Why was there even a programme on “Dissent and Resistance” in Yale-NUS?

By September 14, 2019Current

TL;DR – Big difference between studying about protests and teaching people how to protest.

Sorry, what got cancelled?

A Week 7 LAB Project from the Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE) under the Yale-NUS College, “Dissent and Resistance in Singapore”, has been cancelled.

The Dissent and Resistance in Singapore project was supposed to happen from 27th Sep to 5th Oct 2019.

The CIPE has a Leadership and Global Citizenship Programme. One of the learning initiatives under this programme is Learning Across Boundaries (LAB).

Meant for first year students, LAB happens in Week 7, which is midway of the first term. During Week 7 LAB, students, faculty and staff engage in learning projects of up to a week that explore themes of the curriculum in a broader context, in an interdisciplinary way and outside of the traditional classroom. Week 7 LAB wraps with a symposium, where insights and knowledge are exchanged and shared within the Yale-NUS community.

For 2019, Week 7 runs from the last week of September, and you can check out the rest of the Week 7 projects here.

What is “Dissent and Resistance in Singapore” about?

From what we can see from the cached pages and from the media reports, the project was supposed to examine the political, social and ethical issues that surround democratic dissent in Singapore.

But a deeper look into the details seems to suggest that the programme attempted to do more than just “examine”.

Its activities included workshop on designing protest signs, as well as a panel discussion with freelance journalist Kirsten Han, veteran journalist P.N. Balji, historian Thum Ping Tjin and civil rights activist Jolovan Wham.

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Read more on these speakers here.

(L-R) Kirsten Han, Ping Tjin Thum (PJ Thum), PN Balj and Jolovan Wham


There were also a couple of film screenings. One was Singaporean independent film-maker Jason Soo’s 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy, about detainees arrested for Operation Coldstore under the Internal Security Act in 1987.

I also saw in the now-deleted itinerary that they had included a film screening of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

Who’s that?

Well, Ai Weiwei is an artist, a very famous one. And he’s quite possibly one of the biggest Chinese dissidents too. Not that we are afraid and cannot stand up to China, but it’s clear that China is big. I mean, China is really huge and they’re rising so quickly too. I cannot speak on everyone’s behalf, but I prefer that Singapore maintains a healthy and smooth relationship with China. There really is no need to antagonise them by screening a movie like this.

What on earth are these activists thinking? If you want to watch or share, just watch it on Youtube privately and quietly, OK?

Do we really want our kids to how carry out “Dissent and Resistance”?

Do you?

I don’t.

It’s one thing to do a proper academic examination of the political, social and ethical issues that surround dissent, but a completely different thing to teach them how to carry out protests.

According to the Straits Times article, “Participants will learn about the ways citizens negotiate with power in Singapore and how they manage to creatively carve out spaces of freedom and autonomy in a tightly-regulated city-state”.

And yes, students will be taught how to design protest signs, and be shown films about real-life dissidents. No wonder Yale-NUS had said that the proposed activities and some of the speakers selected for it could “infringe our commitment not to advance partisan political interests in our campus”.

To me, the proposed activities and the choice of some of the speakers sent major alarm bells ringing in my head.

Are they trying to teach our youths how to be dissident and organise protests?

I like to believe that most parents did not send their kids to universities to learn how the different modes of dissent and resistance in Singapore. And they most definitely did not send their kids to learn how to make protest signs.

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Yes, why was there a workshop to teach the students how to create protest signs? For what purpose and to what good?

Do I support the calling off the Dissent and Resistance in Singapore project?

Yes, I’ll cancel it in a heartbeat. What took them so long to can it?


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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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