A Letter to NUS Freshmen about USP

Dear freshman considering the University Scholars Programme*,

There’s been some hubbub on the Internet – that’s threatening to break out in quite an ugly way into the public mainstream – about how members of the University Scholars Programme have engaged in ‘cyberbullying’ of their fellow student. While many of my fellow students in USP have valiantly stepped up to try and defend the reputation of USP, I do not really have the intellectual stamina, eloquence, or patience at the moment to read through and analyse every single argumentative point made from all the positions I have a privilege of seeing from (Especially not during the summer!).

Instead, I just hope you understand that any impression of USP the online media has been spewing lately has been largely misconstrued.

Sure, those screencaps were actual words typed by actual people. They might seem mean-spirited and cruel. But please remember that in every community there will always be the vocal few who express themselves more bluntly than others. They are not representative of the community as a whole. I say that because the majority of the people I’ve met in the course of my first year in USP have been extremely nice, lovely, and fun people who I just happen to also enjoy holding an intellectual discussion with. And we also do more than talk about philosophy or ethics or, er, multivariable functions. Intellectual discussion is probably ten percent or less of the things I do with other people in USP. Twenty percent is the usual stuff people like to talk about like the latest episode of a TV show, favourite books and comic books, discussing musical tastes, stupid jokes, etc. Thirty percent comprises of fun activities like captain’s ball, Quidditch, Chinese chess, kayaking, sailing…among many other things. It’s been a joy to meet people who carpe diem and love learning, and don’t just study for the sake of it, but let the quest for knowledge be an end in itself.

The remaining forty percent would be the USP academic programme, one of the most enriching and fantastic academic experiences of my life. You’ll be hard-pressed to find modules more varied than those in USP within NUS. The writing module I took in my first semester, while girded by the topic of Greek rhetoric, allowed me to write a research essay on anything I wanted. I wrote about comics, and you can read it here. For another module, I read landmark texts like Confucius’s the Analects and Machiavelli’s The Prince. In my second semester, I travelled with my class to Cambodia to study tourism and also wrote a proposal to make Bukit Brown a World Heritage site, and for another module learnt about the difficulties in working in a post-disaster aid landscape.

What I’m saying is, don’t let the media paint an impression of USP as elite and uncaring. USP probably has the highest density of social activists behind Social Work in NUS I’ve seen anywhere. Many of my classmates are genuinely concerned about helping the less fortunate, and the Programme has plenty of opportunities for us to get involved in community projects locally and overseas.

Okay, are we intellectually elite? Maybe not in the way you think – we generally have a normal distribution of full CAP pointers to those hovering near the minimum CAP requirement of 3.5. But talk to any of them and you probably wouldn’t be able to tell who is the one doing better. Instead, what characterises the USP student is a joie de vivre, a desire to explore the world in both a tangible and abstract sense.

Our Facebook group, where those mean screencaps are from, is but on of the subcommunities that are part of the USP. It would be erroneous to think that it represents the USP as a whole – it is not even an official Facebook group, just one which is open to all members of USP. There are myriad subgroups in USP doing all sorts of other things, even some who barely participate in the social events and merely fulfil the requirements of the academic programme. Just be part of the community you want to be – be it in the spotlight, or at the fringes. No one’s going to force you to be who you’re not in USP.

Do yourself a favour and peruse our prospectus. Talk to your seniors in USP personally and ask them about their experiences. And if you like what you see, join us. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

This is all I have to say about USP, a programme that has become an integral part of my life. It might not be the most well-versed apologia out there, but my brain’s kind of hibernating – it’s summer, after all.

Now, back to enjoying my break.

*I know this letter comes late – most of you have already applied and gotten in. I just hope you don’t let recent events change your mind.


10 thoughts on “A Letter to NUS Freshmen about USP

  1. NUS student

    y’know, the issue isn’t about the darned reputation of USP. why do you guys care more about your own skins rather than the fact that one of your classmates were bullied? if USP claims to encourage healthy debate, why is such childish behaviour happening? the comments against keira are not only mean, but abusive as well. even if it were only a few students that were the bullies, do you not have a right, if you are a USP student, to champion for the fact that these bullies should be punished? this is a issue of morality. it is sickening that you guys care more about yourselves and USP’s rep than the welfare of your classmate. it’s not about the program, don’t you geddit? It’s not about USP, it’s about these individuals within USP which USP has the power to punish (and USP students who have the power to champion for these students to be punished). and you guys aren’t doing anything. which just makes my impression of USP students drop. The eloquent,yet amoral, silent, majority which make up the majority of USP- I wouldn’t hire such people when they come out to the workforce.

    1. I would love to provide a reasonable response to every single charge you have levelled, but I’m embarking on a three-day family holiday tomorrow morning and also have a few things on my agenda that will keep me busy in the next week or so. I’ll give you a proper reply when I find the time to. :)

    2. K Jake

      Erm… The issue of this blog post isn’t about what you are concerned about either. It’s just a normal blog post, of the author’s (Benjamin) experiences in USP, and he writes this to share with people who wants to know more, but might have been distracted by the recent media hoo-ha. The media has only presented a small part of the USP community, and Benjamin, too, is presenting his own version of it. Why don’t you go slam the media for propagating such crap? Maybe they might want to look into people like you, hiding behind the computer screen and attempting to ‘bully’ the author into your views? Don’t be ridiculous. If you are to pursue every article that is linked to USP now, then you might jolly well slam the NUS admin for not publishing a newsletter regarding this. Or shoot Provost for failing to respond with his own post on this issue (of course, he has to write something that must admonish the USP community, staff and student and alumni, so that you will be happy).

      And please, don’t act all saintly. You mean to say you’ve never done anything to save your own skin, or stop bullying if your own eyes saw such actions being committed? If anyone is childish, you, my friend, is one big child. For you, obviously, do not know the whole situation, but instead assumes that you do. And with this ‘perfect’ knowledge of the situation, you jump into a blog post and lambast it for failing to do anything. What makes you think that no one is doing anything about this? What makes you think that the silent majority have not done anything useful? And what if they don’t? Do you expect everyone to have the time to read a Facebook thread? And do you think that by voicing out here (under NUS STUDENT [too ashamed of your own name? or afraid to take responsibility for your own words?]), you are less silent, and less amoral?

      If you really want to be that saintly person you seem to portray yourself as, then tell you what, go start something for the needy students (that includes me). There is a whole group of needy students in NUS, not just confined to USP. Are you oblivious to this fact? Or are you pretending not to know about this? If you do know, what have you done to help them? If nothing, are you then an amoral person?

    3. Varun

      Hi NUS Student,

      I think you came here looking for something that this article is not. This is Benjamin giving his take on the Programme from his experiences in the past two semesters and nothing else; it is not about the USP community’s response to the issue in the spotlight.

  2. NUS student

    oh, notice you were a Christian. let me just drop in a few more words then. “USP probably has the highest density of social activists behind Social Work in NUS I’ve seen anywhere. Many of my classmates are genuinely concerned about helping the less fortunate, and the Programme has plenty of opportunities for us to get involved in community projects locally and overseas.”

    oh really? claiming that USP are more charitable than NUS students hence we should cut you guys such slack? I am a Christian myself and I thought being a Christian means caring for the oppressed? Keira your fellow student is being bullied. I don’t care what USP is really about, it could be the best course in the world, but the fact that you think that gives you the right not to stand up for your classmates and oppose those bullies, and think protecting your own reputations are more important than that…then seriously…that stinks…

    I would really respect USP if they stepped up to seek punishment (USP students)/ punish (USP admin) those few students who bullied Keira.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see people seeking righteousness. I see…utter selfishness.

    1. Hello NUS student, thank you for writing. I appreciate your intent, but since Ben’s busy preparing for a holiday, let me write in his place (Ben you can kick me if I misrepresent us all when you get back :P)

      You saw Keira being bullied. We could all go talk about this until the cows come home about whether she really got bullied as you thought she was, or was it an entirely different matter that got misrepresented, but okay, let’s take it that it was wrong there and I do agree. What you haven’t seen from Miss Koh Choon Hwee’s cherry-picking article however, is the response to it. Do you really believe that in a community of 700+ individuals who are articulate and principled that not ONE single person stood up against it?

      I don’t particularly remember every single detail from the conversation, but I remember opposing the attacks on her personal character and all, and I remember other people who did so as well. But in the same breath that we called for the personal attacks to end, we also criticised her writing. These two things are not mutually exclusive, I could disagree with what you say and criticise the flaws there but not do it in a manner that is mean and nasty. If faced with such comments, you turn and say that it was still too much, then it’s not an issue of bullying but an issue of not being able to handle criticism. But I digress.

      What Ben wrote here wasn’t aimed at defending the actions of the people who attacked her. It’s a letter to NUS freshmen to tell them that it’s not all what it seems, that this matter is not representative of USP. That there are people who stand up against these things, but irresponsible journalism by the writer has presented a very one-sided view of things. That said, the fight against such behaviour is far from over, and if you are as you have said, then do pray for us, and pray that we will continue to have the courage to oppose such things even if we run the risk of becoming the next target.

      I’d be more than happy to have a coffee with you and present a clearer picture of what’s going on, and how you could pray for us if you really are that concerned. Have a blessed week :)

  3. Hi NUS Student,

    I think it is unfair for you to accuse USP students of inaction in one broad stroke. Many commenters, in the same thread that the author of the KRC article chose to use, have in fact tried to defend Keira and supported her against her attackers. However, the author chose (deliberately or otherwise) to lean more weight to the point that it is a handful of students who engaged in such actions.

    In addition, there is nothing wrong in trying to bring focus on what USP is suppose to be. USP, at the end of the day, is an excellent academic programme that nurtures critical thinkers with multiple perspectives. Moreover, there are many USP students who are actively involve in community work, fighting for causes (such as plights of the migrant workers and gay rights) and other pertinent social issues. More relevantly, USP students were very vocal about sounding our concerns on the additional cost to the programme WAY BEFORE THE KRC ARTICLES WERE PUBLISHED AND BEFORE USP MOVED TO ITS CURRENT LOCATION IN UTOWN. For instance, we held townhall meetings, meetings with the NUS Administration, emails to relevant authorities to sound our concern. Hence, to accuse us of amorality is outrightly unfair and bizarre.

    I appreciate your sense of social justice and decrying that someone has been bullied. However, I think we are capable of self-policing and resolving our issues.

    I also see irony in action, NUS Student. To implicitly accuse Benjamin as a Christian but not behaving what you think Christians should behave is a personal attack. Personal attacks are highlighting a quality of a person and spin it negatively with no relation to the issue or whatsoever. By that definition, whether one is a Christian or not has nothing to do with your allegation leveled against USP and USP students.

    Just to note: As a matter of courtesy, it would be great if you leave your actual name instead of using a moniker? It provides more credits to your allegations else many will just see you as another troll much like the trolls on TR or Yahoo News. If you truly believe in your case, leave your actual name.

  4. Keira Chen

    Dear whomever you are,
    I was very touched by your writing. I found it sincere, fascinating, and glad that usp has been as beautiful for you as it was for me. Honestly.
    I must admit it’s the very first time I’m writing ever since cyberbullying article appeared, and I totally agree with you – it’s a small minority, a small vocal minority.
    I went to India on a usp programme – cultural immersion. I went Abu Dhabi

    1. Keira Chen

      … representing usp in a conference. I loved the days when I was younger, when both peers and seniors fascinate me with all the curiosity, insights and knowledge they have. I sincerely hope, along with you, that the community can move on from the incident and become more excellent.

      I wish you all the best.
      Keira Chen

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