LAST MAY, The Yonsei Annals published an article entitled “Sexual Harrassment and Assault in Yonsei”. The article dealt broadly with the Yonsei Gender Equity Center (YGEC), which lacked funding and had only one counselor, which may become a major obstacle for the school to manage effectively sexual harassment and assaults in Yonsei. On the other hand, the incident at Nonji-dang last May revealed a more fundamental problem with YGEC and its concept of “gender equity”. The Yonsei Annals delved deeper into this issue to help Yonseians’ understand its complex implications.
May, at Nonji-dang
A posting “Is Our School Staff’s Standard This Low?” uploaded on Student Union Focus On Story’s website on May 2 described a controversial episode at Nonji-dang the day before. A number of students were taking pictures for their graduation album near Underwood Hall, when the rain suddenly fell. Students could not immediately avoid the rain, so female students went into Nonji-dang, which has a female students’ lounge, and male students took brief shelter from the rain under the eaves of Nonji-dang. Shortly afterwards, the YGEC staff member came out and asked the male students to move to some other place to avoid the rain, because if male students are standing near the female students’ lounge, female students cannot rest comfortably. It seemed that the staff member suspected the possibility of male students peeking through the windows of Nonji-dang. However, the male students could not help but feel that this was ridiculous, since it was possible to see the inside of the female students’ lounge anywhere below the eaves, and more importantly, there was no place else to avoid the rain. One male student asked the staff member to make a male students’ lounge, then, and the staff member replied with a question: “Doesn’t everywhere except the female students’ lounge become a male students’ lounge?” She added that male students could have a rest by sitting or lying down anywhere.
The posting’s content spread rapidly and was reported officially through the media, such as Money Today. The core problem was that a staff member at YGEC who works for true gender equity in Yonsei made a remark that ironically discriminated against men, at a place that symbolizes gender equity, Nonji-dang.
Four days later, NaIm Yoon-kyung (Chief, Yonsei Gender Equity Center) uploaded a post on the same web board that refuted the previous post by the student. She claimed that the YGEC staff member had asked the male students to leave because she had found some students peeking into the female students’ lounge. The female students would have felt uncomfortable, and therefore, the staff member had to ask the male students to move away from the lounge towards the office part of the building. She also claimed that the student’s post was definitely biased in that it eliminated the whole context of the situation, in which the staff member could not help but make such a request. NaIm also responded regarding the claim that “everywhere except the female students’ lounge can become a male students’ lounge” in the following way; while it might be deemed problematic, it is actually based on some objective studies revealing that female students cannot feel comfortable in places on campus where male students smoke or sleep, and therefore that the claim was reasonable. She also added that it was not right for the students to reveal this incident through the internet, without directly having a talk with the Nonji-dang staff member first.
In response, there were a lot of comments, which showed that students were indeed interested in this incident’s inside story. The writer of the first post, after checking the post by NaIm Yoon-kyung, refuted her version by saying that whether the result of the objective study can be applied in this case is quite doubtful in that there are no male students who smoke or sleep in lounge areas. Also, the writer posed a question about whether the male students could really have a talk with the YGEC staff member, when she ignored the male students and locked the office door on May 2nd. The post writer concluded by saying that, seeing how the chief responded this way even after knowing the YGEC staff member’s remark, it seems that YGEC still has not developed much from the past Female Student Center.
Afterwards, no additional mentions were made of the incident. However, according to the voice recording of the conversation between the same YGEC staff member and the anonymous informant, the YGEC staff member described the students as “non-intellectuals who are not willing to communicate” and expressed the claim that “students are not mature,” which showed that it may be quite difficult for a smooth conversation to take place between the students and YGEC.
Disputable school regulations
Three months passed, and a wallposter was hung up at the Central Library, pointing out some problems of the newly revised “Yonsei University’s Regulations on Prevention and Management of Sexual Violence”. However, the wallposter was damaged three days later on Aug. 7 and could not be seen thereafter, with its content only left on SeiYonNet and the Focus On Story website.
The wallposter pointed out that, in addition to the remark of the YGEC staff member that discriminated against men, there actually exist a number of factors in our school regulation that infringe students’ rights and gender equity. First of all, it pointed out how the school regulation uses the term “victim” and “assailant” even before the accuser and the accused enter a legal process. It is actually right for these terms to be in use only after the legal process ends and reveals whether the incident was a genuine sexual crime or not. Moreover, the regulations specify only the cases where the accuser is the victim, therefore having no disciplinary punishment or at least a declaration of innocence where the accuser had accused a legally innocent person as the assailant. In addition, the wallposter criticized Clause 2 of Article 13, “The committee can have the assailant write a public apology with his real name revealed under the victim’s agreement”, claiming that revealing the accused person’s real name without his agreement is an infringement of human rights, identifying the accused as the assailant. Based on the wallposter’s content, it can be summed up that the school’s regulations do overlook the possibility of the accused actually being an innocent person.
However, the wallposter went one step further to point out that even the victim’s human rights are infringed. Clause 1 of Article 4 reads, “the victim does not gain any disadvantages regarding the process of solving the incident, only under the condition that the victim follows the regulated procedure.” The writer of the wallposter made a careful guess that the victim may not be able to get into a legal process without the school’s permission and this clause is thought to have been included in order for the school to avoid publicly announcing sexual crimes in school. Also, according to the conversation between the writer of the wallposter and the YGEC counselor, “it can be completely ignored, or the involved person can be punished, or the school will not help him” when the one involved in the incident asks the school to let him enter a legal process, claiming false accusation or proving sexual violence. In response to the question, “what if the school had wrongly judged a person who is legally innocent as the assailant and revealed his real name?” the YGEC counselor replied that “the school’s right to punish is completely independent from the legal procedures, and therefore, the legal entity’s decision is not related anyhow.”
This wallposter, written based on the school regulations and the replies from YGEC, strongly indicates that students will have to be aware of and actually get rid of this invisible danger. Students will have to take action to press for removing these faults and flaws in the school regulations and the YGEC interpretation that prevent sexual crimes from being solved according to appropriate legal procedures.
When the above-mentioned wallposter was hung on the Central Library, the news media MBN reported on Yonsei University’s regulations regarding sexual crimes through their program “News 8”. The content of “News 8” had a similar stance to the wallposter. It included an example of Lee, a real student at Yonsei University, who was notified to visit YGEC to be investigated for suspected sexual crimes, but really did not know what he had done wrong. Lee had claimed to YGEC that he would rather be investigated by the police, but YGEC replied that he would be punished more severely if this goes out of school. The reporter also highlighted the possibility of false accusation and secondary damage by saying that “the school will have the absolute right to judge who the assailant and the victim of the reported case are, but having only one counselor who lacks expertise be in charge of all incidents can lead to more incidents.” The reporter’s closing remarks were indeed critical towards the school regulation: “It is expected that bigger controversies may arise towards the university’s expediency that tries to muzzle students by extreme disciplinary measures.”
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The incidents regarding YGEC have occurred two times this year, but there has been little movement to solve the ironic situation in terms of gender equity and sexual crimes in Yonsei University. Regarding the Nonji-dang incident, the Students’ Union revealed that YGEC will now have a conversation with the Union, showing progress after the Nonji-dang incident. However, regarding the school regulation problems pointed out on the wallposter, the discussion between the Students’ Union and the school is still not satisfactory.
A posting that reveals the voice recording and its content of the conversation with the YGEC staff was uploaded on Aug. 25 on SeiYonNet and Focus On Story website. Looking at it, students expressed how they found the staff’s remarks and attitude very unpleasant. However, expressing their negative reactions online is not enough. Students will have to take proactive participation and shout out loud the change they want, as staying the way it is now may hamper the achievement of true gender equity at Yonsei, let alone students’ human rights.