ST Online Forum: Booklet on gays: SMU should support students' mature actions, not restrict them (Nov 8)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Nov 8, 2007
Booklet on gays: SMU should support students' mature actions, not restrict them

WE REFER to the letter, 'Allowing SMU students to launch booklet, event on gays sends wrong message' (Nov 3), by Ms Low Xiang Jun as well as various other letters responding to this matter. Ms Low raised an important and valid point about the role of tertiary educational institutions in Singapore. SMU's mission is to develop socially responsible leaders and innovators who will help shape the future of Asia.

Fundamental to this mission is our commitment to provide students, faculty and staff an intellectual forum for open discourse and dialogue, even on controversial matters. The highest aim of education is not to teach students what to think, but to teach them how to think - critically, rationally and creatively. We encourage students to express their views, but equally important, to recognise and respect the views of others, which may differ widely from their own.

In this instance, a group of undergraduates has developed a project aimed at giving a voice to an under-represented group by sharing their stories. Their purpose is to educate and promote understanding - not to advocate a particular lifestyle, but rather to provide insight that will enable their fellow students to develop a more informed perspective. This is not inconsistent with the objectives of the 'Leadership & Team Building' course.

Ms Low may wish to note that the group has stated very clearly in the publication that the members are 'not representative of gay activism' and many of them 'come from backgrounds that neither condone nor promote homosexuality'.

The intent of their publication is neither contentious nor divisive. The group has stated that they are only presenting voices which are 'real and come from real people'. Readers are given the latitude to form their own views and opinions.

The university should support such mature and sensitive actions on the part of its students, not restrict them. Our role is to respect and protect open dialogue and learning, permitted that the means employed to create awareness do not infringe university regulations or the laws of Singapore.

Professor Howard Hunter
Singapore Management University