GENDER EQUALITY has been gaining mass attention as feminist movements reveal issues often hidden beneath the surface of Korean society. Despite being an economically developed nation, South Korea has often been criticized for repeated instances of gender inequality in the workplace, educational institutions, and households. However, the growth of feminism has increasingly empowered women to report incidents of sexual harassment and raised awareness of gender equality. Recently, the #MeToo movement exposed the prevalence of sexual misconduct, especially in the workplace and educational institutions, and has encouraged individuals to publicly address the issue. In response to emerging concerns about sexual misconduct on campus, Yonsei University has actively utilized its Center for Gender Equity to launch programs to prevent sexual harassment and provide aid for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Gender equity in Yonsei University
Yonsei University’s reporting and counseling program for sexual violence began in 2000 and is now run by the Center for Gender Equity. Originally, the center only focused on programs supporting female students and directly aiding women. But growing public awareness of gender-based harassment and violence has prompted the development of new programs aiming to increase gender sensitivity and preempt these issues on campus.
All students and staff at Yonsei University are required to listen to annual online lectures as part of a national government program to raise awareness of sexual and domestic violence. Incoming freshmen are lectured on “Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence” and “Prevention of Domestic Violence” during their orientation, and returning students at Yonsei can access these lectures online through YSCEC* or request further information from student clubs and councils. Professors at Yonsei are required to complete an additional lecture on how to assist students who have become victims of sexual harassment. In addition to these programs, upon request, the Center for Gender Equity provides basic education for understanding sexual and domestic violence as well as information on how to empathize with, assist, or guide victims.
In an interview with The Yonsei Annals, a representative of the Center for Gender Equity stated, “The most common reason students seek counseling at the Center for Gender Equity in Yonsei University is sexual harassment between students including verbal harassment and sexual violence.” When victims closely related to the perpetrator are uncomfortable handling the situation on their own, they are able to request assistance from the center to manage the case according to the rules and regulations of the university.
Reporting sexual violence
When students seek counseling from the Center for Gender Equity, all cases of sexual misconduct are handled according to the rules, procedures, and guidelines established by the administration of Yonsei University. Students reporting an incidence of sexual harassment can receive counseling assistance and write a formal report. If a student chooses to file a report, the university launches an investigation by meeting individually with the reporter and the respondent of the case**.
Evidence is gathered and both sides are allowed to provide testimony. If the reporter is willing to make a settlement, and the respondent agrees, the case will be closed. For example, if the reporter comes to a consensus with the respondent that the respondent will take a leave of absence for a semester, then the agreement will be drawn up and the case will be concluded. However, if the reporter is against negotiating a settlement, then the university will go through an official procedure in which the Sexual Violence Measures Committee will review the case and determine whether the report constitutes sexual harassment and what, if any, disciplinary measures should be taken.
Above all, the Center for Gender Equity emphasizes the importance of consent. When consent is not given, the center will respect the wishes of the victim and not forcefully open an investigation. Even during the investigation, if a reporter withdraws his or her report or requests to stop the investigation, the case will be halted.
The center also strives to guarantee anonymity throughout the entire process. Many students involved in cases of sexual violence reach out to close friends which can result in the spread of gossip and false rumors instead of healthy support and guidance. So the center generally recommends the victims and perpetrators not to confide in anyone other than their close relatives and immediate family.
Programs and facilities
Apart from the counseling provided by the Center for Gender Equity, Yonsei University also provides a number of other on-campus services. Beginning in the 2000s, many domestic universities within Korea have established women’s rest areas to provide a safe space for female students to relax. As one of the first co-ed universities in Korea, Yonsei began creating such spaces as early as 1948***. These areas were established by the Office of Student Affairs and Services to provide spaces for the traditionally minor female population to gather, rest, and spend time. Currently, there are 11 women’s rest areas around campus such as in the library, college buildings, and the Student Union Building.
The Center for Gender Equity also holds a program named “peer counseling,” in which every semester, students are recruited by the center and educated on issues related to gender, sexual violence, dating, and prostitution. This semester, students are involved in promoting a campaign of gender equity on campus by planning competitions, special lectures, and videos related to improving gender equality at Yonsei University. In an interview with The Yonsei Annals, Lee Sung-yoon (Jr., UIC, International Studies), a member of the peer counseling program, stated “Currently, I am involved in creating two videos: one on how much students know about dating violence, and another on students’ reactions to controversial lyrics. We chose these topics because there are many gray areas relevant to our lives that we are unaware of, or have difficulty addressing, such as our personal relationships.” Both videos can be found on the peer counseling program’s Instagram (@yonsei_peercounselor) and Facebook accounts. The center representative told the Annals that “Although students complete compulsory lectures on sexual and domestic violence at the start of their university years, we believe that a group of motivated students will help spread awareness of sexual violence to the school community in greater depth.”
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The Center for Gender Equity plays a vital role in addressing issues of sexual harassment in Yonsei University. In the future, the center hopes to increase the accessibility and effectiveness of its services by employing more counselors. Greater awareness of this issue will provide a foundation for preventing future instances of sexual misconduct and gender based violence.
*YSCEC: Short for Yonsei Creative Education Community; Yonsei University student portal
**While the investigation is ongoing, the victim is referred to as a reporter and the perpetrator, a respondent.
***Yonsei University Center for Gender Equity