CONVOCATION is one of the most prestigious ceremonies at a university. It takes months to prepare and the organising committee spends long sleepless nights during the few weeks leading up to the event to make sure that it will run smoothly.
From preparing speeches to finalising backdrop designs, collecting RSVPs and even triple checking that the elevator at the hall works, the organising committee does everything and anything to ensure that the ceremony will be smooth sailing.
During my stint as Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Centre of Corporate Communications Director, I even remember a generous UKM staff lending his shiny patent black shoes to a graduate to ensure that the ceremony’s protocol was met. However, as meticulous as the organising committee may be, some things may slip their eyes.
The recent case of Wong Yan Ke who marred Universiti Malaya’s convocation ceremony, in my opinion, is a protocol nightmare. Seated on the stage were selected dignitaries and invited honourable guests, some of whom were probably not known/ recognised by graduates, but are certainly the university’s highly ranked and important officials.
While I am an advocate for the freedom of expression, I also believe that it is equally important to know how important it is to use a proper channel to disseminate a message. Wong’s quest, in exercising his democratic rights, may be noble to him and others who share the same sentiment, but the act of putting up his views on a placard and shouting during a highly respected ceremony was uncalled for.
In my opinion, it is dangerous to blatantly share one’s personal opinion as there may be a tendency that the information may be biased, misleading, false, or created by someone with an an ulterior motive. This, in turn, may lead to misinformation and disinformation and pose a threat to our harmonious society.
How then, can one voice out or express his/ her views? My friend, Lat, recently shared with me on how she and her course mates challenged a decision which was made by the London university where she is currently a postgraduate student.
You see, the department that she and her course mates were registered with is famed for its expertise in gender and feminist economy. However, to their dismay, the topic will not be offered in the upcoming semester as the professor will be on maternity leave.
Her course mates found it unacceptable and petitioned for the department to find an alternative professor for students to learn the subject this year.
Their initiative — the petition — was not merely the act of collecting signatures. What the group of students actually did was to painstakingly find other professors who were experts in gender and feminist economy in other departments and universities around London who would be willing to teach the topic, garnered support from fellow students by collecting signatures and organised meetings with the head of department to discuss alternative solutions.
This relentless effort resulted in my friend and her course mates being granted to sign up for gender economics classes in other departments which allows them to explore the topic in different perspectives and views. Not only that, they were also given access to past year lecture notes and reading materials for them to pore over and satisfy their thirst for knowledge.
This act of challenging the status quo was done in a very informed and knowledgeable manner. The group did not merely voice their dissatisfaction but took it upon themselves to offer a well-researched solution.
Their “protest” was backed up with alternative ways on how the problem could be solved. It wasn’t just all talk, but they actually did something, to achieve the change they wanted. More importantly, the group’s “protest” was not done based on any bad intention but purely for the greater good.
Their fight also made me realise the importance of creating a safe space for young people to share their thoughts, hopes, dreams and worries to ensure that their opinions are heard and assure them that it actually matters.
Until this space can be created, young people will resort to various means and ways in order to be “heard”. In the era of information disorder, this may see them causing a public menace or resorting to using social media, and spreading disinformation and misinformation to satisfy their need to speak out.
The writer is an associate professor at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Centre for Media and Communication Research. She is currently taking a year-long break with her family in Tokyo