YONSEI UNIVERSITY’S former General Female Student Council, PRISM is embroiled in an on-going struggle with the acting General Student Council, MATE. The source of conflict is a disagreement over the use of conference room 324 in the Student Union building. Once used as the office of the General Female Student Council prior to its abolition in January, 2019, room 324 has continued to be used by PRISM to conduct activities in spite of increasing disapproval from MATE. The situation reached a breaking point when MATE, unbeknownst to PRISM, installed a lock on the door of the room barring all entry. With tensions escalating between MATE and PRISM and no clear solution in sight, The Yonsei Annals reached out to both parties to hear each of their perspectives.
We Are Still Here
Last year’s May edition of the Annals covered the buildup to the student referendum regarding the abolition of the General Female Student Council as well as its immediate aftermath. In the year since, the uncertainties regarding PRISM’s status have given rise to a new conflict. Defying the results of last year’s referendum, PRISM has contested the validity of the vote itself while refusing to discontinue its activities. PRISM argues that a complete student body election violates the rights of its members due to its status as an autonomous student council. In an interview with the Annals, the current president of PRISM, Lee Min-sun (Sr., Dept. of Theology) said, “We represent the voices of female students, and a schoolwide student referendum includes voices that are irrelevant to this issue. If the election consisted of the schoolwide female population and the result favored abolition, I would humbly accept the outcome.” Although PRISM has requested the disclosure of the percentage of female students who voted in the referendum, this request has been denied. PRISM has refused to back down declaring that: “A democracy can only begin with the coexistence of mutual respect for diverse opinions.” Going a step further, PRISM has suggested that the precedent of a schoolwide referendum would leave all similarly autonomous organizations in the student community vulnerable to the possibility of abolition at any time based on a “majority’s voice.”
In light of these circumstances, PRISM has rejected the referendum results and announced to the student body, “We Are Still Here.” PRISM is currently maintaining its decision to continue with its activities within Yonsei University and to fulfill the duties delegated to its members. Thus far, it has participated in human rights festivals and hosted exhibitions and lectures on digital sexual violence, self-defense, and feminist empowerment. However, this is not to say that the results of the referendum were lacking in significance.
Losing the female voice
With its official status as a member of the Central Management Committee revoked, PRISM has forfeited its allotment of student union fees and the ability to represent its members in the committee. Furthermore, PRISM has also lost its seat on the Sexual Violence Countermeasure Committee.
Lee expressed her regret about the abolition of the General Female Student Council to the *Annals*, stating that the removal of PRISM from the Central Management Committee has resulted in “one less organization that advocates for female students,” whom she feels were already under-represented. Moreover, losing the ability to participate in the Sexual Violence Countermeasure Committee has greatly limited PRISM’s ability to bring about real change in the student community.
The Sexual Violence Countermeasure Committee is composed of ex officio and recommended members, such as the head of the Human Rights Center, Counseling Center, and Student Welfare Center. As a formal organization, its decisions are enforced by Yonsei University’s own internal school regulations. Prior to the abolition of PRISM, the student representatives consisted of appointed members from the General Female Student Council, General Student Council, and Graduate Student Council. As a considerable number of sexual abuse victims are women, Lee stated, “It is unfortunate we are no longer able to represent the female voice.” She went on to admit that, “In comparison to human rights festivals and student led activities, losing our formal position has made it more difficult to create substantial change such as assisting in the detection of illegal hidden cameras and establishing procedures for sexual violence counseling.”
Meanwhile, PRISM has been critical of the lack of organization displayed by its successor, the Sexual Abuse Committee. Although it has been over a year since the abolition of PRISM and establishment of the Sexual Abuse Committee, there seems to be no progress in the structuring of the committee, evidenced by an overall lack of information regarding the organization. “PRISM is much more than an organization that focuses on issues related to sexual abuse, which is why its substitution with the Sexual Abuse Committee is a limited and reduced interpretation of what we do,” stated Lee. She explains that as a woman in society, it is still an inevitable reality that women are at a greater risk of sexual harassment and face certain disadvantages; PRISM was intended to provide a voice for all female students over a broad range of issues.
However, PRISM’s decision to informally continue its activities has been an uphill battle. Many members have faced harsh and unjustified remarks on social media and public forums about their private life. Lee recounted an instance when her father had driven her to school and people had barraged them with offensive comments such as, “The General Female Student Council president’s dad is ‘jot-man-hae*.’”
The ongoing conflict
Since its abolishment, PRISM has continued to occupy and use room 324 of the Student Union Building as a conference room for its activities, becoming an ongoing source of tension between it and the General Student Council. On March 21, 2020, the General Student Council decided to take action by placing locks on the room’s doors and attaching a warrant for closure.
The root of the current conflict can be traced to the student referendum, in which the subject of the General Female Student Council room was not included. On May 31, 2019, the then General Student Council FLOW posted an eviction notice on room 324 stating that the purpose of the room had changed, and that PRISM’s members were to remove their personal items from the room by June 9. However, PRISM objected to this decision, requesting to discuss the use of the room as it had originally been allocated to them until the end of the year. Accordingly, PRISM notified the General Student Council of their intentions to continue using the room until the end of the year in September, 2019, and no further action was taken.
Beginning this year, the newly elected General Student Council MATE contacted PRISM regarding the use of the room. While these discussions were ongoing, PRISM began contacting other human rights student organizations and proposed a plan to use the space as a human rights library. MATE has been receptive to these discussions but maintained its stance that PRISM should first vacate room 324 before any future decisions were made. Then, on March 21, the General Female Student Council found itself abruptly locked out of the room. PRISM has since asserted in an official statement that the General Student Council has no authority to deny them access to room 324, but its door has nevertheless remained shut.
The President of the General Student Council, Kwon Soon-ju (Sr., Dept. of Mech. Engin.) spoke with the Annals to clarify the situation and gave the following response: “Last year, the school stated that room 324 was to be used as an autonomous body conference room. The authority to approve the usage or lease of said conference room lies with the General Student Council, and we believe the room had to be closed until this issue is resolved for it to be fairly assigned [for another use].” The General Student Council has affirmed that it does not wish to prevent the autonomous activities of PRISM but asserts that PRISM must acknowledge its current status as an unofficial general student organization.
Despite the conflict of interests, both sides have stated their desire to resolve their differences through further dialogue. PRISM has called for better communication from the General Student Council, and for his part, Kwon has remained adamant that “We never decline any requests to discuss the issues of students and we will respond to any formal request submitted by the General Female Student Council.” Counter to the claims made by PRISM that there has been a lack of communication and response to the requests of the General Female Student Council, Kwon stated, “These requests were not direct correspondences, but were requests we received through the Office of Student Affairs and Services for a three way meeting which we thought was unnecessary.” Ultimately, despite the requests of PRISM to discuss the usage of conference room 324, such conversations were unable to be carried out due to the differences in pre-conditions for discussion. MATE insists that the room first be vacated before any further talks, whereas PRISM holds that conversation should come first.
In contrast to the two parties’ expressed desires to resolve the situation through dialogue, the developing situation seems to have been further aggravated by the removal of posters and hand written sticky notes put up by PRISM on the front door of the General Student Council’s conference room. According to an official statement by MATE titled, “Here’s the Truth,” PRISM has been periodically posting statements filled with incorrect information on the General Student Council’s conference room door since March 25. As members of the organization felt threatened by some of the language used in the messages, MATE felt the need to restrain further statements. According to MATE, the posters were blocking the doorway and made it difficult to see visitors approaching through the door window. Consequently, after posting a notification on the door that the posters will be removed by the General Student Council, MATE proceeded to move the posters from the door to the noticeboard located next to the entrance. However, the posters continued to be attached to the door with increasingly offensive and insulting statements. Furthermore, MATE accused PRISM of accosting its members in public spaces and harassing them with verbal assaults, leading the General Student Council to openly demand a cessation of such behavior.
In response, PRISM denounced MATE for “utilizing PRISM’s negative image to spread false information under the guise of ‘truth.’” Moreover, PRISM asserted that the General Student Council had no right to remove the posters on their door as those messages were representative of the voices of the student body. Stating that the role of the General Student Council is to represent the voices of all Yonsei students, PRISM urged MATE to rethink its approach to the situation, while refuting all of its allegations. .
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As the negotiations between the two student organizations continue, the school administration has remained impartial on the issue, maintaining that the students should resolve the matter amongst themselves. Despite the negative reputation that PRISM has acquired, Lee of PRISM expressed the desire to remind students, “Many people think we are being stubborn and posting negative comments, but PRISM still exists and continues to engage in activities because there are people who need us.” On the other hand, Kwon of MATE asserts that “it is difficult to understand the perspective of PRISM who is denying the voices of the schoolwide student election.” It remains to be seen whether a compromise between the two parties can be reached.
*jot-man-hae(좃만해): very offensive Korean language to insult someone as physically small