will wait until they are nearing the end of the year before they can run. They are actually not welcoming to freshmen because they believe freshmen are not good enough to join the CSC there, but in Tembusu, I think we don’t believe that, we actually welcome freshmen to join. Although they actually get challenging questions in the Q&As at the start…
E-Yang: It’s like some rite of passage!
Ryan: Yeah they like to ask freshmen very brutal questions. But, in the end, I think we have very good people who come in. I think this year especially, without the freshmen, if we blocked them out, we’d really missing out a big group of people and I think more freshmen should be interested in joining, there’s no need to be scared actually.
E-Yang: Hint hint.
Ryan: (Laughs) But the hint won’t go to the freshmen right?
E-Yang: It’ll go to the Year 2s it’s fine.
Ryan: Year 2s are welcome also.
So why do you think so few people wanted to join the CSC and what do you think you can do to change that?
Ryan: Actually we didn’t even know there would be so few people running. There was this period where we revealed to everyone we were running, when we put up our nomination forms and everything. Before that there were actually quite a number of people who seemed interested. I’m not sure about the other CSC members who got approached, but for me, I had more people asking me how the CSC was like and what they would need to do if they wanted to run, than the number of people who actually ran. So I was thinking if there were already so many interested people talking to one person (me), there would be a lot of people running. But in the end when we submitted our applications, only 9 people submitted. So after we ran and found out so few people had actually decided to run, I went to ask around as I was quite curious. We ended up getting a huge range of responses, from people who didn’t know what the CSC did, to those who knew and didn’t want to join, and those who felt too much commitment was required to join the CSC. Actually I think exchange was quoted by quite a few people. For me it didn’t really matter because I am a pharmacy student and I can’t go for exchange anyway. And from what I hear, the semester where you apply for exchange greatly affects your chances of going, so assuming you are only able to go for exchange in year 3 sem 1, you are basically choosing between exchange or a CSC term. So I think for many people it was quite a deal breaker.
Also, what is commonly cited as a reason for joining the CSC is that you are quite likely to get a 3rd year. But I would say that there are actually many other things you can do to get your 3rd year and not even spend close to the amount of time you would have to put in as part of the CSC. If you have to commit 13 months of your time for something and you can’t do a lot of things like go for exchange, just to get your 3rd year, a lot of people wouldn’t feel that it’s worth it. In a way one major thing I would like to change is the people who say they know what they CSC does and they don’t really like the ‘saikang’ associated with it. So this year, like E-Yang said, we’ll try and brand the CSC. If everyone thinks it’s ‘saikang’ with not much reward then it’s really a disincentive to many people. I think if you publicise the things the CSC manages to accomplish for Tembusu, like changing something or bringing in something new, it’s a good way to say “if you join CSC next year you can do things like this” or “if you have something you’d really like to change in the college then you can join the CSC.” It would be good publicity to attract people to join. Our election process isn’t also say very…
Ryan: Yeah. It’s not a very friendly process. Tembusu is a very homely place and it contrasts with the political atmosphere surrounding the CSC elections, especially when you have to wear blazers, participate in Q&As where you “kena shoot by people”, have to give speeches which are put on YouTube and even things like the Constitution. We are trying to and we hope to become, at least within our term, something that is very close to the student population and not something that is like a government body, which is kind of the image the current infrastructure paints it as. I mean maybe at NUSSU level you might need something like that. Or maybe at Singapore level you might need something like that, but in Tembusu I think you just need something to pick people who are interested and are willing to commit to help Tembusu. So I think the election process can be changed.
E-Yang: The election process is quite unfriendly I would say, especially when you’re a Year 1, the Year 4s will come down and completely demolish you at the Q&A. At least that’s the general vibe that people get. I think that also plays into the fact that most people would say that since they are new to the college, they feel that they do not have the sufficient knowledge or the sufficient expertise to become part of the CSC, and that’s one of the deterring factors. Additionally, as a year 1, you’re fresh out of JC or army, you just want to have fun and try different things. So basically what a lot of people do is sign up for every single IG and go for every welcome tea, but of course over the course of the semester, they find themselves disappearing a bit from some IGs that maybe they don’t feel is their thing. So at the start a lot of people will feel like they want to try out and see where they can go, and if they immediately commit to the CSC, which is a rather huge commitment, they feel like they will actually lose out on these opportunities.
I think at the end of the day, it really boils down to who really is actually interested and with the inner passion to do things and join the CSC. While I do agree that some form of, in a way, for lack of a better word, reward or incentive should be given, I think it still boils down to the fact that maybe a lot of people feel that they do not have the expertise, or may not be as passionate about changing things in Tembusu yet, because they are in a way fresh to Tembusu, they are still trying to find their way around university, around life, and I think maybe at this juncture it may not just hit your mind that this is something you want to do. So I think that we have to promote the CSC as not only being accessible and friendly, but it may also have its own benefits that you may not have thought of or have not considered before. But at the end of the day, I guess you do not really want to be here in the CSC to have 3rd year stay or something like that. If you want to do that I don’t think that’s the right mindset to be part of the CSC because it means that you actually just want to like help yourself at the end of the day instead of just helping the student body.
In that sense, wouldn’t the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) or Cinnamon College’s elections process be better? Because the students get time to experience and try out the different things before they decide if they want to run for CSC.
Ryan: One downside of theirs is that by pushing it to Semester 2, their elections might have an even bigger disadvantage in terms of attracting people, because one major thing in terms of catching people is to get them while they are still free. So one very good time is when you first come to university, you can catch people because they haven’t done anything yet. By the end of Year 1, most people have decided on what they want to do already. So by pushing the process back like theirs, we actually lose quite a big pool of people.
When I come in as a Year 1, if I decide I want to join the CSC, I must wait for the end of term before I can join. I’d actually be unable to commit to anything and gamble on the chance that I get in. The time that the CSC takes up actually made me quit a lot of stuff. In Year 1, I joined Frisbee both here and in NUS, Floorball and my house committee. When I joined CSC, I quit almost everything except for Barefoots. Even now, I can’t go for Barefoots sometimes because it clashes with CSC stuff. So actually it really made me sacrifice a lot of stuff. However, you could say I had some good fortune that the 5th CSC was a really well-bonded team. I think that was really a bit of luck there.
Beyond your time as part of the CSC, what do you envision Tembusu’s future to be like?
Ryan: I think at this current point of time I’m actually very hopeful and I think I have a very optimistic view of the next CSC. I don’t really know who will be inside, but I think the image of the CSC itself is improving gradually over time. When I came in as a freshman, one of the major reasons I didn’t join the CSC, to put it frankly, was that the CSC had a reputation for politics and the like, and was not a good place to be. So when I asked around, most seniors told me that the CSC should be the last thing you join. That was the feedback I got from quite a lot of people before the elections even came up and thus I didn’t consider running for the CSC then. I would say that at least during this election, this was wasn’t the case. So I think this could be taken, in a way, as a qualitative benchmark that things have improved. So I would hope that this continues this way.
E-yang: For me, my OGLs talked to me about the CSC. They asked me, “why don’t you join the CSC?” We had this MUN thing (during our Orientation) and I was good at talking to people, so they asked me to join the CSC and that maybe I could create change. They felt that the CSC was actually a place you could change things for better or for worse and I thought that since there was a platform then why not run for it. So that’s how I ended up in the CSC.
Ryan: Seniors are very influential.
E-Yang: I think seniors really influence your outlook of Tembusu because they are your first so called ‘ground contact’ with experienced people who have at least one or more years in university life. And therefore, being your seniors, you can at least heed some of the things they say. I think one thing that Tembusu can work towards to at the end of the day, or at least down the road, is basically that of really bonding the seniors and the alumni with the current batch, because I think that’s something really lacking in Tembusu. You realise that, especially when it comes to Year 3s and Year 4s, and even the Year 5s who recently graduated, you’d probably not know any Year 5s. This is kind of sad, because at the end of the day, these are the kind of people that have stayed here, know the ins and outs of the system and also can be a point of contact for whatever field you want to be working on or studying. I think it’s something that we cannot bridge immediately, but I think Tembusu in the long run should aim towards trying to bridge the gap between different years and the different levels of seniority within the previous batch and next batch. These are really bonds and connections you can tap on and that would be really helpful.
This also ties in very closely with what Ryan and I are trying to do about continuity because at the end of the day, what we’re trying to look for is to make sure that your IG or whatever structural changes or events that you actually hold up, are still there after you graduate and actually may even be better than you ever envisioned it to be. I think we do have a lot of creative and good ideas that we come up with in Tembusu, it’s just unfortunate that people may not see the benefit, or people may not know how to continue creating or pursuing such a dream, that they do not let these things prosper and grow. This causes a lot of things to die out especially like IGs in general. I think this is quite sad, because there are people who are actually interested in these things but just don’t know who else is interested in joining these things. For example, one year later, the very IG that got shut down is being reproposed to be created. So at the end of the day, I think it really shows that there are people with the same passion as you and therefore we should really try to ensure that Tembusu in a way does not build its base too broadly, but really try to start building upwards. We should try making sure that the internal structures for each different IG, for each different system, is intact and able to be improved upon, and that the people who are taking over will really be able to dive in headfirst and really make the entire life in Tembusu much more enriching.
Ryan: Oh it was a Tembusu interview question! I said ‘blender.’ You can throw whatever you want in and you’ll get something new out.
E-yang: For me what would I say…
Ryan: Oh you also had that question?
E-Yang: I also had that question but I actually never really answered it.
Ryan: For me the blender in a way still holds. Basically why I thought it was a blender was really because a blender really breaks a lot of barriers. When you blend a fruit, you really break everything in it.
Basically you break down all the barriers withholding things from mixing together. For example you put an apple and a pear next to each other and an orange on top, they’re going to stay as an apple and orange and pear for as long as it doesn’t rot. If it rots maybe it becomes jelly. But if you put it in a blender, you can create anything depending on what you throw in. So I think it really still holds. I don’t think my view has changed.
E-Yang: I’m still trying to think…
Ryan: What was yours ah?
E-Yang: I can’t remember what it was.
Ryan: Make a new one lah.
E-Yang: Make a new one? I’m trying to –
Ryan: Tembusu is a cambro
E-Yang: You dispense whatever ideas everyone creates.
Ryan: Tembusu is a fridge.
E-Yang: I guess… I would say Tembusu is like a lighthouse. In the sense that it really guides you to whatever dream you really want to be and lets you be aware of whatever danger that’s out there. Because at the end of the day, a lighthouse is there to make sure that you’re safe, to make sure you know where you’re going, and the community here really makes you feel quite at home. It makes you feel like you can try new things, especially with your friends here. Especially since university is one of the times you actually meet a lot of people. You have a lot of tough times, like the exam period. It’s when a lot of life events happen because you’re here for 4 years and a lot of things can happen in 4 years. So I guess Tembusu really helps you to have this secure base, to let you know that at the end of the day there are still people who care about you, that there is this particular college that can help you pursue whatever dreams you want and has in a way the drive and the money to basically let you experience whatever experiences you want to achieve. It all depends now if you want to set sail and actually explore the darkness that lies beyond and have faith in this lighthouse that will propel you to greater heights.
This interview was conducted by Ryan Cheong, with photography by Liew Yu Qi.
Other images are from Ryan Ee’s personal collection.