Tembusu College students will soon be casting their votes for the members of the 11th College Students’ Committee (CSC). This year, the two teams running for President (P) and Vice-President (VP) are, in no particular order: Jerome Teo Sze Yong (P) & Ronnie Lai Zhen Foong (VP), Rochelle Tio Wenli (P) & See Ee Teng (VP). Having had the honour of a written interview with them, Treehouse presents to the Tembusu student body the four candidates, minimally edited and in their own words as much as possible.
1. Tell us something surprising or unexpected about yourself!
Jerome: I am a National DanceSport Athlete, specialising in Standard Dances (Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep). I’ve been dancing since I was 12 years old and really love how it is an intersection between art and sport! I really hope that more youth would try Latin and Standard dancing, for it is a couple dance and can be really fun and enjoyable too!
Ronnie: Hmm… I think one surprising thing about me is that I don’t listen to music… at all! My training as an actor taught me to observe people and listen to the sounds around me, so naturally I learnt to pick up whatever sounds around me as my ‘music’ as I people watch on public transit.
Rochelle: I am a sociable introvert!
Ee Teng: I’m vegetarian!
2. How are you different from the other candidate running for your position, or the other candidates in general?
Ronnie & Jerome: The combination of Jerome and Ronnie is probably surprising to many Tembusians. Referring to our campaign video, we definitely didn’t swipe right and match on Tinder but honestly, Ronnie approached Jerome first. We are a dynamic duo with our unique selling point being our complementary strengths united by a common vision, to represent and be present with the student body. Jerome takes on a macro perspective which is very pragmatic, logical and structured, while Ronnie is more personable and empathetic, often looking into details and being sensitive to the needs of others. We capitalise on our strengths while covering each other’s weaknesses. Together, we are as committed as the other candidates in serving the Tembusu community.
Rochelle: I’m an unconventional candidate for President. I make TikToks, play sports, I love doing silly things like making vlogs, and playing video games. I don’t really fit the stereotype of a straight-laced and traditional CSC President. But I think that makes me more relatable and approachable, and thus more in-touch with what your everyday Tembusian is interested in.
Ee Teng: Actually, I am quite easy-going and reserved. I enjoy mellow hobbies like reading, knitting, painting. But on the outside, I feel the need to be tougher and stronger because I want people to take me seriously when I lead. So I guess, I would wish for Tembusians to see the other side of me beyond what I present to them.
3. How do you hope to surpass your predecessor(s)?
Jerome & Ronnie: Jerome is from the 10th CSC General Secretary and he has seen the commendable efforts of outgoing President and Vice-President. They have had a tough term, and currently there is the immense circumstantial challenge of COVID-19. Within the CSC, we hope to have constant communication with the CSC members, and together as a team, we will address their challenges and guide them in creating their impact on student life. Towards the residents, we hope to continue past CSC’s efforts in gaining the trust of the residents so that they will raise their opinions and queries to us. We then hope to address their interests together with the Student Partners, [the] Residential Team and the College Office. We feel that life in Tembusu should be determined by the students, and that the CSC is but one of the various entities who co-creates their individual experiences.
Rochelle & Ee Teng: We think one big challenge our predecessors faced was having the pandemic sprung on them halfway through their term. They would not have known, going in, that something like this would have happened. However, as we seek to join the CSC during the pandemic, we think we are mentally prepared for the volatility of the times we live in. Hence, one big way in which we hope to surpass our predecessors is in terms of being adaptable.
4. Describe a potential challenge to your vision or plans for your term and how you would overcome it.
Jerome: The biggest challenge that has been faced by the past CSCs, is the reciprocity of the residents. The CSC does organise many events (Arts Week, Inter-College Games, Welfare etc.), but the participation rate varies as there are also many interesting activities that one can do on campus. This is why Jerome and Ronnie’s vision is to empower Tembusians to organise their own events and charter their student life, with the CSC being an intermediary platform to enable these experiences. We hope to allocate the finite resources towards the key and niche interests that the residents value for each new academic year. We hope that the residents would not be afraid to come forward to suggest new ideas, events, or initiatives which can enrich [the] perspective that they desire!
Rochelle: Coming to terms with the idea that not everyone will be pleased with our plans is something that I foresee to be a challenge. As much as possible, I would want our term to add value to the lives of all Tembusians, and for all to at least be satisfied with the efforts. However, it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will like what we do, and I think that is something that we just have to accept. While we do try to make as many people as possible happy, we need to know that complete satisfaction is an idealistic and Sisyphean task. Overcoming this is easier said than done. I think this is a challenge that all previous CSCs have faced and there is no panacea for this. All we have to do is to keep trying our best, to deliver our promises, and to ensure that everyone feels and is heard, [while] accepting the reality of things.
Ee Teng: I think that our plan to reduce red tape is a very big one as it definitely would not be easy to achieve, because there will be a lot of negotiation with relevant authorities. However, if our motivations for negotiation are right and focused, we will try our best, no matter how tough it gets, to fight for the rights of Tembusians because this is the legacy we want to leave for future batches.
5. How do you plan to resolve disputes between the students and the college administration?
Jerome: I would say that a dispute may arise if the student is pushing very fervently for an initiative that the college is not fully agreeable to. I think it is important to understand that both the student and college have their own interests and the CSC, along with other Student Partners and the Res Team, [is] here to assist as an intermediary. Though the CSC cannot guarantee that the proposal would eventually be accepted by the college, I feel that continued discussion between the two parties is the way to go forward. Though the college administration does have various bureaucratic constraints, they really care for the students, and hope to enrich their Tembusu experience. It takes two hands to clap, and addressing the interests is different from accepting the proposed position. The CSC will definitely be the voice for the students,guide them in bringing new perspectives, and be frank about the various limitations through this discussion process. I feel that fundamentally, the students really hope to make a difference within the college, but I feel that some things may take more than a year to be fully realised. If the student is not able to achieve their long term goal immediately, we can always start small and have consistent small steps towards the eventual goal (with future batches), so that it really becomes an integral part of the Tembusu experience.
Rochelle & Ee Teng: One thing that is very important to us is making students feel like their perspective matters. We think that in a lot of such cases, students feel like they’re going up against a wall, that no matter what they do their voice isn’t going to change anything. While we cannot promise radical and revolutionary changes to the college administration, we promise to ensure that every student has a platform. At the same time, we need to be able to deliver acceptable explanations and justifications to both sides. We must always uphold the principles of respect, accountability, and objectivity when it comes to conflict resolution, as well as encouraging compromise as much as possible. In addition, it is important to try to become friends with the office through clear elaboration of our goals, such that the office is aware of our direction. Furthermore, we believe that the office staff has their concerns for what they do and it is important that we take into consideration those concerns because they are ultimately subjected to the leadership and direction of NUS. Should there be a dispute, we think it is important for both sides to be mature and talk things out professionally.
6. What is something currently part of Tembusu culture that you dislike and/or wish to change?
Ronnie: I find it hard for me to pinpoint a ‘Tembusu culture’, as I strongly believe that the Tembusu experience is unique to everyone! While we identify as the home of possibilities where everyone can feel at ease and feel belonged, I don’t necessarily see this as a culture. With every new batch of Tembusians comes different interests, different goals, and we see this changing year after year with more variety of IGs and student initiatives being set up. If there is anything I would change, it would be to change the mindset of ‘having a culture.’ I don’t wish there to be a need for a ‘culture’ as long as everyone finds their unique perspectives and enjoy their two years as a student and resident in Tembusu college. It is up to an individual to build their own college experience and the CSC will be there to help facilitate this!
Rochelle & Ee Teng: This is something that is not just a Tembusu thing, but also plagues most residential communities. And it is the culture of spreading false rumours that can be very damaging to the mental wellbeing of others as well as their reputation. As it is a cultural issue, we don’t think it is our place to try and enforce change. But what we would want is a culture of open conversation and directly clarifying matters with the accused first. That is a code of conduct that we apply to ourselves, and we hope that we can all give everyone an equal chance to define themselves.
7. Apart from the current pandemic, what is the biggest threat to Tembusu being a “Home of Possibilities”, and what role will you and CSC play in response to that?
Jerome: To me, Tembusu being a “Home of Possibilities” is bidirectional where students grow and partake in various experiences, while having the opportunity to become initiators themselves and contribute to the diversity. I wouldn’t frame it as a threat, but I would say a possible difference in perspective is between those who prefer Tembusu’s traditions and those who prefer changes in the Tembusu community. Coming into our 10th year, Tembusu definitely has its uniqueness in comparison to other RCs. There are many that reminisce their memories in Tembusu which define Tembusu for them, while others are eager to expand the diversity and make Tembusu a safe place for these diverse interests. I would like to say that this is typical of “change is the only constant” and that this duality contributes to the Tembusu experience. Issues at this level need to be addressed not only by the CSC but also the various Student Partners, Residential Team and the College Office in consultation with the students. The CSC will play an integral role as the trunk in solidifying our extensive roots, while our new and budding leaves reach out to the sky for the next 10 years in Tembusu.
Rochelle & Ee Teng: The biggest threat to Tembusu being a “Home of Possibilities” would be the increase in layers of bureaucratic red tape in order to attain approval for our goals. We cannot promise that everything can be approved without due processes, but what we want is to be able to support groups in our community through such processes, to help them navigate their way and help their ideas take flight. We want to be personally involved in supporting the goals of our fellow Tembusians, and to ensure that no one feels discouraged to try for what they want. To do this, it is crucial to source for the origin of the issue. The CSC will have to fight for the needs of Tembusians and if we have to submit to the system eventually, then the CSC will have to be transparent to the student body in explaining the situation.
8. What’s your favorite spot in the College?
Ronnie: My favourite spot in Tembusu is the Misty Garden! I enjoy looking at the blooms of the orchids, the mynahs that come to our longan tree and the greedy squirrels eating all our fruits. It really is a very zen place where I relax and read. I really suggest y’all to take a look around the Misty Garden and if you’re in Zone C I might give you a tour!
Rochelle: Besides my very soft and plush bed, my favourite spot is actually Seminar Room 6. It’s a bit of an eccentric choice, but I remember my very first module in Tembusu [was] in Seminar Room 6 (SR6). It was Darwinian Revolution with Dr John van Wyhe and for some reason it would always rain when we had class. It was so comfortable and the petrichor would seep in from the glass doors while we sat dry in the comfort of the Learn Lobe. During the finals period I also remember spending a lot of time studying there, playing music with my friends to procrastinate and ending up staying there for hours on end to finish our work. The place just holds a lot of salient memories for me.
Ee Teng: I really like the ledge on level 17 in front of the laundry room. The view there is great and there aren’t many people there during weekday nights. Going there calms me down because I get to take in the vast night sky and let my thoughts drift. I also go there to recollect and gather when I feel stressed about school.
9. What is the Tembusu you hope to leave behind for your juniors when you graduate?
Ronnie: The Tembusu I wish that both seniors and juniors can experience when I’ve graduated would be one that allows initiatives to be launched. I believe this is important in being the Home of Possibilities where the student body’s voices are heard and new structures or programmes can be ignited to meet the ever changing needs of each batch of Tembusians. Additionally, I hope that Tembusu will continue to be a place where intellectual discussion and discourse can occur in a safe environment. A place where students can freely voice their opinions while respecting others’ schools of thought. Lastly, the most important thing I wish to leave behind [for] Tembusians would be a place where one feels at home. A lot of Tembusians find their second family here, starting from their welcome groups, some on their levels, others in their interest groups, and maybe even unusual settings like studying in the seminar rooms together. This tight-knit community in Tembusu will be one that I hope every freshmen experience when they step into the building.
Rochelle: When I came into Tembusu, it was with the promise of an inclusive yet diverse community that would allow you to explore yourself without judgement. I definitely felt like I was given a lot of opportunities to find out more about myself, and to define my own identity without fear of judgement. Likewise, I hope our juniors will be able to experience the same safe space for personal growth.
Ee Teng: I really want Tembusu to remain inclusive, understanding and a true home of possibilities.
Feature image by Element5 Digital on Unsplash. Header image from file.
Treehouse would like to thank the candidates for lending us their time to answer our questions in the midst of their campaign period. External online voting for the 11th CSC will commence on 2 September, Wednesday, and close on 3 September, Thursday. The election results will be determined by external vote (70%), from students, and by internal vote (30%), from all candidates in the running. Election results will be released 7 September, Monday.