On November 20, as a speaker at the 2017 Fall Physics Colloquium, President Sung-Chul Shin gave a lecture titled “Preparing KAISTians for a Happy Future”. The talk, which was supposed to bring solace to students, caused widespread outrage on the internet forums of KaDaejeon and Bamboo Forest.
The KaDaejeon post that sparked the scandal stated that the president said, “It feels like I’m getting blacker as I work with black people,” and “Don’t play with the ducks near the pond. Don’t fall in and die as you are playing with them. Like the people that committed suicide.” The online author remarked that these kinds of comments and the way the president casually laughed as he said them are clearly problematic.
Most of the responses to the post agreed. One student expressed, “It saddens me that if this keeps on going, I might someday feel ashamed of attending KAIST,” while another questioned how someone with “no respect for others” was allowed to become president.
In response, the Undergraduate Student Council (USC) launched an investigation into the issue. Through certain sources, the validity of the post was confirmed and USC requested that other students who were also in attendance provide any further information or recordings of the lecture.
This information was passed onto the USC’s Student & Minority Human Rights Committee and the committee released a statement on its Facebook page, which “share[s] the unpainted face of the president”.
Another source online provided the context behind the comment about suicides. According to the anonymous poster, the full comment was: “Don’t feel ashamed because of your low GPA. If you don’t feel that this is the correct path, find something different that you like and are good at. Just because your GPA is ruined, don’t get depressed and go to the Duck Pond to play with the ducks. You might think the ducks are calling out for you, and you might fall in and die. Please don’t commit suicide.”
However, in agreement with the tough response of the USC committee to President Shin, many students insisted that the comments cannot be excused by their context.
The KAIST Herald was able to interview the president in regards to the incident. About the context of his comment, President Shin said, “The general context of the lecture that day was about consideration and contribution [...] In the lecture, I talked about how recently, in order to make KAIST global, I met a lot of people from abroad. Last June in Seoul, I participated in an event called “Embassy Day” in which [many African ambassadors were present]. During the lecture, I wanted to express that I felt that I could assimilate with them. Others also have pride about their own country, traditions, and culture and because of that, [when you work alongside them] you have to assimilate first.”
Regarding the negative response from students, he stated, “After hearing [about the online posts], I felt disappointed because the student could have talked to a professor, or sent an email to me about what they felt regarding the talk [...] However, that student just went ahead and posted online anonymously. Then, other students only see that one sentence and think that the president disregards black people. I see all of this as a misunderstanding as students do not know my attitude towards life and my philosophy.”