University Student’s Forum of Korea stated in a press conference at Gwanghwamun, “without using violence, university students must voice their thoughts openly.” While political and ideological issues such as democratization were the focus in the ‘60s and the ‘90s, economic or livelihood issues like university tuition fees and living expenses are the problems university students face today. Park Won-soon, recently elected mayor of Seoul, reduced the tuition fees for the University of Seoul by half after he was elected. According to Kyunghyang Shinmun, Park Won-soon had a 70% approval rate among people in their twenties. Those in their twenties, including university students, played a significant role in getting him elected. It was because one of his commitmen ts was to reduce the tuition fees of all the universities in Seoul by half. After Park’s election, university students’ interest in participating in assemblies and rallies has increased along with their interest in social issues. This shows that student participation can make a difference in society, and more and more students have started to rise up to face the problems in Korea today.
Among 191 Sogangers who answered the survey conducted by The Sogang Herald, 39% of students answered that they do not have much interest in politics. Also, only about 47.29% of students voted for the 41th student representative elections. Many students today are too busy preparing for future employment. They might not have much time to take an in-depth look into the problems of society. This may lead to a shallow view of the society, and people might even believe false facts from the media. However, there are students who take an active role in participating in society and make a difference. There are students who participate in student unions or mass rallies to make a positive change in society.
|▲ Harsh violence on a university student by |
the government army.
Korea has a long history of social movements crying for democracy. In Korea’s radical ‘80s and ‘90s, there was an evident reason for the youth to participate in social activities─military tyranny. Therefore, socially aware 20s and the military government engaged in violent conflicts. There were three noticeable events in the dark history of Korea which significantly expressed the idea of the democracy movement.
The first was the April 19 Revolution. It was an anti-government and anti-corruption movement made by university students. In April 1960, the Liberalist Party fabricated an election to nominate its member as vice president. Against this, Korean university students took the lead and claimed this election was invalid and demanded a recall election. Ultimately, the event was a historical turning point which ended the long dictatorship of Rhee Syngman’s administration and his Liberalist Party members.The first was the April 19 Revolution. It was an anti-government and anti-corruption movement made by university students. In April 1960, the Liberalist Party fabricated an election to nominate its member as vice president. Against this, Korean university students took the lead and claimed this election was invalid and demanded a recall election. Ultimately, the event was a historical turning point which ended the long dictatorship of Rhee Syngman’s administration and his Liberalist Party members.
|▲ Koreans marching for democracy during the May Gwangju Movement.|
In this chain of social movements, the last event was the June Democracy Movement. It was a nation-wide democracy movement that generated mass protests from June 10 to 29 in 1987. The demonstrations forced the ruling government to hold elections and institute other democratic reforms which led to the establishment of the present day government of South Korea.
In the state of chaos, it was also university students who took the part of helping funerals, public campaigns, traffic control, withdrawal of weapons, and medical aid to maintain the city’s order. Through the history of Korea’s painful past, it was students, especially university students, who took a strong role and the lead in society’s path. How is students’ participation in society nowadays, in the 21st century?
Changed social background
Social involvement by past generations shows the characteristic of unity. People pursued solidarity against the government, and had a clear purpose of democratization. Democratization was needed in this country to guarantee people’s fundamental rights. Therefore, by creating a student alliance with widely shared slogans, lyrics, and other protest methods which had an anti-government point of view, people readily gathered together and cried out for only one condition, a democracy, Now, however, the society is getting increasingly pluralistic, and every person has his or her unique goals. Thus, it is not easy to find a common goal that onetime expressed itself in the democratization movement. Therefore, it seems impossible to achieve unity these days.
Times have changed. While those who actively participated in the movements of the ‘80s and early ‘90s were raised under military tyranny, today’s young generation has been sheltered from such problems. Moreover, today, people do not advocate for their fundamental rights. “I am not familiar with all the circumstances. But there is a negative feeling because the adults around me stop me from thinking.” Kim Hee-jin (11, Dept. of Psychology) explained her view of social movements today. “If the school create more awareness of the need of social involvement, I would like to join in.” She added, “it is too hasty an assertion to say that today’s university students are mostly uninterested in society.”
Moreover, university students’ entertainment style has changed. In the past, there was no work for students except study. TV and telephones were only available for the rich. Today’s ` students, however, can do many things in their spare time. There are many fascinating neon signs around them. Now university students have a lot of outlets for play, and it is almost impossible for them to feel the tediousness of life due to a continuously flowing mass of information from television, smart phones, and the Internet. It is important to remember that today’s social atmosphere is completely different from the past.
University students in the 21th century set as their first priority in life to secure a good job. Furthermore, they want to be dominant in the future hierarchical system. To fit themselves to the well-qualified standards, they nowadays have a tendency to be morre interested in working part time jobs, keeping their grades up, and winning contests. Because of this, Korea’s chronic problem in education - heated competition - has arisen. Some scholars claim that this competitiveness has come to Korea due to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic crisis. In 1997, as the Korean government borrowed from the fund, the IMF required Korea to accept Neo-liberalism to reform the corrupted military administration. According to the market fundamentalism of Neo-liberalism, companies started to exploit laborers indiscriminately to maximize their profits. As a result, many workers were fired as part of reconstruction, or became temporary workers. Since this time, Korean people have adapted to heated competition in order to achieve stable jobs. Market failures should be solved by government’s income redistribution, but Neo-liberalism removes the government from the equation, so the gap between the rich and the poor just continues to grow.
People fight for better and more stable future lives. An anonymous student (11, Business School) warns every university students. “We are all busy building our careers, so we’re sometimes not familiar with political or social issues. However, it is important to express our own opinions. If we do not think of these issues, we will lose our future.”
New types of social involvement
|▲ UCC promotion against school incorporation made by Seoul National University students.|
Due to development of new media, such as smart phones and the Internet, the process of communication has become more rapid and industrious. New mediums such as Twitter or Facebook are having a great impact on mobilizing wide groups of people to
participate in society’s hot issues. Social involvement is not a form of violent demonstration any more. Social participation nowadays should be extraordinary to catch the public’s interest. There are much more various ways for Korean university students to participate to help make a better society.
|▲ The eyecatching poster made my Seoul National University|
As modern technology develops, brand-new and more brilliant methods of social involvement arises. Especially through the Internet and Social Networking Sevices (SNS). The best example of using SNS for social involvement is Seoul National University’s UCC promotion. This year, Seoul National University faced troublesome days due to the school incorporation problem. In June, the students against Seoul National University becoming incorporated went on strike and took over the chancellor’s office. To gain other students’ support, students from Seoul National University’s singing group “Gil” and central group “Gol-pae” made an UCC called “The Chancellor’s Freedom (Chong-Jang-Sil freedom in Korean)” parodying UV’s famous music video, Itaewon Freedom. By shouting the slogan, “students are taking over, the chancellor is absent, and the press is distorting,” students effectively caught the eyes and ears of the public.
Views upon student participation in society
The Grand National Party-Hannara representative, Hong Jun-pyo, stated in his Twitter that “our society would turn into a mockery society if people started to believe false facts spreading through the internet and through Twitter. This may lead to an insane society. Nakkomsu can be an example of the mocking the president in our society.” Kim Duk-soon, a columnist in Dong-a Ilbo, criticizes university students on her column who are against Korea- US FTA and cutting half of their university tuition.” Beliefs of Kim might be the words of Representative Hong, but this can show the perception that university students do not know much about society and are trying to fight for a cause without deeper knowledge. However, Korean novelist Lee Oi-soo, stated on his Twitter that, the words of columnist Kim will make the student want to vote. University students should prove that they are not dumb by voting for the rite candidate. Also, it is important that we as student should have a deeper knowledge of our society to make the right decision and make effective changes with in depth knowledge to our society. University students have just started to take views about their society and many have shallow view about the society. Newspaper and books give the readers the knowledge about society and provide insights for a critical view. As the reach of information has become easier due to the internet, number of student reading books and newspaper has reduced.
According the survey done by The Sogang Herald, only about 42% of Sogang University students read the newspaper. However, not all of them read it daily; mostly only once or twice a week which accounts for 41%. Only about nine percent of people use newspapers as a source of know about the current affairs. Most students rely on internet or smart phones. Internet can be a great source to know about current affairs, however, many critics criticize about the “Fountain of Information” as the “Trash of Information.” There are numerous amounts of unverified, untrue, and unimportant information on the internet. Also, people tend to search for news articles which they only wish to read and believe unlike the paper newspaper. In 2008, there were wide protests against importing US beef to South Korea. These protests were instigated by false and unscientific information posted on the web; so-called Mad Cow Scare. About 70 to 80 percent of protesters were students, mostly high school students who are now in their 20s. The protests were a stark reminder of the side effects of the Internet. Also, it showed that for progressive media, young students are the easiest target for spreading their groundless ideals. However, Kim Kun-woo (Prof., School of Communications) stated, “students are poor and unskilled at looking in depth on an issue deeply, however, it is the duty of the politicians to listen to the voice of the students, regardless of the opinion’s authenticity.”
The need to look on the other sideThe need to look on the other side
▲ Nowdays, it is hard to find students reading the newspaper. Accoding to our survey, only 42% of people read the newspaper once or twice a day.
Lawyer Jun Won-chek stated in his book, The Enemy of Freedom, that “the biggest problem of Korean society is ‘learned dumbs,’ such as right-wings who did not read about Karl Heinrich Marx.” Lawyer Jun’s point here is that people should have a unbiased view about social issues. The Right should have the knowledge about the Left and vice versa. Likewise, the university students should understand there can be other sides of every social issues. Therefore, they should have an in-depth knowledge about the other side of the issue. They should not look or read about what they want to read about, but also should read about what they disagree in order to get a more critical view about the society.
Social involvement of university students in foreign countries
One of the biggest issues around Korean universities in 2011 was the tuition fee issue.
|▲ Lim Seung-su, the author of Capitalism that Even Monkeys Understand|
Students held protests against the schools and the government, and the whole nation paid attention to the students’ actions. Like Korea, tuition fee issues also have been significant in countries such as Chile and England. Educational policies set out by the government were not in favor of the students, and the dissatisfied raised their voices. The situations vary from country to country, but it was the university students who voluntarily stood up for their rights.
One comparable aspect of Chile’s student protest to that of Korea’s was that the students were able to cooperate with the school authorities and the labor unions when university students in Korea had to protest against the school authorities. Recently, Chilean students, with the backing of professors and labor unions, protested against the government demanding the conservative government of President Sebastian Pinera overhaul the education system to guarantee free, quality university-level
|▲ Website of “Child’s Book.”|
England is another country where students actively practice social involvement. The government of England has recently announced a decrease in financial support for education, which would result in a tripling of maximum tuition fees. Against this plan of the government, an estimated 10,000 English students held a tuition-fee protest on November 9, 2011. The demonstration comes exactly a year after thousands of people first took to the streets to protest against the government’s higher education plans. In the news of The Guardian, the protest of November 9 is called as a “well planned” birthday partylike protest, where students and protestors delicately organized the demonstration to efficiently raise their voices.
Stories from the senior participants
The happiest person is the one who loves what he or she does. In order to find work that one can really love, university students should challenge different things in the world. Recently many books consoling young people in their twenties, such as self-development manuals, are being published. Lim Seung-su, the author of Capitalism that Even Monkeys Understand also felt the need to write about the burden of the twenties-generation. “Books published nowadays tend to say the twenties are spiritless; making shallow remarks or criticisms about society. However, what I wanted to tell them of is hope. What the twenties should have is a sense of value and their own philosophy,” said Lim.
Following a preset life-path and hoping to enter major companies is not what everyone should desire. It is not grades and money that make people happy. It is one’s current life that makes a person happy. “Travel around the world, read different books, meet and talk with many people, then you will broaden your perspectives and think more of how you will live in this world,” said Lim.
Hwang On-sook is a housewife who participates in a civic organization “Child’s book,” which studies ways to help kids read various books in the competitive society. “There are many civic organizations where people work together for a better society,” said Hwang. Hwang encourages university students to be interested in society, so that they can have a logical perspective on how to become a better member of the society. “My son is also a university student, and he tries to look into ways that he can contribute to society, and one way he found is participating in online communities, where he can share ideas with people,” added Hwang. Like Hwang and her son, university students should try to be subjective individuals who can look for their own ways to contribute to society. To know what one could do, let go of your daily business and question yourself: “What do you really want?” “What is your desired lifestyle?” or “What should I live for?”
To entertain high aspirations through social involvement
|▲ One of the Sogang alumni, Kim Eui-ki gave his life to reveal the truth of the May Gwangju Movement.|
In order to have a reasonable voice in society, a person has to recognize the current situation and should have a logical perspective. Amongst the citizens of Korea, university students play an important role in society. They are yet unadulterated and are still young. Moreover, it is the university students who will be the leading actors of the society in the near future. To be a mature, full-fledged member of society, an intense experience in society is important in one’s youth. Therefore, university students should be ready to grapple with the current questions of society with a broad perspective and voice in the democratic society of Korea.
Spending time reading newspapers, participating in discussions and seminars, contributing to the student union, and all sorts of similar activities are great experiences to help students recognize their role in society. Every May, a cultural festival in memory of the patriotic martyr, Kim Eui-ki (76, Dept. of Commerce and Trade), is held on the Sogang campus. Kim has gone, but his spirit stays in Sogang and the country to encourage the youth to stand up for their lives. We should not forget his aspiration, and instead be conscientious individuals. The more we know, the more we can see; when university students start to see the questions facing society, a bright future will welcome us.
Choi Keun-ou (Photography Editor) email@example.com