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Should University Events Be Responsive Towards the Time’s Social Atmosphere?
[ Issue 130 Page 11 ] Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 01:03:40 Ji Yun Kim, Chonghyuk Song jiyunk@kaist.ac.kr, chonghyuksong@gmail.com
Recent tragic events that have swept both the nation and the university have led to the cancellation of many planned events, as many viewed celebrating in times of mourning inappropriate. However, some argue whether this sort of action is a true reflection of grieving. The KAIST Herald takes a look into both sides of the issue.

Pro: In Tune with National Grief
 
Colleges around the  country have responded to the nation’s time of grieving for the Sewol ferry incident by postponing or cancelling festivals to be held in the coming weeks of May and June. The situation held the same for KAIST, with the Central Executive Committee announcing the decision to postpone the school’s annual festival to the fall semester. This decision had been made with just one dissenting vote at the General Meeting, which shows a general unanimity in the student population that a festive mood is not suitable as of now. Though some downfalls may exist from the postponing of the biggest event of the spring semester, the decision to cancel the festival in accordance with the nation’s atmosphere is indubitably justifiable.
 
On top of the Sewol tragedy, the devastating news of a fellow student’s death has left many among the school population troubled. The grieving mood in the school community ideally should neither be encouraged nor oppressed; the school should take measures to keep a neutral stand between the two. Nonetheless, empathy - the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand the feelings, needs, and emotional state of the other person - seems to be disappearing from today’s individualistic society, and should be strongly promoted in times like this. A thin line exists between being rational and coldhearted; the former requires one to empathize while the latter does not. Based on this, the opposing suggestions that the festival should be held to cheer up the grieving should be reconsidered, as the most suitable action to take at this moment is to empathize together. Indeed, many psychology professionals suggest that grief should be fully expressed and shared in order for the pain of it to be alleviated. The fact that there are students affected by the event alone provides enough reason for the buoyant festivity to be postponed.
 
Considering the purpose of the Spring Festival in bringing the school together, the Central Executive Committee has promised for a substitute event. A suitable substitute event fit for the current situation may catch two birds with one stone; to satisfy those in need for a group activity, as well as those who want to reserve themselves from overly cheerful activities. An alternative event would be most ideal to leave enough time for everyone to recover from their grief one way or the other before holding the festival, so everyone can fully join in the celebration.
 
Another reason not to be missed is the position of KAIST as a national institution. As one of the core education and research institutes of the country, the school has a responsibility to respect the atmosphere of the nation. If a festival with a size equivalent to that of a major regional festival were to be held in KAIST, there would be a conflict in the mood both inside and outside of school. Considering that Daejeon’s temporary group memorial altar for the victims of the accident is set up at the Daejeon City Hall not far from the campus, proceeding with the festival will be an action that totally ignores the public’s intentions to mourn and remember those who suffered in the blind. As a matter of fact, there has been a precedent case of postponing the festival - the Spring Festival was postponed to the fall semester during the sinking of the Cheonan navy ship in 2010. It seems only right that we take similar measures again this year in respect of the nation’s heartache.
 
It does not hurt to show a little more empathy and thoughtfulness in our actions. Rather than having the Spring Festival - an event meant for everyone to immerse themselves in fun and anticipation - now, at a time when not everyone can feel at ease enjoying or celebrating, postponing it to a time that can accommodate everyone is the wiser decision. Let us be in tune with the nation and overcome this grief that has taken us aback.
 
Con: Peer Pressure on a National Scale
 
The Sewol ferry disaster, which claimed the lives of about 300 students and others, has sent shockwaves throughout the country leaving the public in mourning and gloom. Colleges around the country have demonstrated social tact by postponing or cancelling events that were to be held during the festive season in May. KAIST is planning to do the same, as the general consensus of the KAIST Central Executive Committee agreed to postpone the festive season to the fall semester. Although this decision is understandable and is expected, given the societal pressure on the public to remain spiritually dormant in such times, there is an inherent wrong in purposely enforcing an implicitly departed atmosphere by cancelling events that can be a potential morale-booster, not just on a national basis but particularly within the boundaries of KAIST itself.
 
KAIST has recently undergone a tragedy of its own - the suicide of a 4th year student, reminiscent of the trail of suicides only a couple years back. Swift measures were taken by the school to prevent a recurrence, ranging from dormitory attendance checks over the May holidays to the handing out of chocolates and gift cards with encouraging messages to lift the student’s spirits. But nothing would have been as lifting as the May festival that the students have been longing for, especially after a daunting period of midterm examinations, and its absence means that morale at the school may have reached an all-time low. Of course the timing of the suicide with respect to the Sewol incident is quite unfortunate, but we must quickly address the need to change the atmosphere around here regardless of what is happening outside the campus, considering the fact that there was another attempted suicide not long after the first one.
 
The response from KAIST, and by extension, colleges nationwide, to reschedule the festivals due to the Sewol tragedy can be considered as a bandwagon effect, which deviates from true reflection and grieving. It is as if a dichotomy is imposed on the public - either you do not host festive events or you are too coldhearted to show sympathy for the victims of the accident. In reality, the matter is not quite as simple as that. Black and white logic will not work in this case, as people are indeed capable of simultaneously holding two conflicting emotions within themselves and adjusting them appropriately to the circumstances. But admittedly, there is an undiscussed cruelty and a lack of understanding for those who simply do not harbor the amount of mourning and sorrow for the victims of the Sewol accident that society requires and those who are denied to enjoy their respective lives in moral ignorance. In other words, it is possible that one displays reservation during a memorial service and then be in a more festive mood at a college event later on.
 
On a more practical note, the festive periods are golden opportunities for freshman to develop stronger ties with their classmates and upperclassmen. It is an inevitable truth that people get along with each other better when they are in a hyped up atmosphere, including engaging in alcohol-induced frivolities, than when they are not. Repositioning the festivals to the fall semester deprives the freshman of several months of potential friendship and bonding between classmates whose relationship previously has amounted to the exchange of awkward greetings in the hallway.
 

So we should not take the postponement or cancellation of college events in times of tragedy for granted. We students have been frequently informed by adults with no real explanation as to why one should stay in line with the grieving atmosphere of society following a tragedy. However, in the case of college events, and those in KAIST in particular, we should make a conscious effort to boost morale through participating in these events, in favor of freshmen friendships, healthy student mentality, and prevent being overwhelmingly succumbed to grief. Just as the nation has a responsibility to tend to the relatives of the lost ones of the Sewol ferry incident, the school has a responsibility to tend to our morale-deprived and grieving students.

 

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