An e-mail sent out by Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) to its final-year students has raised the ire of a number of undergraduates and netizens.
Last Wednesday, Mr Joel Chong, a final-year student at the HSS, uploaded a screen-shot of the e-mail, which asked for inspirational stories from its undergraduates.
Besides stories from prodigies, outstanding undergraduates with multiple job offers awaiting them, and those who have overcome great odds, the school also asked for stories from "graduating VIP students from an important or well-known family, sons or daughters of politicians, professors, celebrities etc".
That line has angered a number of netizens, and Mr Chong's post has since garnered more than 400 likes and over 700 shares.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Mr Jonathan Ang, 23, a third-year student at HSS, said: "Why does it even matter what your surname is? That group shouldn't even be there at all, it's not about phrasing but the subject matter itself that is wrong."
Miss Emi Morihata, 21, a third-year student at NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information, was also disappointed with the HSS.
"Their view of 'inspirational stories' is so superficial.
"The fact that they are setting these narrow-minded measurements as indicators of an eligible candidate already shows that they are just doing it for the sake of publicity to showcase the school.
"Graduation is a celebration of the students who have worked hard through the years. If they really want to highlight these hardworking people who overcame challenges during their academic life, such indicators won't be on the e-mail in the first place."
Responding to Mr Chong's Facebook post last week, a spokesman for NTU felt he had been unfair in singling out the particular line, causing "the spirit and meaning of our open request for nominations" to be "misinterpreted and distorted".
Responding to queries from TNP yesterday, an NTU spokesman said: "We understand the concerns raised and it was never our intention to focus on only individuals of certain backgrounds.
"The highlighted line could have been better phrased.
"Convocation is a celebration of our students' achievements and knowledge, and as always, we will be as inclusive as possible and portray this by featuring stories of students from all walks of life."
Sociologist Tan Ern Ser felt the line in the e-mail suggested elitism.
"In a meritocratic society, we celebrate achieved status - that is, achieved through individual merit, ability and diligence - rather than social background, which is not within our control.
"Highlighting a person's social background is not only elitist but also contrary to our core values.
"Perhaps, the ones who penned those requirements have good reasons for doing so, and I am sure many would like to know what those reasons are," he said.
Some, though, think the issue is overblown.
Mrs Lee Siew Yeen, 43, who has two children in secondary school, didn't think the e-mail was out of line.
"They probably wanted to catch some eyeballs...
"Their mistake was not phrasing it in a politically-correct way."
Miss Lydia Lee, 22, a third-year linguistics student from HSS said: "If you look at the other categories, they are just looking for people with interesting backgrounds to feature.
"I don't think they are saying these people are more important in any way."
- WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ADELINE TAN, ANG HWEE MIN & LEANNE CHUA
This article was first published on April 11, 2017.
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