|Human Rights Center of Dongguk University and "Open Her" are carrying on a campaign, “No Means No” by hanging the banner on campus.|
|/Photography from "Open Her"|
Celebrating the World Human Rights Day, December 10th, Seoul Metropolitan City organized an event called, “The Maze Runner: Human Rights Trial” at the City Hall of Seoul from December 5th to 16th. It makes people enjoy the maze escaping game by solving the quiz, as well as get the knowledge of human rights. It is also expected to introduce the universal declaration of human rights, spread the culture that respects the rights of all human beings, and enhance the sensitivity of the rights. This can explain that efforts to raise consciousness of human rights tend to be made actively.
With this trend, Dongguk University made a pact with the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea in August 2016 and was designated as a human rights education and research-focused university. According to the agreement, they have planned to cooperate with each other to improve human rights on the campus and the regional community by means of the joint development of human rights education program and exchanging information regarding human rights. The National Human Rights Commission has promoted making business agreements with other universities across the country to foster better campus environments for human rights. This trend shows that there is growing attention towards human rights on university campuses.
Human Rights Center, growing attention to human rights on campus
As society has started to be concerned with human rights, discussions regarding human rights in universities are also on the rise. The increase of posing issues related shows a growth of interest in the public, especially among students, who are regarded as weak on campus. Over the last few months, a considerable number of hand-written posters that highlight sexual molestation on campus have come into the spotlight. In addition, the movement to discuss and respect human rights on the campus has become more active.
The establishment of Human Rights Center in each university is one example of the increasing public attention over human rights on campuses. In 2012, Chung-Ang University (CAU) was the first to found a Human Rights Center on campus. Members within the school can report various incidents related to human rights which occur at school to the Center and get advice from the experts. Human rights problems are diverse and include things such as violence, verbal abuse, and discrimination based on various attributes such as appearance, gender, and disability.
After the first Human Rights Center within a school was founded in CAU, five more universities set up their own Human Rights Centers on campus: Seoul National University, Korea University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Chungbuk National University, and Dongguk Unversity. The existence of Human Rights Centers on campuses can be reliable to members of each university. Kim Seon-jeong, a student from CAU who have visited the Human Rights Center, said, “When I went to the Human Rights Center for advice, it helped me a lot. I feel assured of leading my school life since then.”
In the case of Dongguk University, Human Rights Center was set up in 2015. The Center of Dongguk also conducts counseling for the human rights problems and programs like seminars to encourage the awareness of human rights. In addition, it creates a group of students to monitor the situation on campus regarding human rights called, “DU Rights.” Students from the group conducted a campaign and held lectures related to human rights.
Shim Hyun-jung from Human Rights Center of Dongguk said, “Actually, the Center cannot be the institute to solve problems completely. However, it has the meaning of existence as it suggests the importance of protecting human rights.”
Promotion of activities to raise awareness and practical support is required
The limits of protecting human rights on campus
Although there are efforts to ensure human rights at universities, violations still remain. Recently, the cases of sexual harassment against students have risen to the surface.
On October 31st, a hand-written poster was issued in Korea University. The writer was a student who suffered from sexual harassment by other students on campus. She criticized the school for not protecting her from the harassing students. Moreover, the poster included the fact that the perpetrator’s sentence was commuted to the suspension for about eight months and monetary penalty, and he now leads his normal school life. The victim filed a petition for the commutation but the school has not given an active response. Korea University is one of the universities which have their own Human Rights Center on campus. However, the Center does not seem to have power to enforce the school to reprimand victims.
A similar incident happened in Dongguk University as well. A student from the Department of Philosophy revealed the sexual harassment she experienced to the Student Council, and the Council investigated the case by themselves. At this point, however, the perpetrator keeps denying his accusation and appropriate measures are not being taken such as the separation between the victim and the perpetrator.
The graduate school students are not exceptions from being human rights abuse victims on campus. According to the last year announcement of the General Student Council (GSC) of graduate school of Dongguk University, 32 percent out of 103 teachers’ assistant students were not paid even though they had worked over 40 hours in a week.
The GSC of graduate school recently conducted a research on students, who are working as teachers’ assistants, regarding their working environment. Shin Jung-wook, the chairperson of the GSC of graduate school, said, “Graduate school students are not treated as they should be, although they are undoubtedly student workers. Wages have never increased over the past ten years and the rights to work have been violated.”
Efforts needed to make human rights abuses free campuses
Several supports and aids are essential to protect human rights especially on campuses. According to the official regulation of Human Rights Centers in universities, the Centers mostly counsel and protect a victim after they have been reported that human rights have been abused. Since the Centers of universities are acting just as an investigation agency, all they can do is to request the school to call a human rights committee meeting. The limited role sometimes becomes an obstacle for victims who want a perpetrator to be disciplined as soon as possible. If the Centers become independent organizations from the school, the dealing period with the reported matters would be shortened.
Unfortunately, schools do not seem to support Human Rights Centers as much as they can. Shim Hyun-jung, a counselor of Human Rights Center of Dongguk, said, “In our office, we have two people, including me, who can cover all the work of the Center. In case of Seoul National University Human Rights Center, there are three lawyers and one trained counselor. Having enough number of experts would be helpful for victims. Also, there is lack of space to counsel with the victims and perpetrators. Still, the environment is not getting better.”
Educational programs that cover the issue of raising human rights consciousness would be one way to improve the school’s atmosphere regarding human rights. In Dongguk University, taking a human rights education program is not mandatory, but Seoul National University is planning to make it a graduation requirement. Park Eunjin, an expert of Seoul National University Human Rights Center, said, “The number of program attendants of Seoul National University has been doubled compared to last year. This means people tend to think that they feel more responsibility to know and be educated regarding human rights.”
Even though Human Rights Center of Dongguk conducts an educational program, it is hard to cover all the students and school members to be educated since only who apply for it receives it. Counselor Shim mentioned, “Taking a training program would be a great help for school members in terms of raising consciousness in human rights.”
Moreover, the former candidate of General Coed Student Council (GCSC) have suggested proposals to make students have higher consciousness about human rights: increasing the number of lectures on women’s studies and gender equality and holding an academic lecture of human rights. Kim Ye-jin, the former candidate of the chairperson of the 30th GCSC, mentioned, “I think a rudimentary understanding of human rights is insufficient among students. Human rights should be considered as a fundamental rights because we are human beings. The misconception must be handled and that is why I proposed the ‘increase of lectures on women’s studies and human rights’ as my election pledge.” Then she added, “Realizing even a simple word would hurt others is the first step to have the sensibility of human rights and gender equality.”
In this regard, Human Rights Center of Dongguk runs “DU Rights,” where student members can be involved in solving human rights problems. They carry on campaigns to promote the awareness of human rights on campus and track hidden cameras in restrooms with the police. Park Mi-ra, a student member of “DU Rights,” said, “While working as a member of ‘DU Rights,’ I can listen to other students’ experience of human rights violation and hate speech, and be aware of the poor human rights situation on campus.” She also commented, “There are a lot of human rights abuse cases such as sexual violence and the abuse of power. However, students have no place to turn to when they face something unfair. Therefore, it is important for students to take part in activities regarding human rights on campus.”
Students’ activities towards the protection of human rights
The importance of students’ independent movements regarding human rights on campus is also gathering strength. Students make efforts to enhance their consciousness in human rights by organizing their own groups and hosting discussion seminars.
There is a feminism network called “WOM-jik-im” in Dongguk University. Its members discuss social standards to distinguish men and women and misogynic instances, which are main matters of human rights. Their ideal goal is to protect female Donggukians’ physical safety and their inner minds.
In addition, Dongguk University’s school magazine, “Open Her” has been issued since 2015 to deliver oppositional voices of Donggukians against violence and discrimination on the grounds of gender within the campus.
The Editor-in-chief of “Open Her,” Sung Im-eun commented, “We are trying to pull out the gender related matters that have been hidden inside by reporting them through articles. We are expecting Donggukians to be encouraged by our articles and raise their voices on the society.” She added, “Other than issuing the magazine, we also organize seminars to listen up more opinions of Donggukians regarding the gender issues such as gender stereotype, gender roles, and feminism on campus. On the seminar held on November 23rd, we had a discussion about the widespread male dominant atmosphere on campus, especially towards male students who were discharged from the army.”
In case of Sungkonghoe University, the first Human Rights Commission consisted of student members has been established this year. It aims at the formation of human rights friendly communities through students’ independent and self-regulating activities. It also launched a Human Rights Week for the first time to elevate the various identities’ voices and introspect “us.” An Do-hee, the executive secretary of the Human Rights Commission, mentioned, “Independent groups of students can get out of the relations of power, experts and professors, and agonize over the issues around intensely and with subjectivity.”
This trend of students forming their own groups that have their eyes on human rights on campus has also become more widespread. Especially, it is worthy of notice that university students create groups whose members can share their practical lives with one another. For instance, the number of small clubs which belong to each department of school is on an upward tendency to discuss and monitor the issue regarding feminism. In Korea University, there are small clubs of departments such as the Department of Geography Education, the Department of Classical Chinese, School of Media & Communication, and School of Interdisciplinary Studies. Kwak Kyung-min, a student from Korea University, said, “Small clubs of each department of school can have a bigger effect than other kinds of groups because they are made up of close friends in the same department. Accordingly, members of clubs can regard related issues as their near situation. Furthermore, students will begin to double their effort to change themselves.”
Ironically, we are trying to protect the most basic rights that we have as humans. True “human rights” are not meant to be taken away from people and universities, and advanced institutes should not take lead of such infringements. Expert Park Eun-jin mentioned, “I think school members should have been educated about how important human rights are early in their lifetime; but they have not been so far. Thus, many education programs have to be organized from now on so that people can think about this matter once again.”
Lee Min-jeong, You Eun-sun firstname.lastname@example.org
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