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University Students Lost in the Political OceanStudents should extend political participation through meaningful and continuous actions
  • Na Soo-hyun, Yang Si-young
  • 승인 2014.05.26 23:46
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  ▲ On the Labor Day, the members in "Let's Play Together" participated in the protest of temporary employees held at the Seoul Station. /Photograph from Let's Play Together  

  University students today depend so much on SNS like Facebook, Twitter, or me2day for information. They consider political issues posted on those pages as fact, even though most of the information has no verified evidence.  Accepting online opinions on political hot potatoes uncritically shows that university students nowadays tend to be apathetic towards politics This is contrary to the belief that young people in their twenties are generally knowledgeable and eager to participate socially to benefit from the government.

  Additionally, this is not beneficial for the whole political culture of university students, because each individual’s political beliefs could be influenced easily by various external influences and situations. Likewise, political participation activities through SNS are not mostly not likely to be actualized into influential action; but only to remain as a filler in the temporary space of public opinion. Furthermore, due to the anonymity and inauthenticity of SNS, there are doubts about the credibility of its content. Because of these reasons, a detailed diagnosis of university students’ present political participation condition is needed urgently.

  University students are actually losing their interest in and eagerness for political participation according to a poll done by the Post. The poll, held from May 3rd to 8th, surveyed 300 Dongguk students. The result was that 90 percent of students are not even aware of the candidate's names, campaign promises and administrative activities of their city mayor candidates. In addition, only 34 out of 300 students have participated in politically meaningful actions more than once, and 13 of them had continued such activity for more than three months. Most of the students, who engaged in political activities in a transient manner, has written comments on SNS or their personal blogs, or debated with their friends about cover stories on newspapers, but this did not extend into meaningful participation and continuous action.

This low number of politically active students, which represents their voices on political issues, reflects a dramatically declining voting rate and participation in political mass rallies, with the result that positive recognition of their political views among politicians has simultaneously declined. Compared to the past 1960s to 80s, when the student movement was at its peak, students today seem to be rather negligent about their basic rights. Even the remaining political activities end up being temporary with little influence or promotion of political parties.

  Likewise, big movements that brought up huge social action ended up as temporary activities. About six months ago, on December 10th in 2013, the student of the Department of Business Administration in Korea University, Ju Hyeon-wu, put up a poster starting with the phrase, “Are you all doing well?” The poster denounced government policies of privatizing railroads and criticized the national intelligence services’ election intervention, and drew a great deal of support among university students. Numerous posters, dealing various social issues like government-designated school books, soon followed. 50 universities put up posters that month, and even high school students and adults joined to extend the movement into the whole society. However, this movement lasted for less than two months, not long enough to make any political changes. The movement failed to make actual changes on its targeted issues and because of its short duration and limited effects.

  Furthermore, other political activities that were held by political parties tend to be limited in the forms of advertisement. Members of National Assembly recruit student aids as a way of promoting themselves and their parties. In these positions, students can analyze data, suggest policies, listen to plenary sessions of National Assembly and assist businesses. However, their actual involvement is limited, and there is possibility that the positions serve only to provide political gains of parties. Yi Jae-oh of  “Little Joy” from the conservative party, “DECENT” of Sul Hoon, and many assembly members are running this program, but the greatest limitation of these programs lies in the fact that these are the activities controlled by official associations and have not taken root among students themselves.


Political Participation through daily life
Students should be aware of politics as a subject closely linked to our lives

  Then why is this phenomenon of passive attitudes among university students in political participation happening? Ho Gwang-seok, an alumnus of Dongguk University and also a professor of Political Science and Diplomacy major, memtioned it is because many students nowadays overlook the fact that politics is closely related to our lives. He added, “There are various causes for this ignorance in political engagement,  in part because the younger generation lives a very different lifestyle compared to the older generation;  they lived a more unified and simple life, whereas  these days many students tend to live much more diversified lives. Because individual students live more diversified lives, their solidarity with and accountability to each other has become relatively lower than in the past. This eventually resulted in low engagement in political participation among students. Thus, students ought to acknowledge that political participation is a subject that is intimately linked to our lives.” Furthermore he mentioned the political “Butterfly Effect” that even one person’s political participation is meaningful since our society’s development starts from the engagement of each individual member who makes up the whole society.

  Political participation derives from the freedom to speak, assemble and associate, the ability to take a part in the conduct of public affairs and the opportunity to register as a candidate, to campaign, to be elected and to hold office at all levels of government. Thus, political participation can be defined as those actions of citizens where they seek to influence or to support government and politics. However, political participation extends beyond parties. Individuals can also become involved in certain aspects of the electoral process through independent action and by joining civil society organizations. Moreover, professional networks, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and the media can all provide avenues for political participation. The interviews below are with university students who actively engage in political participation in various ways.

  Democracy started from participation of citizens, and voluntary political participation has been vitalized through this process, which is totally different from the past. Among the political participants, university students have influenced politics directly or indirectly, as critical forces of authority. Until 1993, when Kim Young-sam's term as a president started, they have aggressively participated in politics, to the extent that it was easier to count the days when there were no student protests.

 Likewise, Seong Kyung-ryung, a chairperson at the Presidential Committee on Balanced National Development mentioned the importance of youth’s political activities. “As quite a large percentage of people in their twenties are university students or alumni, their political views and concerns cannot be ignored. When their thoughts on politics are expressed out and get a bond of sympathy from the public, the influence could be considerable. Nowadays, the development of the internet and changes in the mediums of information delivery should allow the younger generation to participate even more in political issues. However, many of this younger generation lack political interest and have a strong distrust of politics compared to the older generations. The political indifference of young voters can be an obstacle to the development in democracy. To ensure a mature democratic society, citizens' extension in political participation is really needed, because it is they who can influence policies.” Thus, putting emphasis on the importance of political participation is needed for university students in their twenties, who are preparing for life in society. 

  University students do have the interest and motivation to participate in political movements. The “Are you all doing well?” movement and Political Diplomacy academic activities support this fact. However, as the poll indicates, there are only few students who actualize themselves with continuous activities. Abandonment of this fundamental right and duty as a citizen is a tragic fact. As Plato said in his book, The Republic, “The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”



1. Huh Woo-jin, a sophomore who majors in Political Science and Diplomacy, is the president of Politics and Economics research academic. This research academic is a place where students, who are interested in political issues, gather together and discuss the current political agenda or subjects. Furthermore, members in the group vigorously engage in political participation by expressing their thoughts, holding a protest, rally, and posting hand-written posters on the wall. The reason why he began getting involved in political activities is that he wants changes and reforms in certain fields such as the press and the prosecution. While he engaged in the political activities, he realized that he had to study more and begin to share his opinion with others by joining an academic institution, so he can gain broader perspectives. Through these activities, he said “I realized it was crucial to have the feeling of solidarity among social members, especially among university students so that accountability among each other can be built”.



2. Seo Eun-jung, a sophomore who majors in Political Science and International Studies, is the president of Model Nation Assembly. This assembly is a Political Science and International Studies society where students freely discuss the political issue or bills. Furthermore, in the second semester, members in the group engage in political participation by opening a play. She said, “Holding a play helped me a lot since it helped me to learn about the political issues, and more importantly, the roles each of us plays as citizens. After I participated in the play, I began to believe that everyone should realize they have right and duty to express their thoughts and opinion on any political issues, which are closely linked to our lives. Moreover, that participation should not end in a temporary manner.

3. Kim Min-ji, a sophomore majoring in Food Science and Technology, and has participated in the National Assembly Monitoring activity. This activity is one of the volunteer programs offered from the school. Specifically, she participated in policy monitoring, which is intended to check whether politicians have fulfilled their policies. She said, “Through this activity, I feel like I learned lots of things. In the past, I was interested in political issues just vaguely. However, after I finished this program I realized that it was crucial to have interest and also actively engage in political participation in order to have a keen perspective as a citizen. It is our basic right and duty. ”


 4. Choi Eun-mi, a junior and majoring in Sociology, is currently a member of the political activity club called “Let’s Play Together (Hamke-nosae).” This organization is initially established to remember the meaning of Labor Day. Also, they tried to organize events to notify students about the issues that are related to labor such as part-time job. She said “I think this activity is especially meaningful in a way that students can directly see what is going on in the society by meeting with irregular workers and those who are treated unfairly in working field. Thus, by these activities students perhaps would feel that a political activity is not something far from their daily lives; it is actually what is going on around us.”




Na Soo-hyun, Yang Si-young  sunny93511@dongguk.edu, sea0378@dongguk.edu

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