Varsity Voices Dialogue 2022: Navigating post-pandemic Singapore as youths through conversations

Varsity Voices is an inter-university organisation which aims to provide youths with a platform to engage in meaningful discourse on socio-political issues and increase their understanding of current affairs.

Muhd Zahin Ilmi

Sports enthusiast and expert overthinker.

Published: 20 June 2022, 3:16 PM

Over 250 participants were in attendance at the Varsity Voices Dialogue 2022, held on Saturday (Jun 18) at NTUC Centre. 

The annual flagship event for Varsity Voices, a youth-centric organisation initiated by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Students’ Political Association, Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Current Affairs Society and Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Apolitical Society, the participants were students from junior colleges, polytechnics, Institute of Technical Education colleges and autonomous universities. 

It was also attended by Minister of Health Ong Ye Kung. 

The dialogue was hosted in partnership with REACH, the Ministry of Communications and Information’s national and feedback engagement unit. It is intended to provide youths with a platform to engage in meaningful discourse on socio-political issues and increase youth’s awareness and understanding of current affairs.

Titled ‘Navigating Change and Continuity as Youths in Post-Pandemic Singapore’, this year’s edition of the event focuses on youth’s perceptions of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various areas in society, such as healthcare and governance.


During his opening remarks, Mr Ong highlighted the many changes which Singapore experienced during the pandemic, and reflected on how the nation had coped with them. PHOTO CREDIT: REACH, MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION


Youthopia spoke to Varsity Voices’ Secretary General Lee Wei Yang, 24, and its Chairperson, Ritu Warathe, 23. Both described VVD 2022 as a memorable experience as it was the first time the dialogue took place physically. 

As the dialogue moderator, Wei Yang expressed that it was a “surreal” feeling to see all of the participants in person as opposed to online.

He added: “There’s just something about having a physical session that is very different from a virtual one, where you just see everybody on the screen and the conversation is mostly one way.

“In the physical setting, we can have two way conversations, which is exactly what these conversations and dialogues should be like.”

Ritu said one of the best parts of the dialogue was seeing students from all walks of life come together to discuss issues on the same platform, and with the same end goal in mind.

She added: “It was quite heartening as it’s very rare to get all these interesting and different views come together. 

“The questions asked during the dialogue were really out there and daring, but they were asked in a very positive manner with no negative connotations. It was nice to see how all the youths came together and ideate how Singapore can move forward together.”


The Varsity Voices organising committee opened this year’s dialogue to more youths at different educational levels, as opposed to its usual audience consisting of university students only. PHOTO CREDIT: REACH, MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION


As university students, Wei Yang and Ritu have also had their fair share of struggles in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the first nine months of his time at NUS were going well, things quickly changed for Wei Yang when the pandemic hit. As a result, Wei Yang, who is currently pursuing a double major in Political Science and New Media, came across a huge struggle with his mental health.

He shared: “Because of the pandemic, students like myself were all trapped in our rooms with our eyes glued to our screens. 

“Things like going to school, meeting my friends to eat and hanging out with them were all thrown out the window just like that, which personally made me feel really lonely and restricted.”

Ritu, who is similarly pursuing a major in Political Sciences at NUS’ Faculty of Social Sciences, also shares the same sentiment as Wei Yang. After spending two years on campus, Ritu struggled to adapt to the changes that came when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

As many of her regular routines were disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ritu found it difficult to not only come to terms with the situation, but to also find a way to “thrive in the new normal.”

She said: “It was a really bizarre experience in the beginning as suddenly, all of our classes were online and it became a challenge to navigate through that and adapt to it.

“For me, it felt like I had to change the way that I studied and approached a lot of my commitments as everything was so different and new. “

Like many other youths, Wei Yang and Ritu are also forced to navigate through the post-pandemic Singapore moving forward. While it may appear as an arduous task, the two believe that by keeping an open mind, youths like themselves will be able to do so effectively.

Wei Yang said: “Respect and accept views which you may not agree with, and then come to a consensus with the people around you. Only then I think we can progress as a society.”

Apart from keeping an open mind to others’ views and opinions, Ritu also believes that it is important to be “open to new experiences” moving forward. 

She explained: “During the pandemic, we found that some things worked and some things didn’t. We should continue doing that instead of trying to go back to pre-COVID-19 days, and try to take all the good aspects of the pandemic and pre-pandemic days and try to marry them together to create a new normal.”


Apart from Wei Yang and Ritu, the Varsity Voices organising committee also consists of students from other universities as well who share similar experiences to the two. PHOTO CREDIT: REACH, MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION


As more issues and topics of discussion continue to arise in the future, Wei Yang believes that Varsity Voices will play a key role in helping youths overcome them. 

While it may not immediately resolve problems, he believes that conversations are the “first step to resolving issues”, and Varsity Voices Dialogue provides youth with the platform to do so. 

He added: “Apart from sticking to our core mission, which is to establish the bridge between the Government and the people, I also hope to see us (Varsity Voices) act on some of the things discussed in the dialogues in the future, and push for a tangible change.”

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