reminder that the event was held in the school’s campus)? Understanding the genesis and progress of Rag and Flag through the years is crucial, because the NUSSU Exco has consistently emphasised “tradition and heritage of NUS” as a primary justification for the continuation of the event (the other two objectives are “giving back to the community” and “student involvement and bonding”). And one would certainly find it hard to disagree with the original intentions. The first Welfare Week – according to the Secretary of the 1957 Committee, Mr. Donald Hyatt, who spoke to the filmmakers of the 2011 “Rags to Riches” documentary – was planned for college students to “work for the people”. While the undergraduates did collect donations through the sale of “flags” (little sticker badges given to individuals who donate to charity appeals), fund-raising was by no means the sole focus. Under the theme “help us to help our people”, the Students’ Union of the University of Malaya arranged community activities with an emphasis on “social welfare duties”, such as blood donation drives and community centre “adoptions”. Rag emerged two years later in 1959, as students took to the streets in processionlike fashion with floats and costumes, to encourage passers-by to make donations for various beneficiaries. University Rag societies are ubiquitous in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and although the charitable strategies and methodologies differ, fundraising features consistently.
Therefore, “ragging” in NUS could refer to the historical practice of highlighting the school’s Flag Day to the public, or the act of tailoring creative costumes and beautiful floats from rags.
ILL THE NEW COLLEGES PARTICIPATE IN RAG AND
Given that one of Rag and Flag’s aims is to promote “student involvement and bonding”, and to provide a common experience for the school’s freshmen, the immediate question would be whether Tembusu College, the College of Alice and Peter Tan, and Yale-NUS will be part of the Rag and Flag experience? Tembusu College participated in Flag last year, and has expressed that its Flag participation will continue this year. A source also mentioned that last year, the former Angsana College made it compulsory for its Year One students to participate in Flag, and students had to sell flags with the Residential College, not their faculties. Both Residential Colleges were not a part of the Rag experience in 2012. When it welcomes its first batch of students in August, will Yale-NUS participate in Rag and Flag? Will the NUSSU Exco encourage the colleges to embrace this unique NUS tradition? This question of whether the new colleges will join in the festivities is therefore important. The Exco finds itself in a curious Catch-22. If it actively seeks to get these new colleges
and its students to participate in Rag and Flag, significant investments in resources and manpower would be required for training and guidance. It would not be fair for these new entities to cobble the project together, since they do not have the technical know-how and seniors to tap upon. Last year’s Rag committee also acknowledged that space constraint in University Town is a limitation; if so, what will be the solutions, if the Residential Colleges do decide to build a float? On the other hand, a laissez-faire, passive let-us-seehow-things-eventually-transpire approach would undoubtedly undermine the Exco’s claim of Rag bringing together “a majority of the student population regardless of their discipline”. In a conversation with Mr. Jeremy Tan, President of the College Students’ Committee in Tembusu, he reveals that Tembusu will not be part of Rag this year, because “[Rag] is not in line with [Tembusu’s] key priorities as a college”. He explains that the six strategic thrusts or priorities include arts, sports, intellectual life, student development and community outreach, innovation and enterprise, as well as lifestyle and international students. Should the NUSSU Exco reinforce the perspective that the PBs have the right and prerogative to not participate in Rag in any particular year – that is, the decision for involvement is strictly up to them – the faculty clubs and halls of residences should take the call seriously. The major implication is that potential PBs should not feel compelled to feature Rag and Flag in their
calendars, when no members are willing to assume key roles and responsibilities. Of course, if the NUSSU Exco maintains that Rag and Flag are traditional enterprises worth preserving, and that participation should be maximised throughout the institutions, then a pro-active approach must be adopted with the new colleges: to hear their concerns, and seek to address challenges that may be highlighted. Hesitation and lethargy will render future engagement even more improbable. Communication is the first step. Henceforth, I will propose for the element of competition to be removed from Rag and Flag, for our student-leaders to be more informed about viewpoints from the student body, for tighter controls on float expenditures and caps, and for transparency from the PBs and the NUSSU Exco.
OMPETITION MUST GO (IN ITS ENTIRETY)
This is my stand: competition in Rag and Flag must go in its entirety. Given the Council’s desire to recognise Rag and Flag as a single, cohesive event (unlike the original procession where students travelled with the floats to sell flags, Flag Day is now held separately from the display or procession of the Rag floats), there is a glaring inconsistency in NUSSU Council’s own set of decisions last December, when it decided to keep the Flag Shield despite removing the
Published on Apr 6, 2013