NUS Dean asks public to stop slagging student author of transphobic op-ed

The headline of a contentious op-ed written by NUS student Dana Teoh Jia Yi over a photo of the university. Images: NUS/Facebook, Today
The headline of a contentious op-ed written by NUS student Dana Teoh Jia Yi over a photo of the university. Images: NUS/Facebook, Today

A dean at the National University of Singapore is defending one of his students after she came under fire for writing transphobic comments in yet-another critique of “cancel culture” in an opinion column.

Robbie Goh, dean of the faculty where 24-year-old author Dana Teoh Jia Yi studies communications and media, asked people to refrain from attacking her over the published piece, which cited author JK Rowling to argue that the “woke mob” was restricting free speech.

“We ask that those who have differing views from Ms Teoh refrain from making personal attacks against her. As an institution, NUS is committed to supporting our student Ms Teoh and ensuring a nurturing and supportive environment for her and all our students,” Goh wrote on social media. 

The dean’s appeal came after Teoh’s article This is why I don’t want to be woke. Don’t cancel me for it, was widely assailed as being insensitive, though truly nasty reactions to it could not be readily found.

In the piece, Teoh herself leaped to the defense of the Harry Potter author, whose loss of stature over comments deemed transphobic she held up as an example of “the cancelling of people and organisations for believing or saying something that opposes the ‘woke stance.’”

“That is insane to me. Can we no longer have discussions?” she wrote. “To what extent are we going to take this ‘cancelling’ (extreme censorship)?”  

That despite admitting that she is “pretty ignorant” on the topic of transgenderism. 

“I myself am not particularly well-versed in trans issues, trans rights, and the trans experience overall. I’d say I’m pretty ignorant on the topic,” she wrote. “But as a young person who lives on the internet, I would never ever admit that I think being transgender is a little out there for me.”

She originally wrote the piece as a class assignment, and her teacher, a former journalist named Bertha Henson, submitted it for publication by Today, who published it Sunday as part of its Gen Y Speaks series.

Comfortable with the idea that criticism amounts to censorship, she went on to say she thought transgenderism was a “concept,” that she “struggles” with the idea of giving trans children puberty blockers, and “still get[s] weirded out by photos of post-op bodies.”

Henson acknowledged Monday that she should have edited out the phrase “weirded out by post-op bodies’’ from the piece, as it was insensitive. She also requested that critics steer their “bullying” at her.

“I look at the bullying vitriol that has been poured on her column and on her – and I feel for her.  Re-direct your ire to me. She is my student. I assigned the piece and cleared it. But stop bullying my student. You’re only validating her point,” she wrote.

Teoh’s piece drew a range of reactions, from critics speaking up for trans people, those who supported her views, and others who disagreed with her teacher for submitting her work to Today.

“Dana is an example of a generation of [S]ingaporeans swept away by international white-washed dialogue to remove themselves from what the real problem in their own country is. Dana deserves this article because it clearly shows how messed up and disconnected some [S]ingaporeans are.” Guo Keyon wrote Sunday in a comment to Today’s post.

Dear Members of the FASS community

You may be aware that Ms Dana Teoh, a final-year Communications and New Media…

Posted by NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Others asked when the university would stick up for its LGBT students in the same way it did for Teoh.

Still, most of the critiques found online were hard to confuse with “bullying.”

“Speak your mind and do so fearlessly, but please speak from a place of compassion and respect for folks who don’t have the same experience as you. They too deserve respect even if you’re still trying to see their viewpoint,” LGBT-rights advocate Kyle Malinda-White wrote online.

Other stories you should check out:

Who wants to cancel cancel culture? The voiceless or the privileged?

American anti-trans activist invited to give Singaporeans a ‘better understanding’

If there’s any ‘culture war,’ system is to blame, trans student refutes minister

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