On March 30, a piece of writing titled “The social murder of President Suh’s world” was uploaded on the KAIST community website Ara. It was written from the perspective of a freshman regarding current tragic suicides. The writing quickly earned sympathy among students, viewed by more than 3000 people and the writer, June Hyeok Lee held a one-man demonstration to criticize the lack of communication between students and President Suh. The KAIST Herald met with June Hyeok Lee to hear more of the story behind his protest.
Can you introduce yourself briefly?
Hello, my name is June Hyeok Lee and I’m a freshman. I have not yet decided my major. Although I haven’t yet experienced a lot at KAIST as a freshman, I have seen many of my friends and seniors complaining about difficulties with life at KAIST. Thus, rather than passively observe the current tragic situation, I decided to actively point out problems at KAIST and let the school know how we feel.
What prompted you to hold a one-man demonstration?
Since a one-man demonstration is a very intensive way of protesting, I sent a message to the Dean of Student Affairs beforehand. I wrote about how students feel regarding current situation, and problems with the school’s meager response. I requested an opportunity for open communication between students and the school to gain a better understanding of each other in these hardships, but there was no response from the Dean. I felt ignored. Although I heard that there was a technical problem and the Dean did not get the message later on, those mixed feelings I received over the past few days prompted me to hold a one-man demonstration.
The one-man demonstration was held at the Main Administration Building for one week. After consecutive suicides, the school has been showing some changes by communicating more actively through discussions with students. Thus, as one of the KAIST students, I would like to trust the school and wait for them to make wise decisions.
During that one week of demonstrations, you had a chance to talk to President Suh. What was the conversation mainly about?
I met President Suh on the second day of my demonstration. The main reason that I started a one-man demonstration is to criticize the lack of communication between KAIST and the students. Since most KAIST students hear our school’s stances on various policies from the media, misunderstandings occur and students tend to be impelled by strong emotions.
Regarding the lack of communication, President Suh apologized and said that he would try to give the utmost efforts for more open communication. The conversation continued on for one and a half hours, and we mainly discussed problems with scholarships based on grades and lectures conducted in English.
Because President Suh lived in the United States for a long time, he talked a lot about the competitive society in the U.S. He stressed that since the main goal of KAIST is to educate competent future leaders of our society, English ability is essential to increase one’s competitiveness in a global era. In terms of tragic suicides of KAIST students, President Suh expressed condolences. He mentioned other prestigious universities in the U.S. that have high suicide rates, and emphasized the importance of students in control of their minds and attitudes. Although I received an impression that President Suh tended to consider suicide as more of a personal problem, in my opinion, the competitive environment at KAIST is very demanding for most students. Since we all live in dormitories, the KAIST campus has become our second home as we meet our friends and professors more often than our families. Thus, it is crucial to build stable relationships with our friends and depend on each other. However, in a competitive environment, it is difficult to maintain such relationships.
Although I was shocked at some of President Suh’s opinions that were different from what I expected, overall I appreciate him for giving me such an opportunity to talk. It was a good chance to understand how President Suh felt regarding current tragedies, and to deliver my thoughts to him.
Do you have any last comments?
At the entrance examination interview, I promised professors that I would be one of those people who participate in social events and actively express their thoughts when problems occur. Thus, the one-man demonstration was a valuable experience for me. I learned a lot by meeting various people and taking their constructive criticisms. I believe that all KAIST students want the best for our school and hope everything will work out in the end. As it seems undeniable that KAIST is going through a serious crisis, I hope more students will take interest in school issues and speak up in these hardships.