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Letter to Lingnanians

26 January 2015

Leonard K Cheng

Leonard K Cheng

Dear students, colleagues and alumni,

As President of Lingnan, I am often invited to speak on our liberal arts education at secondary schools and various institutions. Almost every time, I would proudly state that Lingnan is the only university in Hong Kong that can provide residence on campus for all undergraduates during their four years of study. Campus living is an important part of liberal arts education. During the residential period, we hope that students learn not only to take care of themselves, but also to live with hallmates with mutual respect and tolerance.

Recently I received a letter from a student, who told me he had suffered insults and  discrimination for holding views different from hallmates. He dared not report to his warden for fear of coming under even more pressure if the incident were ‘exposed’. Colleagues of the Student Services Centre are following up on the case to help the student solve the problem as far as they can. It’s inappropriate for me to disclose details of the case due to privacy issues. I’ve been young before and understand the passion and persistence of young people, who may often be filled with a sense of righteous indignation, and unite against a “common enemy” when they have strong views on an issue. Nevertheless, no student who holds different views should be treated in an unfriendly manner or attacked by vicious verbal abuse.

Some time ago, a student wrote about her support for the Hong Kong police on her personal Facebook page, and her plan to tie blue ribbons on the iron gate at the University entrance. People holding opposite views uploaded her photo and personal data to discussion groups online, and she was severely attacked. The Lingnan University Students’ Union issued a statement afterwards, saying that “even when we encounter students who hold different political views, we should not upload their personal data for public trial online. Everyone has freedom of speech. Even if some students may not be happy with the viewpoints and acts of the student in question, this doesn’t mean that we can punish her by reckless means of exposure.” The SU called on “fellow students to stop disclosing the student’s personal data online for moral trial”.

The SU statement above (translated from the Chinese original) is fair and impartial, manifesting the tolerance and good grace of Lingnanians. The two incidents above may be somewhat different in nature, and the first seems less serious, yet it can also inflict a psychological wound on the student being hurt. As the saying goes, “Do not do to others what you would not wish to have done to you”. How would you feel if you are at the receiving end of the same ridicule and insults? Have our students thought about that?

The gist of liberal arts education is learning mutual tolerance and respect, including others’ differences from ourselves and the majority. As I said at the Congregation last year, harassing fellow students due to differences in opinions and views is “a betrayal of the ideal we live by, the very basis of liberal arts education itself”.

If students hold different views on an issue, please sit down and listen patiently to the explanation of the other side. Get rid of prejudice and ponder the issue from another perspective, and you may discover valid points in their arguments. While there may not be any agreement in the end, we still have to respect every individual’s right to freedom of thought and speech.

Moreover, may I ask our students to understand others’ needs and respect their rights. If your hallmate chooses to study or go to sleep earlier, please respect his/her right to do so and provide a quiet environment.

Many Lingnan graduates have said that hostel life is the most memorable chapter of their university days. May students make good use of our living-learning environment to enhance their knowledge, seek truth, learn to be a good person, build friendships, and find your ideals in life!

I shall be at the coffee corner under the skylight from 12:30pm to 2pm on 30 January. Please come for a chat if you have time. We can talk about anything. See you then.

With best wishes,
Leonard K Cheng