Members of the Hopkins Korean community gathered in front of Shriver Hall on Wednesday afternoon to protest the recent political scandal involving South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil. The scandal has been nicknamed ‘Choi Soon-silgate’ by the press.
At the protest, students read aloud their Declaration of the State of Affairs, drafted and written by the Hopkins Committee for Democracy in Korea. Students held up signs in both Korean and English bearing the slogans, ‘We demand justice’ and ‘We demand resignation.’
In South Korea, thousands assembled in Seoul on Saturday, Nov. 12 to demand the resignation of President Park. The scandal revealed that the president’s close personal friend, Choi, had received highly classified information and was secretly advising Park on matters of national interest.
Choi used her relationship with Park to raise almost $70 million from large business groups and help her daughter get accepted to a prestigious university. According to Yonhap News Agency, organizers estimate about one million individuals participated in the nationwide protest earlier this week. Police place the number closer to 260,000.
Before reading their declaration, the Committee emphasized that its views do not represent those of the University, nor of any specific groups on campus. At the time of print, the Committee’s declaration had 136 signatories, comprised of 108 students, 24 affiliates and four University staff members. The declaration demands President Park’s resignation, that all parties involved in the scandal claim responsibility and that the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office conduct an investigation in response to the allegations. The declaration further stated that until these demands are met, they will continue to take action.
Na Yung “Ellie” Park, a graduate student in film and media studies, explained why South Koreans are protesting on such a large scale.
“By electing this president, we brought in the whole Choi family,” Park said. “The fact that they were able to exploit their power and privatize so much of the public resources and funds — I think it’s infuriating to a lot of people, and that anger is 100 percent justified.”
Senior Hee Won Han, one of the main organizers of the Committee, pointed out that this corruption scandal undermined people’s faith in their democracy. Han stressed protesting to ensure that their voices are heard.
“This isn’t about someone being a conservative or a liberal. It’s about our country, our democratic nation, being revealed that it is not governed through the pillars of democracy,” Han said. “We are the owners of our country and yet our voices are not being heard. Our government is not working to better our wellbeing but is using their power to fulfill their own interests, and that is ridiculous. As a Korean citizen witnessing that, I don’t understand how people can just gloss over the fact that this is happening.”
University students in Korea have played an important role in shaping the country’s democracy. Senior Koeun “Ashlyn” Kang, one of the main Committee organizers, stressed the importance of student activism in Korea’s history.
“I think it’s very important that young students like us voice our opinions. If we look back into our history, a lot of student activism and student movements actually did change the structure of the government and changed our history,” Kang said. “If we keep our voice to ourselves, we cannot change anything in the future.”
According to Kang, the Committee had some trouble drafting the declaration in a way that reflected the diversity of opinion.
“I think the hardest part was balancing the tone of the document itself because some of us felt really strongly about this issue but [others] felt we should keep it down,” she said. “We needed to have a voice that could represent as many [people] as possible.”
To be as inclusive as possible, the Committee solicited feedback after circulating a first draft of the declaration. These comments were then incorporated in the final copy.
Park said she was amazed at the number of signatures they gathered in the span of three to four days. She still wished more people had participated.
“The fact that we were able to pull this off in such a short amount of time is great,” Park said. “We still wish more people participated. It shows the degree of political apathy that not only the Korean community but also Hopkins in general suffers from.”
Han also spoke about the atmosphere of political apathy, both on the Hopkins campus and within the current generation.
“I am hesitant even about using the word ‘political apathy,’ because we are so bombarded with our daily lives that oftentimes, we fail to look beyond ourselves,” she said. “Physically, some people just don’t have the time. But at the same time, it doesn’t take much. We did this in four days. If enough like minded people gather, something like this can happen.”
Senior Sung Park decided to attend the protest to be more politically involved on campus.
“As a Korean American, I feel that both of my countries are going to hell,” he said. “As a student of Hopkins, I have the opportunity and the privilege and a platform that I can utilize. I haven’t been making use of that in the past four years, but for this, I feel like it’s something I can contribute to.”
Sophomore Tina Huang attended the event and explained why this is event is important to Americans.
“This shouldn’t be trivialized just because it’s an issue in Korea. I think it’s great to see how the students were politically conscious and able to voice their opinion.” Huang wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The declaration also gathered support from non-Korean citizen allies. Ellie Park explained that there are no national borders to democracy.
“Democracies can be only stronger when they’re in solidarity,” she said. “A lot of people are concerned that Trump’s election might make emerging democracies vulnerable.”
Han explained what inspired her to begin this movement and its relevance for the future.
“I really care about this community and about our future,” Han said. “Although it may be offensive to admit, we are privileged. Many of us have parents who are wealthy enough to fund us, and we are getting high quality education at Hopkins. As international students who are given the opportunity to get such great education... we have to learn how to use that knowledge. And if you don’t care, you’re not going to be using it.”
Morgan Ome contributed reporting.