Top Image: Brooke Lim / Instagram
Brooke Lim, tucked away at home and sheltered from the maelstrom of backlash on social media, is puffy-eyed. The state that this 19-year-old is in now contrasts from the person she was when we first spoke a few months ago.
Back then, Brooke’s answers were powered by bright-eyed enthusiasm. An upbeat cadence drives her three minute-long reflections. Now, she barely manages to make it past 30 seconds, taking long pauses between brief answers to catch herself from crying.
Brooke manages a courteous smile but it barely conceals her exhaustion. The same excitement in her previous interview has been driven out of her in the last few days.
A week ago, TikTok burner account @sugaresqueessay pointed out that Brooke’s latest longform personal essay about her struggles with an eating disorder had plagiarised the works of several authors.
Bullet point after bullet point, the account methodically compared Brooke’s writing with authors who wrote about their own experiences with an eating disorder. Brooke’s sentence structures were undeniably similar; metaphors employed in Brooke’s essay matched word for word.
Plagiarism is a serious academic offence, as all teachers and students would know. Plagiarising excerpts about an eating disorder to pass off as one’s own worsens the gravity of the mistake.
It doesn’t stop there—Brooke’s bread-and-butter was also called into question. She is, after all, a General Paper tuition teacher and head of a popular tuition agency whose crowning gem is helping students with their essay-writing skills.
For a mentor whose claim to fame among JC students is essay writing, plagiarism was tantamount to committing original sin. Or so it seems from the amount of flak she’s received over the past few days.
Online tabloids and newspapers hound Brooke’s social media accounts requesting for quotes, among other things. Anonymous messages flood her inbox. Occasionally, there are death threats—one of them reads “Kill yourself bitch.”
Between reaching out to students to apologise and responding to media queries, Brooke finds some time with RICE to apologise and say her piece.
RICE: What happened when the allegations of plagiarism first appeared? What was your first response?
Brooke: I get a lot of flak, rumours and allegations online. What I’ve been forced to do is to figure out which ones to care about and which ones to ignore. I can’t put out every fire. Personally, I’m going through a difficult time in my life so when I saw the account the next morning, I was shocked and confused. But there’s no excuse for what I did.
I take full responsibility for any mistakes that were made and I’m really sorry to everyone who was affected by them. Moving forward, I’ll ensure that I properly credit any sources that inspire me.
R: How has the last few days been for you?
Brooke: It feels like a fever dream.
I’m really grateful for my job, and I’m capable of being professional for those two to three hours in the classroom. I really enjoy teaching and I’ve always been adept at separating my personal life from my professional life so I can focus on just the students’ learning.
I’ve been explaining the situation and apologising to the students. Classes go on as per usual. I really don’t want it to affect their learning. At the end of class, if they have the time and if they want to, they can stay for a chat and share their opinion. They can ask me anything, and I’ll answer with full transparency.
They know that my position as an influencer doesn’t make me any less approachable or any less human.
I’ve also been reaching out to my former students who graduated last year and apologising.
Parents and students alike have been extremely supportive. I’m really grateful for that. We’ve made it very clear that if any student wishes to quit the centre, we’ll process the request and send them the full refund (if any) within a week, no questions asked. No student has left the centre.
R: The people behind @sugaresqueessay mentioned that they tried to contact you but they claimed they received no response. Is this true?
Brooke: I need to clarify. When they say they reached out to me, I think what they meant was that they made a lot of videos, and they tried to tag me, as well as send me anonymous messages on Tellonym.
But my privacy settings only allow followers who I follow back to tag me. I don’t follow that account on TikTok. Neither do they follow me. I’ve also closed down my Tellonym account in light of the death threats and acts of doxxing I’ve received.
My privacy settings still allow anyone to text me on both TikTok and Instagram. They have yet to do so. If they do, I’ll be happy to have a conversation with them.
R: What went through your mind when you were crafting that essay?
Brooke: I really don’t have any excuses. It was just a very horrible mistake.
I’ve had this tendency to only share my best sides on social media. But I also know that observing someone else’s highlight reel online can breed immense resentment in others.
Now that I’m 19, I figured it was time to be more vulnerable online. I thought I owed it to my audience to be more transparent about my personal struggles.
The irony is that my relationship with eating started going downhill as a result of this heightened attention on my social media profiles. I’ve done a lot of shameful things for the sake of social media—not just plagiarism, but frequent bouts of bingeing and purging, prolonged periods of starvation and then immense shame.
Even in the process of writing about my eating disorder—something that should have been real and raw and personal—I still wanted to be perceived as a good writer, someone that was good at everything she does.
I think it’s very clear that I’ve lost the bustling confidence that once characterised my content. I also think it’s very clear that there’s an obvious distinction between what I believe of my abilities and my expectations for myself. I’m hyper-aware of all the scrutiny on me and I’m hyperconscious of how I’m always being perceived.
I know it’s not an excuse. I desperately wanted to be deserving of the kind words that I receive from so many sweet netizens every day. I am sorry.
R: What went through your mind when you removed the plagiarised portions? What do you say to people who accuse you of being insincere in your apology video?
Brooke: I wanted to fix things bit by bit. I was confused and overwhelmed.
Even for the apology video, I was really worried about it. I know you’re asking about criticism that the video was insincere, or that I came off as only being sorry that I was caught.
I tried my best to make it as truthful as possible. But at the same time, I desperately wanted to please everyone and show how apologetic I was. I’m acutely aware of how I’m always being perceived online and placed on a pedestal.
Some part of me believed that, by engaging in enough self-flagellation, the public would stop doing it for me.
I know it can’t turn back time, but it was the first few steps to making amends. I’m struggling with so much shame that I don’t know how to confront or metabolise.
It’s so cliche to admit that I can’t please everyone, but some former, idealistic, childish part of me genuinely believed that if I tried hard enough, everyone would love me.
But more than anything, the apology was for the authors of the works plagiarised from and the students I teach in a professional capacity.
R: What is your response to further claims of plagiarism in media interviews, tuition notes and other essays?
Brooke: Every minute that I’m not teaching, my team and I have been thoroughly checking every single piece of material we’ve published, and providing citations and links to any sources that we’ve previously referenced without due credit.
I do not wish to throw anyone under the bus because I have made a similar mistake and I have always had the utmost respect for my team, but I want to clarify a common misconception—that Classicle’s material is not solely my individual work, it is comprised of contributions by an entire team of dedicated tutors and writers and at times, even students.
So we are trying to be as meticulous and thorough as possible in rectifying any oversights we’ve had, as a first step to apologising to the public, and more importantly, our students.
R: What is your response to the current petition going around calling for the University of California (UCLA) to rescind your admission?
Brooke: I can see where they’re coming from. I trust that the school has done its due diligence.
R: How are you planning to move forward from this issue? People are now questioning the integrity of your notes and content.
Brooke: Stay off social media, focus on the students, and their upcoming examinations, if they choose to stay with the centre. And, focus on university.
R: What about comments about your accent and your relatability in videos?
Brooke: Yes, my accent is something that I have never been insecure about before social media. I’ve been told that I do have a bit of a different accent, even when I speak Singlish outside of social media and teaching.
I think it has a lot to do with being raised in a family with a parent whose first language isn’t English, so growing up, my accent has been largely shaped by TV shows and the media I consume and the people around me. So I guess over time it’s evolved into a combination of the RP (received pronunciation) accent and a Singaporean accent, and I can understand that’s why it can come off as inauthentic.
But with that said, I sometimes wish that people online wouldn’t perceive my accent as a character flaw. I get a lot of comments online where people say that they don’t like me specifically because of my accent. And it’s a bit hurtful considering it’s something I grew up with and can’t really change.
But I have been working with a public speaking coach, and as long as my students have no problem understanding me, I feel that my accent isn’t really an issue.
R: Any final words for the people out there?
Brooke: I am really, really very sorry to everyone about the plagiarism. It was a horrible thing to do to the authors of the books, to my students, to anyone who has read the article, and to anyone struggling with an eating disorder.
I should have used my own words to describe my own struggle with my eating disorder.
I want to be a better person and grow from this.