The KAIST Student & Minority Human Rights Committee is a newfound, student-led organization that aims to educate the student body on the importance of human rights and is at the forefront of urging college members to be part of a cultural movement that welcomes all people in the community. For this month, we interviewed Je hee Park, the student leader of the committee, to delve deeper into its principles and to understand what exactly it does to achieve an egalitarian community.
What is your position in the organization?
I am the executive director of the KAIST Student & Minority Human Rights Committee. Despite what the title may entail, we do not have a comprehensive structure within the committee yet, and I think it will be more accurate to think of it as a vice chairman of the organization.
I see that the committee does have an active Facebook page that informs the student body of the committee’s activities. However, I could not find enough information from its bio to understand the array of activities the committee is committed to. Could you briefly explain what the purpose of the organization is and what it does?
The main purpose of our committee is to spread awareness of the student minorities in KAIST and to consolidate a culture within the school that is inclusive of these student minorities. When we get any reports on cases that involve any right infringements, we try to solve them based on the details provided by the reporter. We also issue the Human Rights Weekly and hold human rights seminars to facilitate events that will provide opportunities for students to get accustomed to the culture that we stand for.
The committee has recently conducted a public Q&A on the new student council candidates for each major. From the responses that the committee received through the Q&A, how do you feel about the school’s overall level of awareness and perspectives on the student minorities around campus?
First of all, we have received responses from two-thirds of the major council candidates that we sent out the surveys to, and I believe that the overwhelming number of responses is representative of the aggregate interest of the school as a whole — it means that there are just that many people who are concerned and wary of the human rights within our college. It is true, however, that while many of the responses did address potential problems concerning human rights, none of the candidates really gave a clear cut answer to what they would do about them. Predicated on the responses, however, we are thinking of educating the candidates in the near future to better provide them with the tools and ideas to tackle human rights issues that may arise. Also, to me, the response submitted by the candidate from the Department of Biological Sciences was very impressionable. To the question of how one would deal with sexual harassment cases that happen during a student club’s membership training (MT), he said that he would first escort the victim out of the scene, and take them to a nearby hospital to ensure their well-being. He added that he would then follow up by devising plans to make sure the victim can start attending the school again without being mentally affected.
In throes of the recent event where the school president made inappropriate remarks about certain student minorities at the Physics Colloquium, the committee denounced his actions and shared the denouncement with the entire school. How does the committee aim to monitor and regulate infringement cases that occur in smaller lecture rooms or elsewhere on campus?
Our organization was made less than a year ago and thus does not have a monitoring system put in place yet. Thus, we regularly check through online portals and feedback forums to catch any infringement cases that happen in big events. However, we are aiming to have a running monitoring system by next year and we have already made plans to prepare during the upcoming winter break to work on it.
Our main readership is based on international students here in KAIST. Being a reporter and a member of The KAIST Herald, I feel that the international students are a big portion of the student demographic that falls under the category of “student minorities”. How does the committee ensure that the voices of the international students are heard as much as those of the Korean students?
We utilize the Human Rights Weekly to channel feedbacks from our readers, and we are making efforts to ensure that the contents are delivered to the international students. We also have plans to build a translation system throughout school networks so that there is no information that is only available to the Korean students. We are very much aware of the discrepancy in the right to information between international students and the Korean students, and hence we hope to eradicate cultures around campus that segregate the two bodies from their roots. From the recent student council debate, we also acknowledged that the international students of color felt more discriminated than most other international students. We thought the discrepancy was something to note and that it needs to be taken into account when reshaping the school’s culture that makes international students feel discriminated.