First published in The Octant, a Yale-NUS student-run publication. Photo illustration by Tong Xueyin.
College students stay up for a variety of reasons, and last semester’s Harvard-Yale game was one of them. Live from Harvard stadium, the breathtaking match unfolded to the cheers of sleep-deprived Yale-NUS College students, proudly attired in Yale University tees.
Although this may only seem to be a spirited show of allegiance to our sister school, it reflects something about Yale-NUS’s nascent school identity. As a fledgling institution, our college has sought to define our relationships with both Yale and the National University of Singapore (NUS), and the enthusiastic turnout for the Harvard-Yale game affirms the positivity of our partnership with Yale. However, the strength of our reception to Yale traditions and culture, should make us uneasy when we juxtapose it with our rejection of NUS. Previous pieces in The Octant, such as Raeden Richardson’s “What Are We Playing For?”, espouse a desire for distance from NUS in favor of an independent Yale-NUS identity. Our choice of associations is a crucial part of our identity-creation process, and while opinions such as the one above are not necessarily flawed or unjustified, it is problematic that Yale-NUS students tend to cherry pick these associations. What we choose to wear is a public declaration of which team we prefer to play for. Many of us clamor to don Yale shirts while disregarding NUS merchandise. The fact that our ties to NUS are a point of contention, while aligning ourselves as closely as possible to Yale is not, highlights a hypocrisy in the way we view our relationships with Yale and NUS.
The question is: are we overcompensating for something? The defiant proclamations of “I didn’t come to Singapore to be part of NUS” seem to be founded on a rather idealistic projection of Yale-NUS as more Yale than NUS. This is only to be expected, as some of us rejected world-class institutions (Princeton, the London School of Economics etc.) to be part of this new venture and wish to view Yale-NUS as an equally strong alternative. On the flip side, there are also a few of us who considered Yale-NUS only after receiving rejections from Yale, and it is natural to perceive Yale-NUS as a sort of Ivy League substitute. Nevertheless, comments of this sort suggest an underlying insecurity about who we are as an institution. Our wish to disassociate ourselves from NUS can be attributed to our perception of it as inferior. Its academic university rankings cannot compete with Yale, and culturally, it is true that NUS does not uphold lofty ideals (e.g. freedom of speech) with the same dedication. Yale-NUS students seem to experience a collective sense of superiority, one that is fueled by the reality of Yale-NUS exceptionalism in matters of free speech and alcohol consumption. Our low admission rates and liberal arts curriculum, which moves away from the traditionally Singaporean style of learning, also add to that impression. Thus, the Yale-NUS partnership is seen to be unequal and we find ourselves, subconsciously or otherwise, inching closer to Yale. These aspirations to be part of the Ivy League family can be summed up in the psychological complex known as “stepsibling syndrome”—a collective longing for acceptance by those who hail from a more established birth.
In our efforts to forge a school identity, complications are unavoidable because consensus and mass participation are necessary. At a school like Yale-NUS, where the administration refrains from imposing who we are in top-down fashion, we have the power to steer the discourse surrounding this issue. Yes, some of us will always feel more warmly towards Yale, having spent a few weeks in New Haven. As a double-degree student, I must admit that I have a vested interest in securing more amiable feelings towards NUS. Regardless of our personal inclinations, it is beneficial for us as a community to do all we can to live up to the oft-quoted saying that Yale-NUS is where “1+1 = 3”. Yale provides the soft power and NUS generously shares its resources—that is the reality of the situation, and our quest for independence should not be colored by our selective hostility towards the latter.
Ultimately, we cannot choose our family, even if we want to. Yale-NUS is not as established as Yale, and we are not an Ivy League institution. And we do not have to be one. We should stop clinging onto the brand name like stepsiblings desperate for a place at the table. At the same time, we should regard NUS more positively and stop indulging in our superiority complex. The first step to creating our school identity: self-acceptance.