Petitions, Preconceived Notions, and Privacy Violations

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article, if any, are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Tembusu College or the National University of Singapore (NUS).

A petition has alleged that student group Let’s Talk About Sex (LTAS) was promoting violent sexual fantasies through a talk discussing rope bondage. The event has since been cancelled to protect students’ privacy and mental wellbeing. tFreedom responded in a public statement that the petition misrepresented the event’s purpose, which would have been a discussion-driven sharing session centred on respect and consent. They also condemned the violation of students’ privacy. tFreedom further reiterated their own commitment towards building an informed and respectful community. A follow-up Master’s Letter announced that tFreedom would come under review and their activities put on hiatus, while expressing a continued commitment to inclusivity and intellectual curiosity.

A misrepresentation of intentions

First launched on Sunday, 30 August, the original petition alleged that LTAS “facilitates violent sexual fantasies among students”, citing a discussion session with a rope bondage studio organised by LTAS. The petition expressed concern for the welfare of students, believing that the event would put students in physical and moral danger. The petition called for the restriction of talks and discussion around sex to prevent violent sexual fantasies among students.

tFreedom has since stated that the petition misrepresented what would have been a sharing session of personal experiences grounded in respect, consent, safety and communication. While they understand the concerns of the petitioners, tFreedom stands by their original intentions behind the event, which was to provide students with “a safe space to learn more about a lesser known practice from a studio that values communication, respect, and consent”.  

tFreedom further clarified that, keeping in line with COVID-19 and National University of Singapore (NUS) zoning restrictions, the event would have been online on Zoom, with no physical activity or interaction. The sign-up process was also entirely voluntary.

While standing by their original intentions, tFreedom admitted to some publicity-related oversights. They admitted that the design of the poster might not have made the discussion-driven aspect of the event sufficiently clear, causing some anxieties as a result.

The group has emphasised that, contrary to the petition’s accusation, they have “never promoted violent sex or non-consensual activities”. Rather, they have a long history of promoting a culture of respect and consent in the College, from publicly denouncing sexual misconduct to raising awareness around sexual assault. They have repeatedly proved their dedication to building a community well-informed on sexual health, safety, respect, and consent.

Poster from LTAS’ event on sexual assault awareness in 2018.

Privacy violations

The personal information of students and studio members was made public in the petition. While providing an update regarding the cancellation of the event, the petition shared screenshots of the private LTAS group chat, exposing students’ names. Although the senders’ names were censored, names mentioned in the messages themselves were left uncensored. Students affected are under considerable distress due to the violation of their privacy, and the violation of a space thought safe and private. Some students also fear that the exposure of their personal information has left them vulnerable to harassment.

The petition also distributed information belonging to the studio and its members without authorisation. Like some students, the names of the studio members involved were left uncensored in screenshots. The petition republished the event poster, which contains a photograph by the studio, who gave permission for the photograph to be circulated only within the College. 

tFreedom has since appealed to the petitioners and the public to cease the unauthorised redistribution of personal information, and to refrain from harassing or doxxing individuals. NUS has also requested that media outlets do not redistribute any screenshots or images violating students’ privacy. 

The original petitioner has concurred in an update on the original petition page, requesting petitioners to refrain from harassing students. They have also clarified that their intentions were never to encourage harassment.

Regardless of their stated intentions and their request for the public to refrain from harassing students, significant damage has regrettably already been done to the safety and welfare of students. Following the exposure of LTAS’ private Telegram group chat link, some members of the public took it upon themselves to join the chat and screenshot messages, which they then circulated in their own networks. Many of these uncensored screenshots have exposed the personal information of students.

To protect students from further privacy violations, tFreedom heads have since closed the LTAS group chat and privatised the group chats of other wings. Any students who fear that their personal information may have been exposed are encouraged to seek help from staff or the university. 

Additionally, all students are strongly encouraged to ascertain the privacy of their group chats. All student-group Telegram group chats are to have their group types set to private. Regular group chat members will no longer be able to add new members, and group administrators are to confirm that all members are students of Tembusu College.

Public support

Shortly after the publication of the original petition, an unknown individual set up a counter-petition to “stop censoring sexual discourse at NUS”. The counter-petition refuted the original misrepresentation of LTAS with their own view of LTAS as a student group that “educate[s] the student population on sexuality” and provides safe spaces for students to discuss related topics. 

In their public statement, tFreedom clarified that they were in no way affiliated with the counter-petition, but were nevertheless grateful for the support.

Media attention

Since tFreedom’s release of their official public statement, several media outlets have reported on the petition and its consequences.

Some articles contain content that NUS has expressly requested reporters not to redistribute, such as the photograph belonging to the studio. Some articles have also chosen to sensationalise recent events.

Students are urged to refrain from opening the links of such articles. Clicks contribute to the overall revenue of such media outlets, who should not be rewarded for inadequate research, sensationalism, or unethical journalism.

In light of how the current situation has resulted from the spread of misinformation, students are encouraged to be cautious about where and how they receive their news. Statements from tFreedom about tFreedom will be disseminated via their official Telegram announcements channel and their Facebook page.

Master’s Letter

The Master of Tembusu College has released a Letter to students emphasising a continued commitment towards ensuring care and inclusivity in the College, while encouraging intellectual curiosity. The Letter expresses that the College will continue to protect “safe spaces for students to ask uncomfortable questions”.

It was also officially announced that the event will be cancelled, and the activities of tFreedom put on hold, pending administrative review. At the same time, the College expressed support for tFreedom and the values it stands for. As aforementioned, the cancellation was viewed as necessary to protect the privacy and well-being of students whose personal information had been leaked online. The review of tFreedom’s activities might be seen as equally necessary for the continued valuation of diversity and inclusion in the College. Through the review, tFreedom members can understand how they might in future better serve the College without compromising their own safety. 

Students in the aftermath

Following the immediate aftermath of the petition, a student set up a whiteboard in the Lobby to encourage students to leave messages of support. In the two days since then, the whiteboard has quickly filled up, and post-it notes have begun to cluster at the edges.

tFreedom members have expressed that they are touched and grateful for all the support. Many students also say they are heartened to see the warm and supporting community at Tembusu.

Any students interested in providing further support may consider circulating the public statement from tFreedom to clear up misconceptions. The public statement is also available on Facebook and in the tFreedom announcements channel. Students may also approach tFreedom members to volunteer testimonials that will facilitate the administrative review of tFreedom.   

At the same time, students should take care to protect their privacy and their mental wellbeing. Students who fear that their personal information may have been exposed and that they may be vulnerable to harassment have been encouraged to contact the LTAS heads. They may also choose to provide their contact information to the University, who will then be able to check for doxxing. If needed, students can also contact members of their Residential Team for support and pastoral care. 

Editor’s Note:

It is unfortunate that misinformation, moral panic, and other circumstances beyond the control of any one individual have threatened the mental and physical wellbeing of students in the College. The culture of respect, consent, and a safe space to discuss ideas has been cultivated over the 10 years of Tembusu’s existence. We are grateful that the student body continues to reaffirm this culture, and hope that it will not diminish after what has happened.

Feature image by Shane Rounce from Unsplash. Header image by Chaney Zimmerman from Unsplash.

About the author

Tan Yanrong is a second-year literature major who has all the right opinions on all the wrong things.