By Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio
I was scrolling along my Facebook feed when I came across a curious post. Curious because if you know the company I keep, you’ll know that my feed is usually just filled with pictures of their trips, links to random articles, discussions of school projects or jokes. However, in this particular post, I found a batch mate responding to what seemed to be a tweet about our school. After clicking a couple of links, I found myself reading a short piece from STOMP, specifically this piece.
To the uninitiated, STOMP stands for Straits Times Online Mobile Print. It is a Singapore-based web portal that features articles written by citizen journalists instead of the traditional journalists who write for the country’s major broadsheets. They usually discuss an interesting range of topics. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to group the topics (although I did try!). Still, to get an idea of the range of things usually discussed, here’s a screenshot of eight of the Top Ten articles as of 10 June, 2013.
I generally ignore critics – as the following article’s writer appears to be – who seem to be more focused on picking on people than on discussing an issue to improve the situation, because I believe that, “like teenagers, the critic’s greatest joy is to be shocking, and their greatest fear is to be ignored.”^ I’m also not particularly keen on the bitter back and forth commenting that goes on around the internet. I generally make it a personal rule to keep out. But in this case, it didn’t seem as easy to just close the page and go make my lunch. Much as I hate arguments, I don’t take kindly to people I care about being picked on. (I don’t suppose anyone does.) I like to think of myself as a pacifist, not a doormat, and so I’d like to highlight some things I observed about the article.
1) The screenshot excerpts that are used to label the students as “shallow” or “hardly intellectual” are taken out of context. For each criticised post, a link is not provided to the entire blog post, which is not fair since it does not invite readers to consider other perspectives. Providing such links would allow readers of the STOMP post to judge for themselves how “shallow” the original blog posts may be. The article also does not provide a link to the Yale-NUS blog as a whole either, which is troubling, because it thus discounts the range of topics that do get discussed on the blog.
It’s been ten months since I started writing for the Yale-NUS blog. I’ve done my best to read everything that my peers have posted on it, and I think the range of topics is remarkable and wonderful. I have read blog posts on social work, romance, law, culture, travel, and the arts. We have had movie reviews, Cracked-style humour pieces, serious analyses of music, introspective descriptions of gap years, funny poems, and reflections on daily life. It seems to me illogical that the STOMP article can claim that some excerpts of blog posts are representative of everything featured on the blog.
2) The article was written to imply that there is something wrong with using the blog as a personal religious platform, travel diary and a vacation review page, or place to post one’s “secondary school compositions”. Well, yes, I’d imagine that if every post on the blog was about just one thing, whether it be spiritual matters, personal reflections, or jokes, then we’d have a problem. The fact is, we’ve already established that that’s not true.
The article also says that “The blog describes itself as a ‘thought space for the Yale-NUS College community’ and a ‘student-driven intellectual exercise'”. The implication being that the blog isn’t intellectual.
But it is. The blog is meant to be a ‘thought space’, a place where the Yale-NUS College community can share our ideas. Literally, it’s a place to give space for thought and that means welcoming whatever the students, teachers, and administrators are thinking about: whether that be reflections on their faith, tips on how to enjoy participating in cultural activities outside our experience, thoughts on the pre-NS haircut or the meaning of life.
I also believe “intellectual” was chosen by the community to describe our “thought space”, not in the elitist sense that everything we write should change the world and be esoterically enlightening, but to mean that these are the things we’re individually thinking about right now, the things we’re using our intellect on. True, not everything in the blog is highbrow, but then neither are all the writers and readers and there’s nothing wrong with that.
3) Thirdly, I think it’s a bit simplistic to claim that “It is no wonder Yale University had some worries about whether Singapore is ready for a liberal arts education. If this is the kind of ‘intellectual exercise’ that Yale-NUS promises to deliver, then it gives us much to think about.” The issues that have been discussed across the past few years by many great educators, admissions counselors, faculty, students, parents, and institution leaders surely cannot be reduced to judging whether students are “ready for a liberal arts education” based on their blog posts. The concerns of Yale and Yale-NUS college are much larger and more complex than that.
That being said, I’d wager to say that actually, yes, we are, ready for a liberal arts education. The whole blog, in fact, exhibits exactly what the liberal arts is about. As mentioned earlier, the topics discussed celebrate the sort of broad-based discussion and interest that is at the heart of the liberal arts.
To conclude, this post isn’t a call to arms nor is it meant to incite mass boycotting of STOMP. Though I don’t actively read it, I think STOMP adds to the flavour of the local cyber culture and allows online readers another perspective to see the Singaporean scene. I do think, however, that perhaps all of us netizens could be more careful about we write online. This is a space for sharing what we think, true, but all rights have responsibilities attached to them. (I know that saying such a thing can be an invitation for people to go on about how they feel that we don’t have freedom of speech here and so forth, but I do hope we can keep that conversation in another forum, yes?)
Our freedom ends where someone else’s begins. Just as we have the right to say what we think, others have the right to be spoken of with fairness and kindness. I can’t deny that I write in defense of this blogging community that I enjoy being part of. I invite readers everywhere – even those who agree with the STOMP article – to read our posts and walk with us through the four-year adventure that we’re embarking on in less than a month. I imagine – I sincerely hope, in fact – that our blog content will mature and grow just as we do through university life.
^The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter J. Kreeft