Sole NTUSU presidential candidate accused by younger union officer of tricking her into getting blackout drunk

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  • A senior NTUSU member who is running for union president is under fire for his alleged conduct toward a younger union officer.
  • The younger student accused him of manipulating her into drinking alcohol until she blacked out in his dorm room.
  • He was temporarily suspended by the union, but has been reinstated and now is set to run uncontested for the top union role.

Text by Lok Bing Hong

The sole candidate for the NTU Students’ Union presidency has been accused of manipulating a younger female committee member into drinking alcohol against her knowledge, to the point that she passed out in his dorm room.

The committee member alleged that Ethan Ong, a Year 4 student who in the previous academic year served as NTUSU Vice President of Policy, deceived her at a drinking session last October by pretending to give her cups of water — when in fact he was handing alcohol to her.

Li Xinruo, 20, the outgoing Academic Development Welfare Executive, told Soapbox she had become so drunk that evening that she vomited and fell unconscious in Ethan’s room.

Two other committee members told Soapbox, on condition of anonymity, they were also in the room that night, and similarly accused Ethan of the same actions at the gathering.

The allegation against Ethan, a 24-year-old business student who is set to run uncontested for SU president on Sunday (Sep 24), has sparked a wave of online backlash against the candidate. NTUSU has also come under fire over its handling of the incident, and for allowing Ethan to continue his bid for the top role despite his conduct.

Though Ethan was later suspended from his union duties for five weeks by an NTUSU disciplinary board, documents show that he continued working on a union-organised program during the suspension.

The allegations

The drinking session was held on Oct 15, 2022, in Ethan’s Hall of Residence room after a union committee meeting, according to Xinruo.

She said a total of six union members attended, including her, Ethan, then-NTUSU president, then-NTUSU chief of staff and two other union Exco members. 

Xinruo said she felt lightheaded after a few drinks and asked for water. But Ethan instead gave her cups of alcohol, she said.

“No one else knew that this exchange was happening between the two of us until [the president] observed my reaction to what I was drinking and noticed that I was getting more and more drunk,” Xinruo said.

Xinruo said she could not remember the events of that night herself because she was so intoxicated.

However, the two other Exco members who were present that night and spoke to Soapbox said they witnessed these events. They have asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, but their identities are known to Soapbox.

One of these senior members, who will be referred to as Karl, told Soapbox that he was in the room but did not participate in the drinking. 

“Ethan kept giving her alcohol until [the president] got quite angry and told him to stop,” said Karl. “Only then did he stop.”

The other union Exco member who was in the room at the time, who will be referred to as May, said Xinruo then vomited and had to be brought out of the room by two members of the party to clean up. 

Xinruo passed out while on the way back to the room, and had to be carried back in, where she remained unconscious for six hours while the president and the chief of staff stayed in the room with her, May added. 

And according to Karl, the president told him and May not to tell Xinruo about the incident, saying it could ruin the mood for her at a committee gathering the next day.

Karl and May said they told Xinruo what happened several days later, telling her that they felt she deserved to know.

“I felt angered because I don’t normally drink in a guy’s room or with people I don’t trust,” she said. “But it was because we had that close working relationship and the fact that he was a respected senior four years older than me.”

“Everything was completely shattered when I found out. I felt extremely betrayed during that first meeting when everything was revealed,” Xinruo added.

In an email statement to Soapbox, a representative from NTUSU said: “The SU Disciplinary Committee felt that it was necessary to discuss and understand her perspective of the incident but assessed that it was not the right time to do so.”

The statement added: “There was concern about whether surfacing facts/informing her then would be the most sensitive approach or cause her further distress, while the rest of the team was around.”

It also said that Xinruo was eventually informed about the details of the incident on Oct 17 during a private discussion with the NTUSU disciplinary committee, during which it was decided that Ethan should be suspended.

The president and Ethan did not respond to Soapbox’s multiple queries regarding the accusations. 

In an Instagram post on Friday addressing the incident, NTUSU said the actions of one of its executive committee members had fallen short of its professional standards.

“The penalty of a 5-week suspension from Union duties and eventual reinstatement was agreed upon by all parties involved, and affected parties sought to move forward from the incident,” the statement said.

It added that the university concluded its investigations, and that the person no longer faces further disciplinary proceedings.

“As such, we would like to clarify that the more severe assertions about misconduct of a different nature are unsubstantiated,” the statement added.

Ethan continued with duties during suspension

Karl and May said they later spoke with the president about taking action in response to Ethan’s actions that night, but added that they could not come to a conclusion. 

On Oct 17 last year, the incident was brought to the NTUSU disciplinary board, an internal panel of students that investigates and issues punishments for misconduct among union members, they said.

The board consisted of three members, including the president and the chief of staff. Together, they decided to suspend Ethan, according to internal meeting minutes seen by Soapbox.

In the meeting notes, the president said Ethan had gone “overboard in his actions.”

The minutes also included directives from the president to “keep the information of the suspension within the Student Union” and a request from him that members not speculate about the incident. 

Karl, May and Xinruo said they questioned Ethan’s reinstatement and were told by the Disciplinary Committee that if they felt unhappy with Ethan after his suspension was over, they could confront him directly.

However, screenshots of Telegram chats seen by Soapbox reveal that Ethan continued holding discussions on union matters in his capacity as an Exco member during his suspension. Karl, May and Xinruo also alleged that Ethan was still working in the core committee of this year’s NTUSU-organised AUN Asean Experiential Learning Programme (AELP).

No further action was taken against Ethan, and he officially returned to his duties in January, per May and Karl.

Documents show Ethan plans to run for SU president

While Ethan has not officially announced his intention to run for NTUSU President on Sunday, he was the only person who had indicated his candidacy on a list that allows union members to track who is running for certain roles.

A transcript of a Friday meeting between top union officers, seen by Soapbox, also showed them referring to the presidential rally as “Ethan’s rally.”

Meanwhile, the incident was mentioned in a post on the subreddit r/SGExams, which was published on Sep 14 and received 54 comments before being locked by forum moderators.

The resulting online controversy has spilled onto NTUSU’s social media channels, and the union has been accused of deleting user comments relating to Ethan’s conduct.

Xinruo said she started raising objections to Ethan’s reinstatement months before the election season, because she was unhappy with how NTUSU had dealt with the matter and felt he should not run. 

She added that she does not intend to file a police report against Ethan.

“But I really want him to learn from it in the sense where he can’t just cover things up and think it’s okay to run for president,” she said.

Sep 28, 2023: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date when NTUSU conducted a disciplinary board meeting for the allegations against Ethan. It was October 17, not 18. 

This story was also amended to remove a detail about NTUSU’s rally preparations that Karl alleged but Soapbox could not independently verify. 

Karl and May also clarified the disciplinary board meeting was conducted several days after the incident, instead of a week later as they previously described.

About Post Author

Lok Bing Hong

A dancer that likes writing poetry and brooding in the dark. I have thirty seconds of coherence a day. I do not decide when they come. They are not consecutive.
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