Case Study: How the Young Generation is Leveraging Social Media to embrace and enforce positive change

Late last week, on April 19, 2019, NUS became the victim of the Streisand Effect.

What’s that?

According to Wikipedia,

“The Streisand effect is a phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet”

In this article, I want to highlight the strengths of Millennial generation and de-construct how this issue reached received attention at a national level.

The Backstory

NUS Student Monica Baey pushed out a string of Instagram Stories about a fellow student, Nicholas Lim Jun Kai, who had filmed her showering in her hostel’s bathroom last November.

Right after the incident, Monica lodged a report with campus security on 25 November 2018, who told her to go to the police. She reported her case to the police the next day and the police meted out their sentence for Nicholas with a 12-month conditional warning because he was a first time offender.

For further action, she was advised to approach NUS. Monica provided NUS with her statement, Whatsapp conversations and CCTV footage that documented how Nicholas had previously snuck into another toilet.

However, NUS told Monica that she was too late in reporting the manner as they had already arrived at a punishment. They claimed that even if they had taken her statement into account, the outcome “would have been the same”.

What was the outcome meted out?

  • NUS meted out a one-semester suspension (which was akin to going on a Leave of Absence or Overseas Exchange, which many regular students did anyway)
  • Banned Nicholas from entering campus residences
  • Nicholas was made to write Monica a compulsory apology letter
  • Attend compulsory counselling sessions
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“Dear Monica,

I am Nicholas, and I am writing this letter to formally apologise for my vile and inappropriate action that happened in Eusoff Hall, on the final week of November and being on heavy alcoholic influence is no excuse at all. I am extremely ashamed of what I have done and I am so sorry to have traumatised you in such a manner, nobody should ever have to go through such a traumatic experience. I want to assure you that this will never happen to anyone else again, and I know actions speak louder than words. This incident has taught me an invaluable lesson and I will strive to be the best version of myself from here on. Of course I hope to seek your forgiveness, but I understand that I am in no position to ask for anything and you have no obligation to even give me any form of closure. But I still want you to know that I am really sorry to have committed such an offence. I will be serving the sanctions mete out by the unversity while bearing in mind to only improve as a person from here.

Sincerely,

Nicholas”

Strength #1 : Taking Ownership

Monica questioned if this was “all” that Nicholas was getting. The consequence seemed like it was lacking a serious tone to it and sent the message that it the University will not be able to do much to support female students in cases of sexual misconduct. There was a lack of a strong deterrent for potential perpetrators that they would similarly be punished.

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On April 19, she shares her experience on social media and it goes viral. Ms Baey’s Instagram stories were viewed thousands of times and triggered the spread of at least two online petitions, one of which had garnered more than 33,000 signatures demanding “stiffer punishment” for the accused.

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Comments have been seen on different forums and social media on why NUS has not meted out a proportionate punishment for such crimes.

It is not difficult to understand why – the university’s main interest is to maintain the integrity of the academia environment. Academic dishonesty strikes at the root os such integrity and therefore deserves the highest sanction – expulsion. There is a bit of implicit pressure not to let things blow up at different levels of the NUS administration, from the university level to the faculty or residential college/hall level.

All the attention this issue has received has pressured NUS from pushing the matter under the carpet to responding on it’s social media pages and acknowledging that more needs to be done.

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In a CNA article, NUS president apologises to alumni on the way the case was handled.

“We are sorry that she had to surface her concerns on social media for the University to take notice” – NUS President Tang Eng Chye said in his letter.

NUS Policy on sexual misconduct has up till now, been

“Second strike and you are out”

When NUS says ‘second strike and you’re out’, I hear ‘you can take another video while you’re at it’. Many have called for stronger punishments in this regard, including Minister Ong Ye Kung.

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Sometimes all it takes is for your voice to reach the right person who can enforce the right actions.

“A lot of victims are silent. They let it slide or did not pursue the matter,” Baey said. “At this point, I know if I don’t speak up, I feel that no justice will come to me or all the other girls who have experienced similar trauma.”

More ought to be done by NUS as their current stance reflects a fundamental lack of moral authority. They seem to be ignorant with an outdated view of the current generation of youth, the issues they are passionate about, how they engage with the world and how empowered they are with Social Media.

Strength #2: Vocal and Social Media Savvy

Perhaps this same issue might not have had the attention it deserved 10 years ago because it Social Media was still in its’ infancy stages.

There have been other cases.

  • In 2008, where female students were made to lie down during orientation games while male students did push-ups over them.
  • In 2014, the aunt of a 21-year old male undergraduate complained about saying that a girl was made to “lick whipped cream off his neck, his nipples and also rub her hands on his thighs”.
  • In 2016, there was another complaint where students were to act out a rape scene as part of the forfeit.

All these cases ruffled a few feathers but did not receive potent attention as with Monica’s case.

After realising there is no point in being quiet anymore, Monica turned to Instagram stories to be heard. It is not an easy task for a victim to speak out and in this case, Monica decided to speak out. Millennials have earned the name of being vocal in many cases, both in Universities and at the Workplace. Thanks to their empowered childhood with supportive parents, they are known to speak out openly about matters that matter.

Where many may shy away from pursuing this matter, Monica decided to speak out because it is a cause she identifies with and many like her do as well. Our youths have no fear or shame in speaking up about sexual misconduct.

Add this characteristic with Social Media, which is essentially a microphone that amplifies their voice. Monica reached out to Social Media after going through the due course. Instagram, which is highly populated with Millennial and Gen Z users, contributed to her story going viral.

Monica went to the relevant authorities at NUS as well as the Police. My guess is that many who saw her posts could relate to that kind of treatment from authorities who want to ‘shush’ the matters in cases like this and felt it was a just cause to push for.

It’s 2019!

Over the years, there have been many movements that have raised awareness of such issues such as #MeToo or #HeforShe. It comes as no surprise then that this specific topic is given the due attention it deserves in times like this. The Social Media soil is fertile for topics like these.

What is surprising though is how NUS has not been progressive with issues on sexual misconduct.

In Monica’s case, it would seem like the University tried to silence her by reminding her that the punishment meted out was the final outcome she would receive.

Strength #3: Belief in a stronger WHY

Millennials are known as the Generation WHY. They are intrinsically motivated for causes that fight for the betterment of society and the community. One of the reasons this issue went viral could be because it was a just cause worth fighting for. As Monica explained,

“The point of [my post] is I want some real change in NUS … I want real consequences for perpetrators that commit such acts. What I want is for NUS to address the number of these incidents that have occurred, negotiate a fair set of sanctions where the perpetrator is actually reprimanded, through expulsion, community service, re-education. I don’t think I am in a place to demand that all perpetrators to get expelled from the school and that is not my goal either. But I would want to see NUS provide a set of visible consequences for anyone who commits any sexual misappropriation acts again,”

Monica was able to reach out to the Community for support when she felt let down by the Authorities. They have been handling these issues the same way for a long time now. But the question is, why haven’t they progressed with the times? Why does it often take such cases for institutions to review their policies and upgrade them?

Perhaps in the past, such incidents never got the support it needed back then because there was no avenue to share this and it was a “man’s world” back then.

Not anymore.

Embracing and Enforcing Change

This generation of Youths are way more empowered than any previous generations were. It’s a good place to be in. They are quick to embrace change and quicker in ensuring it is enforced where required

Humanity has come a long way from not educating the females in the family to empowering them for a University education. And yet, we have a long way to go in terms of protecting them as by providing a safe and secure environment.

As AWARE mentioned in their statement,

“In the past, many educators and administrators were completely untrained to handle cases of sexual assault. However, in a post-#MeToo world, with society more aware of and discerning about the complexities of sexual abuse, all Institutes of Higher Learning must get their act together—before incidents like this one develop, not after. With social media readily available to survivors and bystanders, it’s clear that an institution lacking proper systems will be called out sooner or later.”

Not just in Universities, but in Organisations and Societies and Institutions. If old policies and S.O.P.’s (“this is how we’ve always handled such issues”) are the benchmark for dealing with today’s issues, then it may seem that the very education they fought for has been wasted on the Leaders of these institutions.

This is part and parcel of embracing Diversity and Inclusion. The faster Organisations, Associations and all other bodies realise it, the faster we will see progress in our society at large.

Monica may be 1 person, but she represents the sentiments of the Young Generation.

It is high time to keep up with the times.

As a departing thought, I want you to think:

What would you have done, if you were in Monica’s shoes?