Council Interview Series (Part 3): The 35th Department Heads

By Ian Cheng (16S03M) and Collin Teo (16S06Q)

To many Rafflesians, the inner workings of the Students’ Council may seem more foreign and mysterious than the A grade for Economics. After a chat with the 35th Department Heads, we at Raffles Press think we can demystify it for you.

First of all, what are the Departments and what exactly do they do? In addition to the 5 Houses, there exists 3 Departments in Council – CCA Department (CCAD), Welfare Department and Communications Department (Commz’D). Each department serves a distinct role in Council, which will be explored in greater detail soon. These departments are headed by Mukund Bala, Tricia Goh and Qiu Jiayu respectively.

dept heads

The 35th Department Heads pose for a picture with the writers of the Council Interview Series.
L to R: Collin Teo, Qiu Jiayu, Mukund Bala, Tricia Goh, Ian Cheng

We began the interview with the Department heads explaining the role of departments in general. As put by Mukund, “[Departments] organize all these people and try to align them towards a common goal…[and] work actively towards it.” Departments facilitate the delegation of work so as to increase the efficiency at which tasks are completed and allow for a multifaceted approach to enriching students’ school experiences. They frequently engage in collaboration not just with each other, but with the 5 Houses and the school administration as well. In doing so, the Departments tap on each other’s distinct roles and strengths.

CCA Department (CCAD)
At a glance, one might think of CCAD as the cheerleader of the school. From the onset, the mission it has crafted states that it will “provide support and value for the efforts of all CCAs and to instill school pride, uniting  Raffles as one”. CCAD is essentially in charge of whipping up School Spirit or as we at Raffles like to call it, the Rafflesian Spirit.

Given the huge emphasis the school places on cultivating the Rafflesian Spirit (and rightfully so!), CCAD plays a monumental role in our school culture. Its main responsibilities include organising match supports as well as events such as IHC Remix and IHC sports. These events take place throughout the year, and are supposed to cater to different interests and increase students’ involvement in the events. To Mukund, they have had a great impact as they’ve “become culture for our school and the reason why it’s become culture is because it’s achieving certain goals, like bringing the school together in one place.”

With the bulk of its time spent on these activities, CCAD’s approach can largely be seen as a top-down one, a fact acknowledged by Mukund as he says, “maybe we should also take more of a ground-up approach” as it might have a more direct impact on students. Yet, it is worth noting that CCAD has come up with  unique initiatives that engage students more personally, such as the Season Packs or Spirit Week. The Season Packs are an ongoing initiative started by the 34ths, where CCAD provides sporting teams with refreshments after a match, showing their support and care. Spirit Week is a discontinued initiative by the 33rds. It allowed students to express their pride in a certain aspect of school for a week by wearing attire associated with that aspect of school, for example class T-shirts, CCA attire. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it bears similarities to Team Raffles Day at the Y1-4 side.)

While these activities have had their fair share of problems, they’ve served as learning experiences for CCAD to enhance their initiatives. Mukund and his department fully intend to carry on with Season Packs, and also have an eye towards reviving Spirit Week. Furthermore, in line with a continuing emphasis on building inclusivity, Mukund gave his assurance that “we want to do an event that really brings the whole batch and school together and really support the achievements and the efforts of all CCAs … so keep your eyes open, keep your ears open and get ready to feel it, feel the School Spirit.”

Welfare
If CCAD is the rousing, enthusiastic student constantly shouting encouragement to others, then the Welfare Department might be seen as the calmer, quietly supportive friend. The Welfare Department aims to “to build a home within the school community” and “to provide sustainable opportunities for students to show care to one another”.  This speaks to a larger goal of developing a warmer school community which allows students to be comfortable being themselves in school, but at the same time, as they would at home, respecting and taking care of the school environment.

In the stress–laden environment that is JC, Tricia finds this goal to be a difficult one, as “[students sometimes] are very held back and tied back by schoolwork so it’s very stressful and they feel trapped and under pressure, so it might affect how they behave in school because they cannot be who they truly are.” Admittedly, the extent of help Welfare can provide may be limited (“it is an individual’s responsibility to be able to cope with their own workload, family and stuff”), but they’ll still try to help relieve the stress by helping students relax. One way in which Welfare tries to help relieve stress, is in the running and maintenance of the Hodge Lodge, where students can play games, enjoy movies and hang out with friends. It has also organised initiatives such as Snack Attack to provide students with some free snacks to munch on, and Friendship Appreciation Week (if you have friends).

Upon evaluation of these initiatives, one might note that, aside from the Hodge Lodge, they’re mostly small and one-off. The approach Welfare takes might therefore be lacking in sustainability and comprehensiveness, an issue we pointed out. To this, Tricia acknowledged the current situation and explained that “it’s quite hard for something to be sustained throughout the year…there are certain periods, like peak periods [when] you really want to go in and address the stress or the problem”. Jiayu commented that “Council operates within very realistic time limits … there can be a lot of long-term ideas, but we realize there really just isn’t enough time for us to roll out all these things.”

In addition, with respect to the Hodge Lodge, Raffles Press also pointed out the less than desirable state of the frequency of visits by students. To this, Tricia gave assurances that “the Hodge Lodge has really been overlooked and so that’s really something that [they] hope to bring back because it holds a lot of potential”. Overall, they’re seeking to be “more active in showing their care towards other people”, and in doing so, have a lasting impact on the school. Even though some students might not remember the specific initiatives by Welfare, Tricia felt that ultimately, recognition of the Department’s efforts wasn’t necessary. As she put it, “it’s okay if you don’t remember what Welfare did exactly as long as you manage to have a memorable and a good school life”.

Communications Department (Commz’D)
With a tagline of “Voice of Students, Voice to Students, Voice for Students”, the Communications Department, or Commz’D’s vision might seem reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s famous ending to the Gettysburg address. This lofty ideal is complemented by their mission, which states, “The 35th Communications Department is committed to empowering students to take ownership of their school life by building a culture of feedback between the students and the school and facilitating meaningful conversations within the student body in order to establish trust between the student body and the Students’ Council.” To the casual observer, Commz’D seems enamoured with high ideals and eloquent exposition.

Its responsibilities, however, are far more down to earth – it is in charge of gathering feedback and publicising events. Jiayu explained that the purpose of acquiring feedback is to understand the ground sentiments and enact noticeable change. “The school planner that we had at the beginning of the year – that was a result of Commz’D feedback!” The feedback-giving process also increases the involvement of students in the school as they are forced to “think about [their] role as a student or as a member of the student population, what are the things that you want to improve, what are the changes that you want to see, what is the constructive feedback that you can give to actively create a better school environment for you and your peers.”

To reach out and gather this feedback, Commz’D has various platforms for students to proffer their opinions. If you’ve noticed the Gryphon head-shaped box in the middle of the canteen walkway, that’s the Feedback Box installed by the 34ths as part of their Feedback Drive. Feedback can also be given through the Council Website, which happens to be run by Commz’D. When seeking more specific feedback, Commz’D has the option of holding focus group discussions, such as the recent one held with the outgoing batch of CCA Leaders, regarding some of the problems the CCAs were facing.

In the process of gathering feedback, Jiayu feels that a major obstacle is the inadequate culture of feedback in RI. She attributed this to how “people are very nonchalant about the condition of the school, so people don’t really care”, perhaps exacerbated by the general busyness and hectic schedule of JC. This results in a sense of apathy towards school matters, where many students fail to recognise the importance of giving feedback.

In their drive to improve RI’s feedback culture, Jiayu and her department have come up with a few solutions, which are mainly aimed at providing better acknowledgement of feedback. Her main goal is to make feedback “more dynamic” and “show people that they are heard at the end of the day.” Currently, you’ll get a written response of thanks for providing your feedback, but Jiayu is thinking of going a step further, providing concrete incentives (I wouldn’t mind Pizza, really) as a way to show their gratitude. She’s also thinking of collaborations with platforms such as Press, wherein impartial feedback (for instance, Pizza) can be provided to Commz’D.  However, Jiayu acknowledged that developing a culture of feedback is a work in progress that “[needs] the work of consecutive batches”.

New People, New Ideas?
As with every new batch of Councillors that enter into service, the 35ths bring with them novel ideas and fresh perspectives that lend a sense of dynamism to Council. As the 35ths translate these ideas into action in their separate departments, we wish them all the best and hope their plans accomplish the goals they have set for themselves. The proficiency with which they do this will, after all, determine their legacy as a collective 35th Students’ Council.

To view the full interview transcript, click here.

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