Yesterday, the New Paper had reported that orientation camps were increasingly sexual, and that “a decade on, nothing has changed”. While sounding alarmingly like the imminent collapse of our entire moral system, the truth is, everything keeps changing.
From less responsible OGLs and a system that sees new leaders being elected every year, the legacy of planning an orientation camp is hardly one that can be owned by an individual or a group for a long period of time. As such, the errors made in orientation camps are rarely learned before the next camp is planned.
The truth is, many seniors lack the interest to be an orientation group leader (OGL), or a councillor. These roles are often seen as a “ra-ra” activity rather than a prestigious, hands-on leadership role where you are put in charge of “orientating” freshmen.
Here are some responses that actually try to get to the root of the problem:
1) Camp-Goers Are Too Afraid To Voice Out In Fear of Being Ostracised
Being uncomfortable is the start of becoming comfortable, but set a clear boundary for yourself. Although it’s difficult to anticipate activities, it should be easy to know what you’re comfortable enough with.
The same should apply for the OGLs and councillors, who sometimes “disturb” the freshmen during the camps. Discomfort should be already part of the activity (like talking to someone else blindfolded), and not induced for the fun of it.
2) Anonymous, “Whistle-Blowing” Confessions Bring Eyeballs, But Solve Little To No Problems
What I like to call the “Gawker problem”, The New Paper’s report definitely provoked the NUS office of student affairs (OSA) into public action, but was it needed? Bringing attention and eyeballs to what would otherwise be an internal problem victimises both the perpetrator and the victim by publicly naming and shaming them both.
Instead of going to a local tabloid with a racy storyline, why not approach the official student body with names and testimonials instead? That would solve problems instead of going about it in a roundabout way.
3) Leaders and Camp-goers Are Both Not Claiming Responsibility For Their Actions
It’s definitely easier to shift the blame to others and play the victim, but it’s important to know that peer pressure should not be the end-all to the problems in an orientation camp. Responsibility means being able to admit what has been done was wrong, instead of creating a narrative in your head and justifying your own mistakes.
The outburst everyone is now hearing is only a symptom of a larger problem. Simply put, much more thought and maturity needs to be put into organising a good orientation camp without resorting to cheap methods of inducing discomfort and “fun”.
4) The Public Situation Is Currently More Of A Power Struggle Than Anything
Being heard isn’t the same as knowing what the problem exactly is. Everyone has a vague idea of the problem: Some activities and forfeits camp-goers are peer-pressured to do are too sexual and this has been a continuous trend.
This vagueness discounts the reality of an echo-chamber situation: good camps are kept under wraps and the bad stuff are what constantly gets media attention. In truth, in any student-organised camp, it’s probably difficult to plan everything out due to inexperience.
5) Everything Is Being Blown Out Of Proportion
Why so serious? It’s just an orientation camp. There are no values at stake here, just some young adults making foolish mistakes and having the occasional regret.
Although it’s an ideal to make camp a safe and fun experience, camp-goers ultimately have the power to decide what they do. OGLs and the like pressuring them to act otherwise is definitely wrong, and that’s definitely a change that camps should start with.
UPDATE: NUS’s statement to Straits Times: “We do not condone any behaviour or activity that denigrates the dignity of individuals, and that has sexual connotations. Our students, particularly freshmen, must feel safe and secure at all times during orientation. If they decide to opt out of an activity, their wishes must be respected.”
They have also said that NUS staff will be at the orientation camps throughout. That really sucks to hear. -Vulcan Post