NUS students from the University Scholars Programme (USP) organised the Singapore leg of the Asian Undergraduate Summit 2018 (AUS2018) from 15 to 23 July at Cinnamon College, University Town. Centred on the theme of “Leadership in a Complex World: Taking on Diffused Responsibilities”, this year’s Summit — a student-led and student-run international conference that gives undergraduates of diverse disciplines in Asia a platform to engage in cross-cultural, academic and experiential exchange — was attended by more than 100 students from nine universities across the region.
The week-long Summit focused on how creating inclusive spaces can help communities tackle the challenges of diffused responsibilities — situations where individuals fail to take meaningful action on complex societal issues because they believe others will do so. Participants explored the topic through a host of workshops and exciting learning activities, including listening to several fascinating speakers. Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo graced the Summit as Guest-of-Honour.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye alluded to the “polarising politics” of our times and highlighted the importance of platforms such as AUS2018 in allowing genuine friendships between people of different cultures to form. “AUS2018 is a unique and purposeful programme that will open your eyes and deepen your understanding of different Asian cities…It is a platform for mutual learning and enrichment, where you can engage with each other intellectually and socially, within and beyond the formal programme, forging shared memories and lifelong friendships,” he said.
A key Summit highlight was the Human Library Sessions where community leaders were “on loan” to participants who had the chance to select their “books” and hear firsthand how the leaders confronted societal issues and built communities through meaningful action. Among those sharing their experiences were Mr Alfian Sa’at, Resident Playwright of WILD R!CE theatre company, and Ms Elaine Chiam, Founder of the Love Kuching Project, a cat rescue group. One participant, Devarnav Sharma, a political science student from Hindu College, Delhi University, shared that his Human Library experience provided him with “a lot of insights and opened up a plethora of possibilities”.
The students visited the Enabling Village and Our Tampines Hub — successful examples of inclusive community spaces — where they examined physical structures and social programmes that incorporated principles of inclusive design. Participants also took part in the Dessert in the Dark experience, an adaptation of the Dinner in the Dark concept where diners enjoy their meal without the luxury of sight in order to build empathy towards the visually impaired. The experience offered insights into how integral spatial design is in making an individual feel included or excluded in society, and how simulations can foster understanding and compassion — an exercise that complemented their use of the Design Thinking framework during the Summit.
Most importantly, participants were given an opportunity to forge close friendships with fellow undergraduates from other countries. The unique co-hosting format of AUS2018 allowed the students to also meet one another in one of three overseas locations of their choice — Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, Hindu College in India or Incheon National University in South Korea — during the Overseas leg of the Summit.
In her closing address on 20 July, Mrs Teo drew the participants’ attention to a more turbulent time in Singapore’s history — the era of racial riots. She noted how the creation of inclusive spaces and institutions in the country led to great strides in social cohesion. Using interracial marriages as an example, she commented on how such unions were once “unthinkable”, but have become “increasingly unremarkable” as the bonds in Singaporean society have strengthened.
Indeed, AUS2018 has given participants from different cultures and backgrounds the chance to establish new ties, and provided them with the tools to challenge conventional thinking and develop out-of-the-box solutions to society’s urgent problems.
By Chow Kit Ying, AUS2018 Chairperson, NUS Arts and Social Sciences and USP