Statement by Alfian Sa’at

This statement was first posted publicly on Facebook on 2 October 2019. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

I don’t like to be scapegoated. I don’t think anybody does.

It is very easy to see the artist as the ‘troublemaker’. It is the most convenient narrative. Of course the institution is to be trusted, and furthermore one that is supposed to be a liberal arts college.

I have tried to be as restrained as possible, and have rejected all press interviews, because I expected the college to handle the matter in a transparent and professional manner. When the college organised meetings with their staff and town halls, and never invited me to present my account, I did not raise any objection. Naively, I thought that this would be the ‘gentlemanly’ thing to do.

To my surprise, a narrative was produced that was at odds with my own experience of interacting with the college. My silence was being taken advantage of. Among some of the allegations made were: that I rejected all revisions suggested by the college, that I insisted on compelling students to ‘simulate’ a protest, and that I was ignorant of the legal risks of international students carrying signs in Hong Lim Park. This has given rise to a caricature of myself as defiant, reckless and incompetent. Some online sites with malicious intent have been only too eager to parrot and amplify this characterisation.

I have detailed emails and Whatsapp messages that will definitively prove that the allegations are false and defamatory.

I have struggled with making public my side of the story, because I do not know what the fallout will be. What will happen when it is proven that some members of a college–a college supposedly devoted to the pursuit of truth and knowledge and high principles–have not been telling the whole truth? Which junior staff members will have to take the rap? How will the administration be able to face their own students?

I can say, in all honesty, that I do not care at all whether the decision to cancel the programme was made internally or whether there was external pressure. I think it is the college’s prerogative to cancel it based on their own risk assessment or even evaluation of its academic merit (though I have to mention that no issue regarding the programme’s lack of academic rigour had ever been raised with me). It is not my mission to find out why. But what I care about is that the college takes full responsibility for their decisions, and not try to shift the blame on my supposed non-compliance.

I am in the process of crafting a proper press release, with a detailed chronology of events, with supporting documents and names redacted. It is laborious and I would much rather be doing something else. If I continue seeing inaccurate allegations made against me in the press, I will have no choice but to go public. I draw strength from that scene in The Crucible where John Proctor says, “with a cry of his whole soul”:

“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!…How may I live without my name?”