8 Questions for the 8th CSC President

One and a half months since the 9th College Students’ Committee (CSC) took office, Treehouse speaks to the 8th CSC President Zachary Fong, a final-year pharmacy student, on life after stepping down from office and his thoughts on our Home of Possibilities.

1. How has life been since stepping down from the CSC Presidency? And broadly speaking, how has stepping back from leadership positions been, particularly after being deeply involved in leadership roles since you entered Tembusu College – from being the Ora House Captain in AY15/16, the CSC General Secretary in AY16/17, and the CSC President in AY17/18?

I think the first thing I noticed was how much more time was spent sleeping instead of anything else. I’ve spent a lot of time since stepping down recovering those lost hours but also focusing on my academic work and preparation for post-graduation life. I’ve recently started my final semester which happens to be an internship, so that’s been keeping me busy with a lot of work and readings to make sure I don’t kill anyone with my recommendations at the pharmacy.

It was definitely weird to take a step back, one day everyone was looking for you for everything and the next day it becomes “oh please look for Terence instead”. It also feels very different to suddenly have no form of control or say over matters going on, especially when someone tells you an issue, all you do is help pass on the message to the current stakeholders instead of solving the issue yourself. That being said, it’s not all negatives. I think taking such a large step back also allowed me to see things from a different perspective, how an individual perceives changes and activities that goes on in the college. It’s very different when everything is a surprise now. We used to plan and create the surprises but experiencing it yourself is so much better!

2. How did you stay in touch with the opinions or concerns of the Tembusu students at large during your tenure in CSC?

I think it would be unrealistic to say I was able to address everyone’s concerns but I would like to hope I did address major concerns at the very least. I did my best to engage with individuals at every level, and one of the things I frequently did that some of the IG heads might have noticed was popping by IG sessions and speaking to them about how their sessions were and if they had any concerns. I also spoke to house captains monthly to see if there were any issues at the house level. On an individual basis, every issue that people spoke to me about, I would address it even if only one person spoke to me about it. I would also frequently gossip with people to find out what they thought about life in Tembusu and what they felt was missing. Generally, I did my best to include every piece of information I got, even if it might not be representative. Ultimately, it was best to consider every opinion as you never know how many people might actually have thought about that but not told the CSC about it. I think one of the things was a colour printer at level 1, which we definitely did consider but due to some costing issues by the supplier, it wasn’t able to be implemented.

3. With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently during your term of office? What have you learnt from your leadership experience? Did your preceding roles of House Captain and CSC General Secretary prepare you for being CSC President?

In hindsight, I would have liked to be even more inclusive. I think one of the ideas that I heard from the 9th CSC election candidates, Kevan, was to have set days when the CSC room would be open so people could come in to raise concerns or just mingle and chill. This was definitely a great idea and this was just one of the many ideas that the candidates raised that provided much food for thought. I think every CSC President wishes to be able to capture and address the views of every resident because, ultimately, this is the Home of Possibilities and our job here is to allow you to choose and experience all the possibilities you can imagine for yourself – you being every single resident individually.

I think the most important thing I learnt was how different leadership styles intersected and how they actually affected the outcomes of projects. Personally, my style is not one that sits well with everyone. I’ve been labelled as the “benevolent dictator” or “Big Brother” (in jest of course) and I do agree with them that this is sort of how I direct teams and organisations. I value efficiency while still considering the people’s feelings to a certain extent. This means projects are approved and pushed out faster but it also means that sometimes people feel like things are just forced down onto them. Then there are leaders who care a lot about their worker’s workload. My take has always been that you signed up to be here, so you should be ready to sacrifice because this decision is a commitment. This is also partly why my CSC is perhaps one of the most overworked CSCs. I think this is where I learn that everyone has different thoughts on this matter and I have to compromise on pushing too many projects down on the ground because I can’t overwork everyone.

In terms of preparation, I think my previous leadership roles made easing into the role of CSC President easier, especially from the General Secretary to President. I think as House Captain, it’s fundamentally different but it did provide a good framework as to how people thought on the ground and how to get people to speak their mind about issues. So, the General Secretary role definitely helped administratively and sped up the transition while being House Captain helped to shape the events organising aspect. That being said, I don’t think either role is a necessary element to being in the CSC. It’s ultimately a role that is very different from any other position in the college and every role in the CSC is very different, which also makes for a fresh experience every time.

4. What did you make of the three-cornered fight for the 9th CSC Presidency?

I was deeply intrigued because it has never happened before during my time here. In fact, the presidency and vice-presidency were not contested in the past three years. Some might say it was indicative that I messed up, that’s why people wanted to step up to make a change. I would think it’s the opposite and that my CSC did really well, that’s why people became aware and vested in the CSC’s role in the college. This is, of course, not a singular CSC’s effect but I think starting from the 5th CSC, we have been focused on being more on the ground and engaging the student population to get people aware of the integral role the CSC plays in their lives here.

Overall, I think it made elections interesting to watch and many hours were poured into deciding the electoral procedure. Although in every election, there are winners and people who didn’t win, I do hope that this doesn’t discourage the people who ran or people who might be interested in running in the future. Ultimately, it’s about every resident trying to identify who they feel can best represent them and it’s impossible for an individual to satisfy all 600 people who are all so different.

5. What advice or message do you have for the 9th CSC and your juniors in the College?

I think for the 9th CSC, it’s important to stay grounded and think of what the people want. I have absolute faith in them and my successor, Terence, whom I’ve seen grow so much over the past two years.

To my juniors, don’t fret too much over your grades and end up regretting not making the most of your two-year stay here. The college is like a safe bubble where you can explore and experiment as much as you want, so take advantage of that. That doesn’t mean taking part in a thousand and one activities but just to take part in things you might enjoy or activities you always wanted to try.

To everyone in the college, its good to push our limits but its just as important to rest! Taking breaks and sleeping is very important for health!

6. How has the College evolved in the 4 years you have been here and what do you make of this evolution?

I think the college has changed greatly over the past few years. We used to always say we are a bubble internally, but we have increasingly been exploring holding public events and being much more vocal about our stances and activities. I wouldn’t say that we’ve had a clear direction in evolution but I think generally students are getting more explorative and maximising our moniker “the home of possibilities”. I view this as a great step forward because it means more students are exploring their interests but it also means more work for the CSC as they have to balance these new interests and projects while working with a limited budget and timeframe. I would say however that it seems increasingly that the same students are leading different groups and I do hope that more students will step up to help lead their various groups so that they can gain experience in leading projects as well.

7. Describe your educational experience at Tembusu College. How has your experience with the University Town College Programme (UTCP) been?  What did you find memorable from the Forums, Teas or any out-of-classroom learning you took part in?

I think the education aspect was the one that drew me in the most. I came into Tembusu wanting to take one module and I later found out it was actually offered as an unrestricted elective outside as well. As it turned out, I ended up not taking the module at all! That aside, the UTCP has always been something that I enjoyed greatly. Seminar classes are always so exciting because of the diverse views we have due to our different backgrounds. In fact, I was so invested in it that I joined the Education Working Group when it started because I wanted to see how students could play a greater role in shaping the UTCP. I think my most memorable out-of-classroom learning experience was definitely the numerous lobby exhibits, each one taught me so much and had passionate Tembusians sharing their expertise and knowledge about the subject. From the Body Positivity Campaign by tFreedom to the tWild Japan exhibit and the Mental Awareness Week by LoveTembusu, they each taught me different things but important lessons that my peers felt were important to share and talk about.

8. What aspect(s) of Tembusu College do you hope to see live on, even as the College leadership changes and new students are admitted?

I think the spirit of possibilities in the college is definitely one that should and most definitely will live on as time passes. Even more important is the idea that the college is a safe space for everyone, regardless of your race, gender, sexual orientation, interests, background, culture, etc. I think this concept of a safe space is what makes our college so vibrant and accepting. It is fundamental to what allows us to experiment and explore. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to still be the Home of Possibilities.

Header and feature images by tStudios