Examine the website or promotional material for Singapore American School and you’ll come across an enlightened notion:
“Every student is known and advocated for”
This statement is an integral part of the SAS ‘Vision and Mission’. But to what extent is it actually true?
Singapore American School is known worldwide for its emphasis on Cultural Competence, boasting a student body that attempts to illustrate a school with a prominent recognition of diversity. The scale of equality is balanced at SAS in almost every aspect, but political views still remain heavily opinionated. Endeavours to hinder politics from potential conversation and debate have so far been successful, but it wasn’t until I was asked the question, “At SAS, is it easier to come out as gay than it is as conservative?”, did I realise the concealed problem at SAS.
In June of 2019, former Miss Michigan, Kathy Zhu, was stripped of her title due to “offensive tweets” regarding a hijab booth at her college. She has since made the comment in a speech recorded in an ABC news article, “After I came out as a conservative, which I think is very hard to do nowadays, it’s harder than coming out as honestly gay…” This sparked lots of controversy, and I was intrigued to see, if the same remark was brought up at SAS, how students would feel and react about the same topic. Zhu made this remark at a Women For Trump gathering in Michigan, which most likely had a room filled with participants in full support of Zhu. If the same argument was raised here at SAS, an international school in Singapore, I was sure that the answers and opinions would vary on a large scale.
Firstly, I conducted a survey asking SAS students, “Do you think that you can freely express your political opinions around SAS student and faculty?”
One conservative student who answered “No” says,
“No. It feels like if I do, I will be attacked for my values and opinions, or told that I’m morally incorrect on any standpoint I take that supports my conservative beliefs. Whenever my beliefs are brought up in conversation, I am often cut off, and asked what kind of human I am, and if I have any morals.”Sophomore, Anonymous
Although the majority of students claimed that they could express their political opinions, there are definitely students who still feel uncomfortable, a large number of these students having conservative standpoints. Many also claimed that they believe that SAS leans towards liberal notions and ideologies, which in hand makes it hard for these students to participate in simple class debates or lunchroom discussions, as their opinions are simply classified as “wrong” and “immoral”.
I then conducted a survey asking students, “At SAS, is it harder to come out as gay or have a conservative standpoint?”
An LGBTQ+ student said this:
“Respectfully, coming out as gay is much harder than saying you’re conservative. Some people can make a conservative comment and it is quickly forgotten, whereas with sexuality, people are quick to make assumptions and continue to talk about it. I was constantly ridiculed even before coming out, which made coming out horrifying. If it weren’t for my close friends and supportive teachers, it wouldn’t have been possible.”Junior, Anonymous
The data collected suggests, then, that perhaps the initial comment made by Kathy Zhu might be considered hyperbole here on campus. Still, it’s crucial to understand that this is not a matter of “one is hard and the other is not.” Given student responses to the given surveys, it’s evident that SAS has not fully achieved their mission statement of ensuring that “Every student is known and advocated for.” Both admissions invite potential harassment and neither comes without, at the very minimum, an understandable hesitation to to willingly share the truth about our beliefs or standpoints.
In most school environments, it is impossible to reach full political equilibrium, but it is imperative that we as SAS students do our best to make SAS an example school where our opinions are heard, understood, and brought into discussion. Only then can we go beyond mere tolerance and work toward true respect for our divergent viewpoints—one of the many aspects that makes SAS such a rich environment in which to study.