Rag and Chancellor Shields. Aside from the Shields, the PBs – halls and faculties alike – will still be judged, and awarded Gold, Silver, or Bronze prizes. Keeping Rag as a noncompetitive event is a more straightforward proposition, and the Council’s vote to take the Rag Shield out of the equation (11 for, 19 against, and 17 abstentions for a motion to keep the Rag Shield in the 2013 edition) will, I believe, place more healthy emphasis on the process and the construction of the floats. In 1989, there was tension when the losing PBs lodged official protests, after Temasek Hall had clinched victory. The following year when the competitive element was removed, the school witnessed the first collaborative effort between two NUS hostels. A $7 float also made its fabled appearance during the Rag parade. Certainly, it would not be fair to hastily conclude that a competitive Rag necessarily yields animosities and unhappiness, but it is difficult to oppose the view that a non-competitive event will be equally, if not more, beneficial. There is, I believe, a common perception that the Business Faculty is too competitive in Rag events. Yet peculiarly, in the recent vote on whether to keep the Rag Shield, four members from the school’s club voted against the motion. The stance maintained by Mr. Foo Shida, President of the Business Students’ Club, is that overly competitive behaviour “would definitely be detrimental to Rag”, and that “there is more to Rag than competition”. He emphasises that “Rag is a tradition, a
culture, and a heritage that binds and connects amongst many years of Bizaders”. While I concede that the motivation to win top honours could strengthen bonding within a faculty or a hostel, it does little to promote cohesiveness amongst students in general. In fact, when rivalries are dealt with poorly, competition can prove to be destructive. Without any form of competition – no Shields, no grading, no awards whatsoever – the NUSSU Rag committee and the PBs can then focus on enriching the participants’ experience, strengthening the concepts and messages brought across by the floats, and bridge the gap between Rag and Flag. Nevertheless, I disagree with the decision to keep the Flag Shield (31 for, 5 against, 11 abstentions), insofar as the Shield remains a symbol of perpetual contest and competition. The argument goes: without the element of competition, students would lose the incentive and motivation to solicit more donations, because they are not trying to out-raise one another. As a result, the school would collect less money for the beneficiaries. Intriguingly, Mr. Goh Ren Kai, President of NUSSU, was quoted as saying that “the C-Cube associated the competition in Flag with its ability to collect more donations for the beneficiaries”. The C-Cube, as Mr. Goh shares, comprises of the Presidents from the faculties. Prior to the Council meeting in December, the C-Cube members and the presidents of the respective
residential halls got together to define the three objectives of Rag and Flag, and identified the motions to be voted upon subsequently. Furthermore, last year’s Closing Report on Flag had a separate section expounding on the “Drop in Flag Donation”, which sought to explain the 3.8% drop from $482,500.50 to $464,072.75. In other words, students are assumed to be driven by competition, and that it is imperative for NUS to consistently raise huge sums of money for charitable causes. The end seems to justify the means. These rationalisations are ludicrous in my opinion. First, I do not comprehend the obsession with absolute figures. Are we assuming that the success of Rag and Flag can – and should – be equated to the total sum of money raised? Certainly, one of the purposes of Rag and Flag is to “give back to the community”, but this does not necessarily mean doing so in monetary form. It is time we expanded the domains of Flag, to go progressively beyond the pedantic sale of flags per se to be more involved in helping out with the beneficiaries. Second, we have – or the C-Cube has – too little faith in our students. They do their best on Flag Day not to win a silly competition, but for the benefit of the beneficiaries. Some will argue that the retention of the Shields and awards would nonetheless appease groups who might be driven by the intensity of a Flag contest, and that this is not incompatible with flaggers who are genuinely inspired. We need to change the way
students perceive Flag, even if it comes at the cost of lower donation and collection amounts. The status quo, one that places disproportionate emphasis upon competition and raising huge sums, is an unsustainable vicious cycle because current students will go on to becomes alumni stuck in this competitive mode of understanding what Flag is and continue to be preferential in their giving. A temporary dip in donations is wholly justified if we can change perceptions with regard to the sale of flags. Doing the right thing is often the harder option. Let me further the argument by stating that there have also been anecdotal instances when passers-by have quizzed tin can-toting students: “which faculty are you from,” or “have you seen undergraduates donning a particular arm-band” (students from the variety of PBs are differentiated based on their faculties or halls)? Clearly these individuals – mainly alumni of the respective schools – are more interested to donate on account of their past associations, rather than for the true benefit of the charity associations. These are attitudes that we can work to eventually eradicate. Nurturing an NUS student who understands the value of contributing to the community in itself (as opposed to doing so for the sake of winning or helping to win a competition) undoubtedly does more for the community at large.
RE THE VIEWS OF STUDENT-LEADERS GENUINELY REPRESENTATIVE?
Published on Apr 6, 2013