The scenario can go something like this: a girl likes a boy. She goes to his room one day to study. He kisses her. She kisses back. But once he starts to move his hand up, she pushes him away. He gets angry.
This is just one of the examples given to students of the National University of Singapore (NUS) in a new compulsory course on sexual consent, boundaries, and respect. The city-state’s top institutions are now requiring all their students to take the classes as sexual misconduct cases in universities increased in recent years.
NUS' e-module called “Respect and Consent Culture” comes in a video format. For those who don’t want to take the online module, there will be a 90-minute face-to-face workshop. The content will essentially be about sex and sexuality but will also discuss actions that are considered appropriate on campus. A spokesman for NUS told The Straits Times that the issues to be discussed will be “complex and nuanced.” Examples include the power relations between a student and a teaching assistant.
The main takeaway? “Consent can always be withdrawn.” Like with the scenario above, the course is going to emphasise that a kiss doesn’t have to lead to anything more.
This new course comes as the university is tightening regulations on sexual misconduct and developing the support system for victims of harassment. These were sparked by the case of student Monica Baey, 23, who was filmed by fellow NUS student Nicholas Lim, 23, while in the shower at her student residence hall. She caught the perpetrator filming her through the shower curtain and took to Instagram to slam NUS in a now-viral post, writing “I want real consequences for perpetrators that commit such acts and I want to know that NUS will reprimand them seriously…”
At a town hall session at the university attended by over 600 students on April 27, NUS acknowledged that they had failed Baey. However, the town hall angered several NUS students who felt that the session was run badly and students didn’t have a voice.
In a statement released on June 10, the NUS Board of Trustees declared they will implement changes, which include having tougher penalties and giving victims a greater voice in such matters. This includes the new courses on sexual consent.
Apart from NUS, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) have also incorporated sexual consent classes into their curriculums.
NTU’s module, which launched in July, is also in video form but students also have the option to take a workshop in person. At SMU, a similar course is being developed which will start in the coming weeks.
The courses at both NUS and NTU will not be graded but answers will be recorded. NTU students who fail to respond correctly will have to retake the course.
An emphasis on consent comes as Singapore’s on-campus cultures are criticised for frequent incidents of sexual misconduct and the administrations’ mishandling of the cases. In the past three years, there have been 56 recorded cases of sexual misconduct at Singapore’s autonomous universities, which include NUS, NTU, and SMU. Twenty-one cases were recorded in the 2017/2018 academic year, the highest to date. Of the 56 cases over the years, 25 happened in NUS, NTU has had 20, and SMU reportedly had six.