National Taiwan University (NTU) has come under fire after an offensive set of proposals by two students running for president and vice president of the student council caused an uproar over the weekend. Among the proposals were requiring girls with “boobs smaller than an A cup” to take two national defense credits and boys with “dicks shorter than 10cm” to take home economics class, as well as banning people with a body mass index of more than 20 from taking elevators, and barring LGBTQ students and dogs from playing Arena of Valor during student council meetings. They also opposed admission quotas for indigenous people, overseas Taiwanese and athletes.
Even though the candidates have said they meant “no harm” and apologized for their immature and out-of-line behavior, the discriminatory proposals have been widely condemned across the board: NTU Economics Department said it has forwarded the case to the university’s Gender Equity Education Committee for investigation, while a group of NTU alumni working in the banking and finance industry said they have put the two on their employment blacklist.
This and similar incidents in the past reveal underlying issues in Taiwan’s education system, social environment and right to free speech.
As Taiwan has a test-oriented education system, pre-college students spend most of their time studying, taking exams and going to cram schools. Socioeconomically well-off families can usually give their children a leg up in academic performance with additional tutoring or resources. As a result, students who get into top-ranking universities, such as NTU, usually share a similar privileged background and educational experience. Without a more diverse student body, they are encased in a bubble that renders some less sympathetic to the plight of others.
The social environment also plays a role in the students’ behavior. For instance, previous mayoral elections witnessed a fair share of candidates who came up with ludicrous and farcical proposals, ranging from setting up casinos in Yangmingshan National Park to drilling for oil on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) or promising to set up a Taiwan Disneyland. Seeing adult politicians touting outlandish ideas, it is little wonder some students think politics is an arena for laughter and buffoonery.
Taiwan is a nation that values freedom of speech, but there is a limit, especially when it involves hate. The two students and those who spoke up for them seem to think the proposals were merely badly phrased jokes or trivial impulsive acts. However, that they would consider sexist and body shaming remarks “funny” means that the concept of bullying or gender equality is completely lost on them. As joke-telling is truth-telling with a bit of exaggeration, the proposals reflect a bigoted, discriminatory and patriarchial view of the world. To make matters worse, these speeches were made in an arena that seeks to garner power and support. If the two candidates were elected, who could promise that the proposals would not come true?
As adults, the two students’ behavior is inexcusable and they should take full responsibility for it. In 2017, Harvard University withdrew its admission offers to several incoming first-year students who had set up a Facebook group to share sexually explicit, racist and anti-Semitic images. In a similar manner, NTU should expel or mete out equivalent punishments to the two students.
As the most prestigious university in Taiwan, NTU has every responsibility and obligation to send the right message to society: It does not admit students who are bigots and all incoming students must remember to leave their toxic privilege — the kind that allows them to laugh at the disadvantaged and to reinforce ugly and misguided stereotypes — at the door. Only by adopting such a tough stance can it help bring about a healthy speech environment.
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