Open Letter: Disappointment with Hwa Chong’s handling of school counsellor incident

Tiong Bahru Market (Photo by Fleur Kaan on Unsplash)

Dear Principal Pang Choon How,

(My understanding of the incident is framed entirely by the July 18, 2022 reporting of “CNA“, “The Straits Times“, and “TODAY“.)

As an alumnus (Chinese High and Hwa Chong, 2004-2009), I write to express my disappointment with how the school has thus far handled the incident involving the school counsellor making false, discriminatory claims against the LGBTQ community. In particular, even with the school’s ongoing internal review to prevent repeats of the incident, I am most struck by the lack of a sincere apology or expressions of contrition on the part of the counsellor and the school. Furthermore, even with your rhetoric on “respect and empathy for all, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status” (“The Straits Times“), I believe many of us are more interested in the specific, actionable next steps to help support queer Hwa Chong students, including whether there are other school counsellors trained and equipped to do so and if the school is committed to anti-discrimination policies for its students and staff members.

The unfortunate incident merits a proper apology, not necessarily to the public, but most definitely to the school’s students. A specific plan for the counsellor feels appropriate too. That the counsellor has been reprimanded and suspended from delivering future sexuality education lessons is no guarantee that the abhorrent views, sentiments, and beliefs – as reported – will not be communicated in his/her/their professional capacity within the school. As someone embedded in the social work profession, I understand the role of the counsellor to be an important one, because we trust him/her/them to help work through difficult personal, social, and psychological challenges. Therefore, following genuine expressions of contrition, how the school plans to continue working with the school counsellor is critical, especially if it is determined that his/her/their presentation was not an isolated incident.

More significantly, I would like to know how the school plans to help better support queer students. For instance, what are the safe spaces for discussions centred on sexual orientations and gender identities? For students who feel uncomfortable or who are bullied, who can they safely turn to for support? At the very least, besides explaining to the students in attendance at the counsellor’s presentation that the views were personal and not representative of Hwa Chong’s position, what else has been planned? In a much broader sense too, is the school committed to anti-discrimination policies on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status?

The incident and its fallout are likely to persist for some time, but rather than see them as threats to the school’s reputation, I believe that you’ll agree that the well-being and welfare of Hwa Chong’s students should always be the focus. This is a collective endeavour. The school’s guiding philosophy, “己欲立而立人,己欲达而达人”, has deeply shaped my personal and professional lives, and I hope we can turn this present threat into an opportunity to do right by our queer students.

Yours truly,
Jin Yao, Kwan Ph.D. (he/him/his)
Postdoctoral Fellow
Graduate School of Social Work
University of Denver

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.