Treehouse Exclusive: Interview with the 12th CSC President and Vice-President Candidates

Tembusu College students will soon be casting their votes for the members of the 12th College Students’ Committee (CSC). This year, the candidates running for President (P) and Vice-President (VP) respectively are: Donny Suriyanto (P) & Yasalapu Siva Sai Theja (VP). Treehouse is very pleased to present a written interview with the two candidates to the Tembusu student body, edited (minimally) for clarity and in their own words as much as possible.

  1. What is your go-to lunch order when in Tembusu?

Donny: I LOVE the cai png stall in Foodclique! If you know me personally, you’ll know that I eat a LOT so this option saves my wallet. The variety of options available in a cai png store also gives me the freedom to mix and match what I get every time. TLDR: Foodclique cai png is great!

Theja: I am going to be really specific here so bear with me: Laksa with kokka noodles,  2 eggs, enoki mushrooms and 2 pieces of cheese tofu at food clique’s. Yong Tau Foo stall. Can have this any day of the week.

2. Where is your favorite place to study or hang out in the College or in Utown?

Donny: I really like hanging out in my level lounge! I left my Nintendo Switch there so those in Gaja can come in and play whenever they are free. I love interacting with them, whether it be just catching up on each other, studying, or playing games!

Theja:  I usually study in my room since I tend to get distracted by other people having conversations. So studying is more of an alone thing for me. But since that would be a boring answer, a close second favourite place to study would definitely be the area outside Starbucks on a rainy day! It’s so cool and you can rest your eyes by looking at the greenery of Utown green.

3. If you had to work, but did not need the money, what would you work as/who would you work for, and why?

Donny: I love to cook and watch cooking videos (in fact I cooked almost everyday during the summer holidays!). So if money was not a concern, I would love to work as a chef! I love it when I successfully create a dish that tastes good and when the people I share my food with think so too. If i can choose who I want to work under, I will probably choose this chef called J. Kenji Lopez-Alt because I really like how informative and nice he is when he cooks!

Theja: If money were not a factor, I would actually work as a car designer! I have been a car enthusiast all my life and I kept a little doodling book back in my primary school days when I used to spend my lesson time (hehe) drafting out radical and unique car designs. Since that is out of my career scope for me at this point (sad SoC noises), I would definitely like to resume car doodling as a hobby when I have the time!

4. What makes you stand out as a candidate?

Donny: I would say that I have been quite an active Tembusian the past year. I regularly went for more than 9 interest groups when I was in year 1. As such, my experience in Tembusu so far has been extremely fulfilling as I get to experience so many things that Tembusu has to offer. Additionally, I was also the Zone Captain of Tamaraw and the House Captain of Gaja the past year. All of these past experiences have allowed me to connect with numerous Tembusians throughout the whole college. I hope that this can benefit me when I lead the CSC, keeping the student’s interests in mind.

Thaja:  If I were to identify one aspect that makes me stand out, it would be that I have served in a CSC subcommittee (marketing) in the past year. I feel that this makes me more familiar with the CSC’s internal processes when it comes to planning events and its contributions towards enhancing the student life in the college.

Donny, on the other hand, has served as a zone captain in semester 1 and the Gaja house captain in semester 2. This makes him very familiar with the house committee and residential team’s processes behind planning events. Coupled with my experience, we bring forth a unique and complementary set of knowledge and perspectives for serving the respective roles we are running for, as President and Vice-President. I feel that this allows us to implement more feasible and tangible changes while working in the CSC so that we can continue to enrich the quality of student life in the college.

5. What challenges do you foresee in the upcoming academic year that the CSC needs to tackle? Do you have a roadmap in mind of how to resolve these potential issues?

Donny: One possible challenge that we might face will be the change in processes due to the new college administration. Since these processes have not been made known to us, we are still not sure if these changes will result in the betterment of the college. However, after discussing with others, I am optimistic that changes will always be necessary in order to improve the College. Whether this current change will improve the College can only be determined once we have gone through with the change.

To resolve this potential issue, I believe that we always have to keep an open but critical mind. We have to analyse the benefits, the disadvantages, and the rationale behind these changes throughout our candidacy. After deciding these factors, we need to communicate clearly to the relevant entities within the college to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Whether the changes will be beneficial or not, only time can tell.

Theja: The challenge that I foresee is actually something that I look forward to tackling! That would be the return of larger scale physical events (hopefully!) later in the year. This is a challenge as I predict that these physical events would demand more proactive planning, taking into account existing restrictions, and also the capacity of the venues to maximise the event’s scale and reach. This will take a great deal of discussions with the President, directors, secretaries and the CSC staff advisor, and it will probably leave me with less time for myself. However, we are talking about the return of physical events here! So I am quite confident that that prospect in itself will keep me motivated throughout the whole planning phase to ensure positive reception at the event.

6. Having gone through College life during the COVID-19 pandemic for about a year, how do you plan to continue enriching student life and activities with your to be elected team despite this pandemic?

Donny: As the COVID-19 regulations in Singapore continue to evolve (and hopefully will continue to relax), I believe that larger scale events will start to slowly come back to Tembusu. In order to account for this upcoming change, I believe that the 12th CSC needs to remain vigilant and flexible so that we can swiftly react when new restrictions are released by the government and adjust our events accordingly so that Tembusians can enjoy larger scale events the moment it is available to them. Hopefully, with these plans in mind, we can bring fresh, new events to the College that so many of us have not been able to experience the past year.

Theja: I first came into Tembusu as a year 1 when there was so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 situation. The college had just transitioned to a zoning system and everyone was unsure of what the implications were on the quality of student life. But as the year went by, and the 11th CSC took over, I witnessed something remarkable. All my peers and seniors who had a major stake in the quality of student life in the college took the prevailing circumstances in their stride without batting an eye, and worked to the best of their ability to pump out several really enjoyable activities for us. Some of these activities included our zone’s formal dinner, angels and mortals, and our Shan orientation (The Shan Experience) in semester two. This taught me one thing – no matter how bad the cards you are dealt with, one should always remain positive and make the most of them. Although CoVID-19 is still present, the experience of the 11th CSC members will always be valuable since they have served their entire term through it. I have outlined a few plans about how I envision the future planning of events is going to be in my campaign posters, which talk about refinements like a closer working relationship between the CSC and house committees, and earlier deconfliction sessions with the houses. But on top of that, the past experiences of the 11th CSC is something that I seek to tap into, and I am sure that whatever advice they have to offer to the 12th will be invaluable.

7. How do you plan to resolve differing viewpoints between college management and the student body?

Donny: I believe that clear communication and understanding between these two entities are crucial in order to resolve their differing viewpoints. The student body might encounter resistance when they are trying to plan for student-initiated events. Meanwhile, the College management with their own interests might veto these student-initiated events.

Being the bridge between college management and the student body, I believe that I need to put more effort into understanding the reason behind each group’s action as I need to be impartial when I communicate with either party. I will explain the circumstances as clearly as possible to the College management regarding the benefit and risk of the initiative led by the student to ensure that the request by the student is reasonable. If the College management declines the event, I will explain clearly the rationale behind why the proposal did not go through to the student body so that there is clear understanding between both parties. If both parties understand each other’s goals and reasons behind them, I believe that they will be more willing to compromise and accept each other’s viewpoints.

Theja: Ooh this is one of the more difficult questions, but definitely one that needs to be discussed. When the new masters first introduced themselves to the student body, a lot of students, especially the seniors, noticed a change compared to the college’s previous masters.

I think it is natural for one to resist change, especially if it’s a major one that might potentially lead to a shift in the status quo. The upcoming 12th CSC has to shoulder much responsibility to adapt to a potentially “new way of doing things” under the new college administration, and members of the college (especially those who have a large stake in the student life like the CSC directors themselves. They may have disagreements about new administrative processes that might be put in place.

However, the way I would go about navigating these disagreements is by showing empathy when interacting with both parties, the student body and the college administration. As a VP, it is crucial to advocate for the college administration to be completely transparent, and fully understand the rationale behind any changes that they might implement. At the same time, it is important to be fully receptive of the general sentiment among the student body with regards to these changes, and present a personable front so that students feel comfortable being honest with the CSC regarding their concerns.

By doing this, and with my optimism that both bodies will be receptive, I am confident that the CSC can facilitate a fair compromise when dealing with these potential changes.

8. Do you notice anything (physical, pedagogical, or anything in between) in the college that needs to be improved? What are your proposed solutions?

Donny: One of the issues that Theja and I have noticed is the decrease in intellectual discussions in Tembusu as a whole. This is exacerbated by COVID-19 since social gatherings are much more limited in these times. Moreover, the RFs within the college have taken on a more custodian role within the college in order to enforce the University’s restrictions for CoVID-19. As a result, many students might have started to view them more as policing figures than invaluable sources of knowledge and insights which they actually are. As such, we want to slowly revive the culture of intellectual discourse between the students and the RFs. We hope to achieve this by organising more informal discussion sessions with the RFs with refreshments provided for the participants, in hopes that these seeds of discussion that we plant can start to grow more throughout the academic year.

Theja: Similar to Donny, one thing that I have observed is that the level of student engagement in intellectual discourse in informal settings has declined over the past year compared to previous batches. I have come to know this from interactions with my peers and seniors who are, or no longer reside in the college.

Mostly, this can be attributed to the COVID-19 situation, which places a hard cap on gathering sizes and thus curtails the opportunities for students and professors to meet and ponder over issues that are meaningful to them. From my perspective, this is part of the reason why the Residential Fellows (RFs) are now increasingly seen as policing figures within the college, rather than knowledgeable figures from whom students can draw valuable insights from by having informal conversations with. I feel that this decline is a worrying trend, since this might lead to such discourse being monopolised by a vocal minority of Tembusians, and the others may be exposed to a less diverse set of views on contentious issues. To go about this, I would like to collaborate with the RFs to host more informal engagement sessions with the students when gathering restrictions ease up. These sessions can possibly be themed, such as tea-and-toast conversations, in order to ease the atmosphere since some of the potential topics could be weighty. To broaden the scope of this solution, these conversations do not have to be socio-political or economic in nature. They can simply be conversations about each other’s personal experiences growing up, and their insecurities, so that Tembusians are more comfortable being vulnerable with one another, which can brew a greater sense of empathy within the college. This, I feel, would expose Tembusians to a broader spectrum of views and personal experiences, keeping the college in touch with one of its core tenets, diversity.

9. What do you hope Tembusians, current and future, will gain from being in this community after they graduate from the college? How would you deliver on this  hope for Tembusians?

Donny: I hope Tembusians will always cherish the memories and friendships that they have made during their stay in Tembusu. Whether these memories come from stepping out of their comfort zones to try out new sports, attending teas and forums, going for TTAB workshops or something more informal like the supper jios and sunrise jios. I hope that as the CSC president I can make sure that these events that form the Tembusu experience can happen smoothly, which can be done by pushing for these events to happen. This can be done through providing support and encouragement to the students to lead events, and making the process to initiate these events easier. Hopefully, Tembusians who graduate from Tembusu will always remember the College as their ‘Home of Possibilities’.

Theja: Something that I hope for Tembusians to take away after graduating is being open and accepting of individuals regardless of their political and social inclinations, as well as their views. I hope to foster such a culture by encouraging open intellectual discourse in informal settings, so that they can be exposed to a broader range of perspectives and experiences of others. Donny and I believe that this exposure to a diverse set of opinions on issues that matter to the student body is important, as diversity and open-mindedness are indeed two of the core values that Tembusu holds dear. We are both aware that such a shift in culture is not something that can be achieved overnight, but we will find a great deal of fulfilment in knowing that we made a concerted effort towards attaining it. 

Feature image by Element5 Digital from Unsplash. Banner image by Cyrus Crossan from Unsplash.

Treehouse would like to thank the candidates for lending us their time to answer our questions in the midst of their campaign period. External online voting for the 12th CSC will commence on 6 September, Monday, and close on 7 September, Tuesday. The election results will be determined by external confidence vote (70%), from students, and by internal vote (30%), from all candidates in the running. Election results will be released on 8 September, Wednesday. The by-election Nomination period will commence immediately after the release of the results on 8 September Wednesday, and both internal and external voting will be conducted on 16 September, Thursday. Latest updates will be announced to the student body by the Elections Committee staffed by the 11th CSC.

About the Author:

Lance Wu is a second year Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences student with a keen interest in current affairs. When he is not going through some surreal existential crisis (like most FASS students do), he enjoys late night talks and quality time with friends.