Sept 3, 2016
A week after launching our youth page, the Humanist Society (Singapore) – HumanistSG for short – held a meeting with tertiary education students and alumni alongside our annual BBQ. About 15 students and some alumni joined in, including many students from NUS! Also present were students from NTU, SMU and TP. After a round of introductions among the students and alumni, HumanistSG representatives explained the purpose of starting a youth wing and building a humanist network in teritary education institutions.
Currently, there are no CCAs dedicated to humanism and the non-religious in our tertiary education schools such as universities, polytechnics, ITEs and Centralised Institutes. This is despite the fact that Singaporeans aged 35 and below are driving the national increase in non-religious residents. Although attempts have been made in the past to launch a humanist CCA in NUS, the effort has been stonewalled. Nonetheless, the Humanist Society, being a relatively youthful society with more than half of its community aged 18-35, has decided to proceed with a student and youth network under its own banner.
Young Humanist SG could serve as a “prototype” for any future CCA in any tertiary education institution should an opportunity to register one arise again. Subsequently, most of the discussion were focused about what activities a future humanist CCA can organise on campuses. Crucially, these activities must generate enough interest and critical mass to keep the CCA sustainable year after year. Suggestions by the students include:
1) Science and philosophy lectures
One student suggested that science and philosophy lectures can be organised, given that many humanists and atheist students already have strong interest in them. Also present in tertiary institutions are many scientists and academics who are potential speakers. These activities would be similar to the Darwin Day lectures organised by HumanistSG as well as Science Cafe SG talks organised by Singapore Skeptics.
2) Emotional and psychological support
Another student suggested that having activities to discuss emotional and psychological issues would be more productive. While science and philosophy discussions are common in campuses, discussions over how non-religious youth can cope with stress and challenges are still lacking. This suggestion was in line with HumanistSG’s goal to build a supportive network, especially for those who recently left a religious community.
3) Debates and dialogues
Another student said that having debates and dialogues over contentious issues can help students learn new things and generate more excitement. Panel discussions, debates and even discussions with religious CCAs can be used as platforms to enable non-religious voices to be heard on campus. This suggestion is workable, as HumanistSG itself had previously taken part in two events organised by NUS interfaith CCA in 2011 and 2012.
4) Building a distinct brand and value-add
Another student argued that any humanist CCA must have a distinct brand and call for action in order to survive on campus. This is necessary to break the inertia at the beginning and attract more people to its events. The CCA should also take a positive approach (united for something) instead of a negative approach (united by a lack of something). In addition, the CCA should seek dialogue and debate, not conversion.
Overall, it was a fruitful discussion and the Humanist Society hopes to keep this discussion going! The upcoming week will be exciting. Two NUS students from Tembusu College are organising a film screening about non-religious people titled “A Better Life: An Exploration of Joy & Meaning in a World without God”. The screening will be held at Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium at NUS UTown. Details and registration can be found here.
The Humanist Society hopes that NUS students can give their support to this upcoming screening!