A change is coming. With happenings like the Gangnam Stabbing incident and workplace KakaoTalk chatroom controversy, more people are paying attention to human rights issues ranging from gender equality to workplace equity. KAIST is following that change too. Since December 16, 2014, the Center for Ethics and Human Rights promoted human rights in KAIST while also receiving and processing reports on human rights violations on campus. It’s been two years since this establishment; has it proven to be effective? Compared to other universities around the world, KAIST could do better. But within Korea? I believe it’s a start.
Korea, despite its strong economy and rich culture, is not the best when it comes to human rights. There is a very weak social security net for the elderlies, which correlates to high suicide rates. The smallest criticism that specifies names can result in a lawsuit for defamation even if it is the truth. The UNI Global Union criticizes Korea for its deteriorating worker conditions. And although there are laws banning discrimination, there are no specific anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation or gender identity. With the strong educational background many Koreans have, this nation should be doing better in terms of human rights and thankfully people are raising more awareness.
Similarly, to meet its goals as a globally leading academic institution, KAIST has promoted human rights. The Center for Ethics and Human Rights has had lectures on human rights including sexual violence, gender equality, and domestic violence. Some of the lectures were also available in English to accommodate for the international students. Student-led activities have also contributed to increased awareness for human rights. This semester, EQUEL, the sexual minority club, had a queer film screening. The new undergraduate student council candidates also promised to promote human rights for minorities and the disabled. These are the very ingredients needed for change and those effects could be best seen through the Human Rights Week.
Just last month, K’loud, the Center for Ethics and Human Rights, and the Graduate Association Students Human Rights Center held KAIST’s second Human Rights Week from November 7 to 11, providing booth events, talk shows, performances, and a lecture on gender equality. While focusing more on gender equality and the LGBTQ movement, it also covered other topics such as labor rights and diversity. By setting up booths and events on the route many students take to class, they ensured some student participation. Normally, when it comes to lectures or events similar to public service announcements, students tend to joke through them with their friends and not pay sufficient attention. But it was different that week. What I saw — people attentively listening to the booth explanations even in the freezing weather — was a community that was eager to learn more about promoting human rights and becoming part of a movement. The people willing and eager to be on the receiving end are as important as the people on the giving end. Even if the people on the giving end try their best and endlessly attempt to send their message, if the receiving end doesn’t respond to it in the slightest, it all goes to waste. However, in KAIST, people are reacting to it, and that means that the future attempts by the giving end will be successful.
Surely, more support from the administration could facilitate promoting human rights. However, what’s more important than policies is the atmosphere that will accept those changes and I believe that KAIST’s effort in promoting human rights is creating that very atmosphere within the community. The once aloof students now actively debate on and show support for such topics. Right now, KAIST has entered a positive cycle: policies and events promote human rights, which then help the awareness grow bigger within the students. This then prompts the school to employ more policies or events. Sure, this hasn’t become very large yet but it’s there. We’ll see it. Slowly but surely