The Problem With College Rankings

1. Introduction

I did it for four years and hated myself for it. Every new college that I heard of, I would google the same thing: “X University rankings”. And after the couple milliseconds it takes for Google to pull up an arbitrary figure to answer my impatient call, I would make an instant judgement upon the school, a multi-building, multi-department institute with thousands of people, dozens of programs, and a myriad of pros and cons I couldn’t possibly fathom in that moment.

I did that for four years, hated myself for it, and kept doing it. I kept doing it because it made things so easy. The prospect of having all those colleges lined up from zero to one hundred right before my lazy eyes was convenient and compelling. How could it not be? Comparing schools becomes as easy as 2nd-grade math. The warring higher education system of an entire nation is laid to rest under my scrolling thumb. It’s irresistible sometimes.

Further research and rational thinking weakened the grip college rankings had on my mind, and by the time I was actually getting results back from schools, I cared much less about that label. That’s not to say I didn’t care at all—but I believe I struck the right spot of caring only as much as I should. So I put together this article to organize my thoughts and knowledge on the matter, as a final plea to those juniors now heading into this scary and often toxic process: try to keep the rankings out of sight, out of mind.

 

2. The Flawed Logic of Those Magical Numbers

The first truth is that ranking colleges is not possible. Well, it might be possible to say Harvard is a better school than Idaho State University. But what I’m talking about is the kind of rankings that some Korean parents are prone to see: like how Johns Hopkins is ranked 4 spots higher than Vanderbilt, or that UCLA is “tied with” Washington University in St. Louis. Surely anyone could see the ridiculousness of perceiving based on rankings alone that “JHU is better than Vanderbilt” or “UCLA is the same as Wash-U”. That’s plain silly.

Did you know that colleges is not the only thing that U.S. News & World Report ranks? Their various “rankings” provide them with most of their website traffic. Some of their other lists include “100 best jobs” (software developer is #1) and “world’s best places to visit” (Paris takes the top spot). They attempt to use objective measures such as pay or job satisfaction for jobs and hotel quality for travel destinations, but you don’t hear anyone claiming that everyone should try to be a software developer and everyone should go to Paris, because that would be stupid. Career paths depend on personal preferences and so do travel destinations. I don’t doubt that software developers make lots of money and have stable jobs. I don’t doubt that the vast majority of Paris tourists end up loving the city. But that doesn’t mean the so-called “rankings” dictate what jobs or cities are objectively superior over others and therefore should be preferred by everyone. (Cartographer is ranked #18, by the way, and I’ll be damned if as many people fought to become cartographers as people fight to get into Notre Dame, which is apparently the 18th best university in the U.S.)

It’s the same for colleges. Of course academic reputation matters. But ranking metrics can only take into account measures for which there is an objective scale of bad to good. This includes things like student-faculty ratio (the smaller the better) or average SAT score (higher the better). It makes sense to compare these things, but it also means there is no way to compute factors such as school size, athletic involvement, or location. Some people want to go to school in an idyllic, secluded rural town, while some cannot stay away from a booming city. Some can’t stand the snow, some can’t stand being surrounded only by white people, some can’t stand not having frats to join, and others couldn’t care less. Of course rankings can’t take all these things into account—because it’s a matter of difference, not superiority. And at that point, how much weight should these numbers hold? Maybe Idaho State is better than Harvard. Maybe a student from Idaho simply wants to study close to home. Maybe a student has more financial aid from Idaho State. Maybe (hold onto your hats) the student simply doesn’t want to study at Harvard. That student’s choice is as valid as any other’s. 

3. The U.S. News & World Report: Shadows & Corruptions

If you’ve delved into the college process a little bit, you’ve probably noticed there’s more than one set of rankings. Times Higher Education, Niche, Forbes… all may sound familiar. But the end-all-be-all trump card of college rankings is the list by U.S. News & World Report that I’ve been referring to. It is cited the most, referred to the most, and generally taken as the standard set of rankings. So let’s delve into this one in particular to point out all the shady spots.

They tinker with the methodology every year so people pay attention to changes in their rankings. Ultimately, they’re just trying to get people to buy their magazines. So they weigh various factors slightly differently so that universities end up “moving” a few spots each year, when nothing inherent about those schools have changed at all—but, gasp, it causes such a buzz if Stanford “goes down” two spots!

They contribute to pushing tuition up. Their methodology gives more points to colleges that spend more money per student. Because schools care so much about ranking higher on the list, they spend more money and raise tuition to cover the costs.

Colleges game the system. Because the list is so well-read and highly regarded, it encourages unethical activity among colleges just to rank a little higher. Claremont McKenna was slammed in 2012 when they admitted they had been submitting false SAT scores to publications such as U.S. News. Even outside of such outrageous acts, colleges are pushed to do things like turn away capable applicants on purpose to increase yield or aggressively encourage applications just to turn away more people, because of course, brownie points for lower acceptance rates.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. A whopping 20% of their rankings are based on “expert opinion”, which is basically high school counselors and academics ranking the schools according to their personal view. This is supposed to reflect general academic reputation. Well, guess what, most of those people’s perception of academic reputation is derived heavily off the U.S. News list. And that’s supposed to contribute to… the U.S. News list.

This only begins to scratch the surface of what’s wrong with the methodology and general system. The worst thing, though, is that it contributes to a sense of status anxiety and encourages toxic competition, which most high schools don’t need any more of. Some things can’t be perfectly quantified—among those things are university quality and the amount of emotional distress college rankings cause across the globe.

If you’re still not convinced what a sham college rankings are, I would encourage readers to read this article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell (it’s lengthy but enjoyable, well-written, and potentially eye-opening): https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/02/14/the-order-of-things

4. What Can Rankings Actually Be Good For?

Let me push pause on the angry-senior-mode bashing. To be fair, college rankings can be a useful tool for students or parents for which the American higher education scene is completely foreign. It provides a rough sketch of what well-known institutions are out there, and perhaps can serve as a starting point for a student beginning to research colleges if they know close to nothing to begin with. Besides, if the rankings were indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy of vague reputation level and nothing more, even that could be useful. Much of society functions based on “vague reputation level” anyway, and I am not here to discount the potential importance of name value.

Beyond that, however, it is essential the college search process remains trained onto its authentic purpose: to provide a home for a student that will intellectually and socially nurture a young adult for four years. That task is much more complex than a numerical list may suggest, and it is critical that juniors entering the process keep their priorities in mind. So rankings, while sometimes useful, need to take a back seat in the decision process. The strength of specific programs, campus setting, athletics, greek life, weather and location—ideally, all such things would be considered.

5. The Bigger Issue: at KIS, We’re Bred To Care

Besides the inherent flaws in the attempt to rank colleges, the KIS climate exacerbates these limitations to turn them into active problems. If no one cared about rankings, they would be harmless. They could be like a Buzzfeed list of “26 best rom-coms of all time”—entertaining to read, a source of inspiration in times of boredom, but recognized for its subjectivity and holding close to no authority on the actual subject at hand. That wouldn’t harm anyone.

But the way some KIS students and parents respond to rankings can be harmful. Acronyms like “HYPS” schools (which is really nothing but an arbitrary set of four very well-known schools that are very different from one another) or the Ivy League (again, eight schools that share an athletic league and not much more in common) float around casually, there is a toxic trend of parental bragging rights (or shame, on the negative end of the spectrum), and the general frenzy drives some families to spend tens of thousands of dollars on consulting services that guide and sometimes near-falsify student resumes. SAT cheating scandals. College essays “heavily edited” (basically drafted) by outsiders. Gossip on who’s applying where. Pressure not to apply so others have a better chance. In terms of college admissions culture, we should be ashamed of ourselves. There is a certain irony in how the brightest people fight for spots at schools that are considered the pinnacle of higher education, and that in this fight, students and parents end up going down and dirty, stooping to their lowest levels.

We can do better. I know it. We can do better than working ourselves into hysteria and stressing each other out.

So what happens if, perhaps, you chased your own idea of a good school instead of trusting a random magazine’s idea of one? A quick interview with ’18 KIS alum Judy Jahng revealed that when she first wanted to apply to Northeastern, she did not have much support from the people around her, since it was ranked lower than what they thought she should aim for. But she knew her priority in a college education was getting real-life work experience and access to career opportunities, found Northeastern’s co-op program, applied, was accepted, and chose to enroll. This is an example of someone that took a step away from obsessing over rankings and found what was right for her.

I don’t have an absolutely bleak outlook on this. In fact, most people I know in my class have been pretty careful about rejecting rankings when other factors were clearly more important. But the culture of putting emphasis on prestige has definitely been tangible throughout the process and a stressor for many.

6. Moving Forward

Sadly, I am one of the biggest beneficiaries of this name game. It would make me a liar if I claimed I haven’t perceived the changes in how people treated me after being accepted into universities. It would make me a pretentious liar if I claimed that didn’t make me feel good sometimes. I’ve been hired as a tutor without having to present further qualifications or proof of experience. The least I could do is be honest about it.

Here is the real takeaway I hope to leave you with: as KIS students, we live in an inherently privileged bubble. It’s a community of internationally educated students who can afford the hefty tuition of a private high school and eventually a degree from a foreign university. The bubble drives many people here into insanity, picking at the difference between a “top-20” and a “top-30” school. But the world is much wider and life is much less predictable than our bubble may suggest. Less than 7% of the global population ever graduates from college. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we’ve simply been conditioned to care so deeply about certain things because we’ve been part of a small, self-selecting group for so long, but that it’s also within our power to step away from that. 

I write this thinking of the juniors I care about. I write this as a plea, knowing college rankings will, for all the wrong reasons, deeply bother or deeply motivate some of those individuals that I love and wish a happy future for. I wish I’d stopped caring about rankings much sooner than I did and I wish the same thing for my underclassmen. This is also a plea for all students to stop judging others based on the ranking of the school they end up going to. It has no bearing on how happy they will be on campus come this fall. It has no bearing on their strength of character. It has no bearing on their future success.

I guess it’s easy for me to write this, having had fortune on my side during the college process. But as I face an impending final decision on which school to commit to, I know that if I was the kind of person to choose the school that’s “ranked higher” for that sole reason, I would never have gotten into either of those schools in the first place. I got into those schools at least partially because of my genuine desire for education and self-betterment, for recognizing what my unique needs are, and to me, college rankings are an antithesis to those things.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Featured Image: Yale University

4 Reasons to Avoid Senioritis

The time has come once again— as the second semester kicks off, the halls are lit up by jokes about a special group of people going through a special time: seniors. “Oh, let’s count how many days you show up to class,” someone says; “but who cares about APs at this point?” someone asks. Senioritis is an annual phenomenon that never fails to disappoint. Once that last college application has been submitted, 12th graders seem to instantly slump into a state of indifferent lethargy.

The obvious argument against senioritis put forth by KIS administrators and counselors is: if your grades drop significantly, you may get your college admissions offer rescinded, or worse, fail to graduate. But everyone knows this is quite rare. Most students suffering from senioritis slack off just enough so that they put in minimal effort to avoid serious consequences. That’s not what I call “avoiding senioritis”. I’m arguing for active effort, straight through the end of the semester. What if we actually worked as hard, or even harder, than we ever have?

Why would we do that, you ask?

Well, keep reading.

Senioritis contributes to the “college is everything” culture. KIS has suffered from an environment that stresses college admissions above everything else, and seniors know this better than anyone. They are the most recent victims of a society that places value on individuals and activities for their admissions-related consequences. All-star intelligent student? Oh, but he didn’t get into an Ivy. Intriguing after-school activity? Oh, but it won’t help you get into college. How annoying has that been throughout our high school lives?This is exactly the kind of mindset we should be fighting. But by refusing to care about school after college applications are all turned in, seniors contribute to the idea that college is the end-all, be-all goal. So can we instead decide to fight that idea, and make the most of our time in high school for its inherent value?

Senioritis shows disrespect to your teachers. Imagine you’re one of those teachers that put in hours after school to plan classes and think about students. It hurts to think that students don’t care at all. Above all, it would probably hurt to see how someone who showed active effort and real interest in first semester completely disappeared after they got into college, showing you that it was all a fake mask. Taking it easy is okay; completely reversing your attitude is not.

Second semester is your transition to college. This is the last semester seniors have before heading into college, which will undoubtedly be a time with a more intense workload and much more individual responsibility. So if your choices include watching Netflix for 7 hours straight after school, forgetting about studies entirely, and not bothering to earn a passing score for your APs, this may affect you moving forward. For example, many APs are given college credit— so it’s probably beneficial to look up the AP credit chart of the schools you may be attending so you keep the motivation to do well on those APs. Besides, if you get into the habit of maintaining a horrible work ethic and time management patterns, you may suffer once you step onto the college campus.

It’s a chance to explore and do what you really want. Take college admissions out of the equation. That gives you a whole semester to do what you really want. In truth, the three reasons I have mentioned thus far pale in comparison to how passionately I believe in this one. It’s good, I think, to relax a little when it comes to academic work. This is a time to let go of grade obsession. But jumping straight into the pool of naps and TV-bingeing is a wasted opportunity. Instead, see this as a chance to invest in other things. What kind of person do you want to be? What is something you’ve always wanted to do? Maybe you can sign up for songwriting classes, go out to concerts, start working out, or learn how to cook with your mom. You could potentially head into college a slightly changed person.

In the end, the only advice I put forth is to not let this time merely go to waste. Most of all, seniors should keep in mind that this is probably the last time you will spend large amounts of time with your current friends— those you’ve laughed, cried, and struggled with, perhaps shared your first sip of alcohol or your first love. So take that into account. Show up and make more memories to end your tumultuous journey on a shining, wholesome note you won’t end up regretting once you’re off in college.

– Jisoo Hope Yoon ‘19

Featured Image: James Lee (12), Yejean Kim (12), Daniel Kim (12), taken by the author

How Korean Slang Words Discourage Individuality and Voice

Do some words we use every day somehow contribute to a harmful culture, without anyone knowing or intending it? Follow writer Hope Yoon as she discusses Korean culture and language.

The English-only policy at KIS does little more than to make students quiet down a little when they pass a teacher in the hallway. Understandable, given how deeply rooted most students are in their native culture. You can take a child to the States for a few years, take away the school uniform, and take away the Korean curriculum, but ultimately, you can’t take the Korean away from the kid. So for the majority of the school, the dictionary of Korean slang terms is a necessity for surviving the trials of social life. It seems pretty harmless, even when used as lighthearted insults— after all, if it gets the whole class to laugh, how bad could it be?

But there is a pattern here. While Korean culture has both its charms and chains, the teen lingo in particular seems to enforce only the harmful byproducts of a society based on Confucianism. The prime example is “나대다”, which loosely means “to act up”. But there is a specific nuance here not captured by the English translation— one of putting people down if they speak out or express themselves in a way separate from the masses. A student who asks four questions in a row in class, simply to satisfy their curiosity. A student who cheers unusually vigorously at a pep rally. A student with flashy clothing. All could be put down in a single strike with the label “나댄다”.

A slightly more crass and somewhat outdated synonym is “깝치다”, which is, incidentally, often used to criticize an underclassman who opposes an upperclassman in any way. Yes, even Korea’s age-old emphasis on seniority status bleeds its way into slang usage.

One insult hugely popularized in the last couple years is “관종”, or attention-seeker. This word teaches teenagers that it is not okay to garner too much attention; that one should strive to be soft-spoken, to blend into the crowd without disturbing the established fluidity of conformity. Not only do people call each other a “관종” for going against the status quo, this also makes people doubt themselves. One often observes a fellow student wondering if they should say something in the group chat or post something on social media for fear of coming across as a so-called attention seeker. This subconsciously oppresses willingness to be different, or to be true to one’s identity and expression. And besides, why should people take this as a criticism anyway? Don’t we all seek some form of attention from other people? Isn’t that just human nature?

The list goes on and on. Someone who goes out of their way to help another, even when genuinely acting out of altruism, could be criticized for their “오지랖”. Someone who takes a subject seriously during conversation, or poses a heavy question could be called a “진지충”, which is a term for someone who is “too serious”. A literal translation is “serious bug”. Consider an example— if you hear a passively sexist remark and decide to address it seriously by pointing out the offensiveness of that comment, you are suddenly reduced to an “insect”.

Everything boils down to an all-encompassing term. “눈치”, or the ability to tactfully pick up others’ unspoken opinions and feelings. We are supposed to always be hyper-alert of what other people think of how we act and what we say. We are supposed to be careful. Of course, we need some 눈치 in the sense that we need to be sensitive of how others feel, and it is practical to be able to tactfully steer a conversation. But sometimes, our culture places too large an emphasis on being someone that has 눈치— but how will we live our lives the way we want to live it if we are forever thinking about how other people live theirs?

Slang words may seem harmless. After all, they are only names to label existing patterns of behavior. But names are never just names— words carry a world of magic, dirt, and history, accumulated from every situation that word has been used in. Language is a shifting, palpable manifestation of culture. Once you create a name for something, that concept becomes a real and concrete presence in that society. And a powerful, catchy name combined with a harmful connotation is a dangerous concoction. It then permeates throughout society to silently shift people’s viewpoints. I am not arguing this is a uniquely Korean thing— consider the term “pussy”, which at once promotes hyper-masculinity and misogyny. The existence of that word wrongfully connects femininity to cowardice and shame, and this exercises an influence on society, no doubt.

Language is a powerful tool, and perhaps we should take more care in choosing when and how we use it. Once in a while, I believe we should feel free to throw away our 눈치. To be unafraid of being someone that acts out, someone that gets attention, someone that knows how to be serious, or just plain different.

다르다고 손가락질받지 않는 사회가 되었으면 하는 바램입니다.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (‘19)

Special thanks to the members of Project Echo, whose discussion largely inspired this article.

KIS’s Public Speakers Jump-Start the Year

Through the chaos of maintaining a full load of coursework and a somewhat functional social life, some KIS students find the time to practice intentional argument and oral persuasion. On Saturday, September 15th, the varsity Speech and Debate team made their way to school for the first-ever, full-day forensics workshop, and MUN members for a mini-MUN conference.

The Speech and Debate captains had been planning the workshop since before summer, with the intention of gaining familiarity with a wider portion of the school. All interested middle and high students were invited to learn about speech and debate, and team members were given targeted workshops run by captains and other experienced competitors in order to gear up for the upcoming competition.

“I feel like members fully experienced what it’s like to be part of the varsity speech and debate team. I had a lot of fun teaching as well!” -Min Jun Kim (Debate Captain, Lincoln-Douglas)

Debate members ran high-level practice debates, complete with teachers who were training to judge at KAIAC. Their other activities included case analysis, using an almanac, and an “interrogation session”, where one member stood in the middle of the room as others asked questions to attack his/her argument. Speech members, on the other hand, could be spotted after lunch playing “freeze”, an improv game meant to work on performance skills and team bonding. Poetry members analyzed Sylvia Plath in a literary huddle, extemporaneous members researched current events, and more.

Mini-MUN simulated the debate in a General Assembly committee, focusing on getting the over 20 new freshmen club members accustomed to the MUN debate style. Andrew Kim (11), Sujin Park (11), Felix Lee (11), and Joshua Rhee (12) served as chairs, practicing their skills in leading a committee in debate. While the club members debated, Jin ah Jeon (11), as the SEOMUN Administrative Director General, was busy training the 7th and 8th graders in being an administrative staff at SEOMUN, explaining everything from setting up placards to helping chairs maintain order.

“Although many of the novice delegates were hesitant to speak up at first, with the experiences delegates as an example, delegates soon found their voice.” -Andrew Kim (club officer, SEOMUN Disarmament Commission Deputy Assistant President)

“I saw a lot of young minds and ideas that just need some confidence.” -Sang Kim (club officer, SEOMUN Deputy Secretary General) 

Please support the Speech & Debate team in their upcoming tournament on October 19th, as they compete to keep the KAIAC championship title for the third year in a row, and the MUN members as they prepare for the upcoming Seoul Model United Nations conference.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19) & Chris Park (’19)

 

*If you have any questions about Speech, please direct them to Hope Yoon (12) or JJ Kim (12). Debate, Leanne Kim (12), Jenny Chung (12), Janie Do (11), or Min Jun Kim (11). They are always happy to help!

*SEOMUN is a leading student-organized MUN conference in East Asia for the past twenty years. KIS is hosting the 21st annual session, which is attended by over 600 students from 35 schools in 11 countries. More conference information can be found at www.seomun.org. Any questions about MUN, please direct to Andrew Kim (11), Charles Park (11), and Jiyeon Kim (11).

True Magic: KIS’s Beauty and the Beast as a Testament to the Power of Theater

KIS’s very own theater department put on their spring production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Complete with sold-out tickets and standing ovations, the show not only broke records for the school but shed a light on the sheer power and joy of dramatic performance.

“Theater is an empathy machine,” says Ms. Cuellar, and the cast and crew of KIS’s recent production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast could not agree more. It was a successful show in every way possible, definitely leaving a tangible mark in the history of KIS theater, but it now stands to represent something much larger than that— a visualization of what it means to connect, work together, and create beauty with fellow human beings.

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The townspeople made a striking entrance with the opening number, “Belle”.
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Gaston was not only the villain, but the antithesis of the play’s central theme of true love.

Beauty and the Beast made new strides and broke records that will certainly be difficult to top in the future. Tickets were sold out for the first time in KIS theater history, with additional chairs being brought in for the Friday night performance to accommodate a more-than-full house of 446 people. 1046 tickets were sold in total, the highest number for any KIS show to date, multiple people buying repeated tickets to watch the show a second time. And, of course, each performance ended in a booming standing ovation— not yet a common sight in KIS theater. Sydney Langford, the choreographer who worked with the cast and crew from the very beginning of the rehearsal process in January, said that “I’ve worked with this department before for The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan, but the Beauty and the Beast production was next level since the first rehearsal… In my honest opinion, [they] have truly outdone every high school production in the world.”

And most of the magic did not happen onstage. It happened on the paint-stained aprons of the art students that decorated the set, in every hinge and nail the stagecraft students drilled into the sophisticated rotating stages, and in each poster and decoration put up by the front of house crew. It happened in the hidden darkness of the pit orchestra and the hushed quiet of the light booth, where the aural and visual components came together in extraordinary chemistry. It happened in the velvet folds of the curtains the run crew closed swiftly after each entrance and exit. Without the strikingly realistic food items made by the props crew, Be Our Guest would not have been the captivating number it was, and without the iconic blue dress or the shimmering golden makeup, characters like Belle and Lumiere would not have come alive onstage in the same way.

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The castle servant characters were well-noted for their costumes and camaraderie.
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Be Our Guest received lengthy applause each night.

Such unbelievable hard work and cooperation showed its fruition in the audience that soon became a part of the magic. Even non-KIS students and adults came to watch the show. Blueprint collected 8 reviews from the audience. All of them rated the show 5 stars out of 5, and most named Be Our Guest as their favorite song from the show. One audience member said they were impressed not only by the lead actors, but rather the “whole cast because I could see for myself that there was not a single role that was not important”. Another audience member even described it as: “it was like Broadway came to KIS and had affordable billing for twice the excitement”.

“ The stage, the acting, and the witty lines really brought this production to life. Even the costumes felt like they legitimately came from the Disney movie. I barely even realized that three hours had passed. My only regret is coming to watch it only once on Saturday night, when there were three other showings.” —Jaehong Park (9)

“I’ve watched every single show from the theatre department and I am confident that Beauty and the Beast was the best one so far. I can’t believe that this was a high school production. I would watch it again and again and I would be amazed every time.” —Alice Yoo (12)

But while the audience members only came across the final product, every member of the cast and crew know that the process was what was truly valuable, having each felt to the core how powerful theater is. Studies have shown that involvement in drama activities increases students’ self-esteem, reading comprehension, and academic confidence. But beyond such benefits, there is something genuinely out of the ordinary about the KIS theater community. Each member is welcomed into a family, where everyone is accepted for who they are. For many students who join, theater is the first space they ever feel so comfortable in their own skin.

This is why the bonds forged in theater often transcend beyond high school. The upperclassmen—underclassmen barrier that invariably exists in every other class and club in Korea suddenly dissipates. Beauty and the Beast was a true exemplar of this; combining middle and high schoolers together in the cast and crew caused no rifts or divides, as one would expect. In fact, during rehearsals, 11th- and 12th- graders enjoyed bantering with 6th- and 7th- graders as much as they enjoyed the company of peers their age. Anyone present during rehearsals would have testified to the incredibly supportive environment, where everyone was striving to build each other up and create a collectively positive experience for all. It would be safe to say that there is the least amount of negative “drama” to be witnessed in the drama department.

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Mrs. Potts and Chip were not the only characters to begin crying by the finale on Saturday night.

So it is no surprise that the entire cast and crew broke into frenzied tears following the last curtain call on Saturday night. It marked the end of a journey— costumes to be taken off for the last time, the set to be walked for the last time, the curtain to fall for the last time. Dozens of people continued to sob for hours straight, embracing everyone they came across. As heartbreaking as it was, the scene almost had a certain humor to it: students would begin to calm down, only to come across yet another face they had shared this experience with and break into tears all over again.

But the end of this show really is no heartbreak. It is a memory now, to be smiled upon and cherished. It has forged a little birdhouse of love in each student’s heart, where theater will forever have a place to live. The production has come to an end, but it has given something indispensable to each individual that partook in its magic, to be carried forth into dozens of lives. The power of art truly is a tale as old as time. On the hardwood floor of the stage, where the odds and ends of the high school social scene come together to expand each other’s creativity, where the very definition of humanity is amplified, a certain James Barrie quote seems more relevant than ever—”those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Picture credits to Sara Kim

Me Too— The Male Perspective, and Why Both Women and Men Need Feminism

While the Me Too movement has definitely brought some walls down, it has received its share of criticism. Why is it so, and how might it be worse in Korea? Closer examination of the issue reveals that division between the genders arises from a core misunderstanding of how sexism and feminism operate.

The Me Too movement has taken Korea by storm, but its debris is doing serious damage. While largely hailed as a sweeping progressive movement that has broken many long-held silences, its faults cannot be ignored, and the movement is facing especially strong criticism in Korea. In striving to propel the momentum into a positive direction, we must examine all perspectives— while promoting gender equality and eradicating sexual assault is a goal that the vast majority can agree on, specific movements and methods of taking action are a different issue.

The first major criticism is that the movement has the potential to become somewhat of a witch hunt. The inherent nature of sexual assault allegations is that it is extremely difficult to prove either side of the issue. Thus, opinions have surfaced that the Me Too movement has turned the “innocent until proven guilty” tenet of the democratic justice system into “guilty until proven innocent”.

This has reached an extreme effect in Korea following Jo Min-Ki’s suicide, an actor who faced multiple sexual assault allegations, setting off the Me Too movement in Korea. Some people think it problematic that a single allegation can be enough to destroy someone’s public career, although this seems disproportionate when compared to the destruction of a victim’s dignity and happiness following sexual assault.

The true problem is that amidst torrents of voices genuinely sharing their stories and exposing perpetrators, there have been a couple of false accusations. This has completely muddled the positive energy of the movement and thrown dirt into its values. Even in KIS and other international schools in Korea, some male students have expressed concerns about this aspect of the movement.

This leads to victims facing backlash once they take the courage to speak up, in addition to the rampant victim-blaming. Girls are often asked what they were wearing when it happened, or whether they’d been drinking, as if to imply that some of the incident was their fault. If women receive less empathy and solidarity than questioning and finger-pointing, what happens to the power of speaking the words “me too”?

Another way in which the movement has backfired in Korea is that it has led not to unity between the genders, but an increased divide. Korean women in workplaces have reported being separated from their male colleagues; the problem is that the movement has inspired more fear in many men than empathy. In the male-dominated corporate sphere of Korea, then, the movement has had a negative effect on some women who are being left out of office gatherings, business trips, and social and networking opportunities [2]. (It must be noted that the news outlet that initially reported this as an issue, Chosun Ilbo, has been criticized for reporting an occasional instance as a widespread trend. Readers are advised to note that this occurrence is not universal.)

The value of the Me Too movement certainly lies in that it gives victims courage and builds momentum to eradicate a vicious culture. But the fact that it is dividing the population and not uniting is the core of the problem. Feminism is about unity, because it’s about eliminating sexism, and closing the chasm between the genders. It’s all interconnected— sexism, victim-blaming, and the misinterpretation of the Me Too movement as misandry. There is a crucial distinction to be made here: feminism promotes equality of the genders, while misandry is prejudice against men.

Why is the male perspective often left out when discussing sexism? They make up half the population, and contrary to popular belief, are also negatively affected by sexism. This is because, first of all, gender stereotypes are harmful at either end of the spectrum. Just as girls are categorized as weak, delicate, and over-emotional, boys are also expected to be aggressive, extroverted, and detached. Although sexism affects women more, since they are the belittled and marginalized group, the other end of the spectrum also suffers as a consequence. It is emotionally damaging for a boy to be told that he cannot cry, or that it is abnormal for him to be sensitive or emotionally expressive, when none of these supposedly “feminine” qualities are negative at all. Sexism breaks the heart of a girl who dreams of becoming a firefighter, but it does the same to a boy who yearns to be a nurse, and it does so unseen. This is the concept of “toxic masculinity”, and is definitely a product of sexism, although a lesser visible one.

So what does this have to do with the Me Too movement?

Lots. The reason why the movement should not imply a divide between the genders is because male victims exist, and so do female perpetrators. This is not a fight of man versus woman. It is victim versus perpetrator. That is why there is only one right side in this conflict, and it is against the criminals, the abusers of power, the damagers of human rights.

One in ten rape victims is male. But we never hear about this, and we never talk about this. Male victims can sometimes feel more pressure to stay silent. They are asked: “why couldn’t you fight back?” They are told: “didn’t you enjoy it?” Every aspect of this stems from sexism— the presupposed notion that the male is always stronger than the female and should have dominance over her, as well as the misguided stereotype that men are supposed to always crave (heterosexual) sex, because that is what society has defined “masculine” as. This undoubtedly connects back to why some male perpetrators are celebrated instead of corrected.

What’s more, a recent scientific study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology concluded that holding sexist principles actually harms men’s mental health [1]. A meta-analysis involving almost 20,000 men concluded that men who adhere to harmful gender norms exhibited significantly worse social and psychological health. Sexism is not only a social injustice, it is also inherently damaging for everyone.

So how must we press forward with a movement that ends up malfunctioning when combined with the poisonous culture of victim-blaming, gender-dividing and sexist stereotyping? We must hold true to the core of what the movement is about, and the invariable truth that it is trying to express— sexual harassment and assault exist. They exist everywhere. They harm women. They harm men. Silence is no longer okay. And those of us standing on the right side of history must stand together, instead of turning on each other, because in the end, we share a common goal. The right side of history will press to achieve justice for victims and the falsely accused. The right side of history will strive to empower the female voice and ensure that the male voice is not erased from the conversation. Somewhere down this long and winded road, we will find that the fight has been worth it, and that it has raised humanity up as a whole, not just a ragged portion of it.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Sources:

KIS Needs #MeToo

What is the #MeToo movement, why is it so relevant, how does it matter in Korea— and in KIS? Why should we care? Read the article to stay aware, and to read what KIS students have to say about sexual harassment and assault— the voices that have been silenced for too long. This should not be invisible any longer.

“This is not a male thing or a female thing, it is not a Hollywood thing or a political thing, this is a human thing. And it happens in the workplace, it happens in families, it happens all over the world, and we’re all the same.” 

– Ellen DeGeneres

Every woman in our lives has experienced a slice of this world that they never wanted a glimpse of— sexism, misogyny, and sexual objectification. At some point, these realities cease to shock us. They become part of the air we breathe. They do not surface in conversations. The sicker the injustice, the heavier the cover-up, and the subtler the culture, the more invisible its grip.

It has long since reached boiling point.

And now, a worldwide phenomenon now has fed-up women breaking the silence.

The Me Too Movement protests the pervasive culture of sexual assault and harassment. It spread virally online in October 2017, mostly as a social media hashtag used by victims in order to demonstrate the issue’s pervasive and widespread nature, as well as expressing solidarity by sharing their own experience. Countless brave women and men have spoken out with their stories, including top celebrities exposing the rotten core of their industry.

The Washington Post has called this an “open secret”: something hidden, and yet also well-known. “It happens, everyone knows it, but no one talks about it.” This extends beyond just an individual’s lust and misdeeds— it has to do with the larger culture, the power structure that makes up the very basis of society. While this is often discussed in the context of Hollywood, where someone important can make or break your career and use that power to gain advantage over you, this could not be truer in Korean society.

In this country, the Confucian roots are deep and long-running. From these roots rise a strictly hierarchical system that affects every family, school, and workplace. And when this top-down, vertically structured culture meets a country characterized by an unusually wide gender pay gap and a seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling, it becomes so easy for mere misogyny to flower into harassment, then into assault. No wonder, then, that the Me Too movement in Korea takes a slightly different flavor, distinct from that in America. It fights through multiple layers.

Rape and harassment may sound like such distant concepts, but they really are not. The root of the problem is in this culture where sexual objectification is accepted and sometimes even encouraged. Where does this culture start? School. Yes— sexism, objectification, verbal and sometimes even physical harassment is present in KIS, too, no matter how unaware we may be about it. At the most basic level, it surfaces in “locker room talk” discussing female students’ bodies; at the most extreme level, it is in student relationships where one party is coerced into unwanted physical contact.

But “boys will be boys”, it is said.

“Teens will be teens,” it is said.

And thus the “taboo” topic is never discussed, the victims too afraid to speak up, and outsiders too shrouded in blissful ignorance.

But how should we feel, knowing perpetrators of this crooked culture sit uncorrected in our classrooms, laughing with their friends and wearing a clean reputation like a gleaming armor?

Blueprint interviewed two KIS high school students about the issue, “Mary Kim” and “Mia Choi”.  (Fictional names are being used for anonymity. The interviewees have been brave in sharing their perspectives; readers are asked to be respectful and refrain from speculation.)

“It happens when the guy thinks it’s okay to treat [sexual advances] as something casual because you’re in a relationship and you feel that it’s an obligation to make them happy [through such acts].” – Mary

Students can be especially vulnerable because they lack the age or experience in navigating relationships.

“I experienced sexual assault from my partner. I never knew something like this would ever happen to me[…] honestly, I thought it would be less common [here] since Korea is such a conservative country. I think people should know that this can happen to anyone with anyone.” – Mia

Because the issue is never discussed, victims are caught completely unaware once it happens, and are left without systems of support.

“Since it was my first time being in a relationship, I thought it was normal. I felt violated and scared, yet I had nobody to talk to, since I didn’t want to [worry my parents].”  Mia

Victim-blaming is an entire issue by itself; in the aftermath of such experiences, students feel silenced and guilty, trapped in self-blame. The sensitivity of the issue prevents healthy conversation and communication.

“Some guys think [victims are] just being stupid and not standing up for themselves. But actually being in that perspective, it’s difficult to refuse because it feels like [your partner] has a certain power over you.” – Mary

“I had a really hard time since I felt that everything was my fault. [I thought] I should have said no louder, or that maybe if I told someone, I would not have gone through it. [But] it is never the victim’s fault and no always means no. [Even now,] I still struggle to not blame myself.”  Mia

Mia said she thought she could fight it off alone, but that she was wrong. Shame on all of us for sustaining such a climate, in which sexual rumours and gossip is allowed to pervade the student body without being called out. Why should the Me Too movement ground to a halt when it comes to the school setting? Why is it that KIS students are given extensive lessons on college admissions or “leaving a legacy”, but are never taught about consent? Where are the conversations about rights and respect? Where is the awareness around sexism or date rape? Where are the support systems?

There is only silence here.

If a candlelit protest was enough to reverse a corrupt government, this movement now attempts to reverse a corrupt society. Not everyone can be a trailblazer, breaking barriers and punching down walls, but at the very least, we can be #Withyou. We have the choice to recognize that even if we ourselves haven’t experienced it, and none of our close friends have, that does not in any way mean that it does not happen. Because it does. And it’s time to wake up to that. We have the choice to sympathize with victims and express solidarity instead of shaming them or reducing them to chewed-up pieces of gossip. We have the choice to stop conversational objectification the next time we hear it. We have the choice to be With Them, not against.

– Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

Featured Image: https://parismatch.be/actualites/societe/83810/mouvement-me-too-vieux-10-ans-plus-hashtag

Source: Washington Post visual documentary “Hollywood’s greatest betrayal: How sexual predators operate in plain sight” https://www.facebook.com/washingtonpost/videos/197021417560598/

The Plight of the Basic B*tch

The “basic” girl is a stereotype full of disdain. As we dig deeper, we find that perhaps the use of this modern slang term may imply something about our deep-rooted social anxiety and casual misogyny.

Ashleigh has a second birthday, and that’s the annual date when Starbucks reintroduces the pumpkin spice latte. She wears her Lululemon leggings to weekly pilates sessions. She takes a picture of every meal, angling her camera directly above her food, and flips between five filters before she makes a choice. Ashleigh loves her oversized sweaters and ugg boots, wears her hair in a messy bun, and her favorite movie is “Me Before You”. People love to point fingers at her and call her a modern slang term that rolls off the tongue so easily, it almost doesn’t feel like an insult: “basic b*tch”.  

“Basic” is a modern insult that has trended for the last few years. It describes a girl who follows all the trends, and embraces being feminine— a girl like Ashleigh. The basic girl’s consumer patterns are unabashedly mainstream. For those unfamiliar with the common usage of this term, this may not sound like an insult, but rather a satirizing tease. But the truth is, calling someone basic may be the biggest put-down of all. It robs the girl of her individuality, telling her that she is the most predictable stereotype out there, and reduces her to something less than a person, a flat cartoon character. It tells her that there couldn’t possibly be anything interesting about her. “Basic” shames her lifestyle.

Making fun of someone as a stereotype is a way of distancing yourself from that concept. The same goes for terms such as “hipster” or “white trash”. By calling a girl basic, you’re rolling your eyes at her taste, and announcing to others that you are above that. It’s a clever way to flatter yourself: “Ashleigh is such a basic white girl,” you say, as you imply that you are better than her, that you are more interesting, more unique, and more intellectual. There’s a certain anxiety going on here, a social fear of being a conformist.

What’s bizarre in an interesting way is that for one to be popular, one needs to be a certain degree of basic. After all, society shuns those who are “too different” just as much as it makes fun of those who are basic. Like every other standard with which we judge people, there is a precarious balance that the perfectly likable person needs to strike: basic enough for social media, and weird enough for a reputation. So while calling someone basic may sound like a call for diversity and individuality, it does the opposite; it’s part of a grueling process in which “unlikable” stereotypes are whittled off until a very narrow spectrum of “likable” people are left— not too chill and not too passionate, not too intelligent and not too dumb, not too outspoken and not too shy, not too basic and not too unique.

Besides, the term may also embrace casual misogyny. After all, men are rarely called basic. There is no popular derogatory term for someone that likes beer, football, and buffalo wild wings- perhaps the “bro”, which is more of an endearing label. A part of what the basic girl is shunned for is her love for her feminine identity and feminine habits, and the insult, in part, targets what is “too girly”.

The truth is, there should be no shame in Ashleigh loving her pumpkin spice latte. The act of putting her down by calling her “basic” is much more criticizable than her seasonal sweet tooth. One shouldn’t have to be afraid to enjoy mainstream things— rom-coms and Taylor Swift songs do not have to be labeled a “guilty” pleasure. There is no guilt in enjoying what you enjoy. After all, some of the most fascinating people I have met in my life have been so-called basic girls. The next time you’re tempted to call Ashleigh basic, remember that she may also be a social activist, a poet, an astrophysicist, or one of the kindest souls you will ever come across.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)
Cover Image by Hannah Kim (’19)

The Self-Hatred In Our Mirrors

Body image is a crippling force that can choke or inflate us. What does it mean to love yourself, why is it important, and how can insecure teenagers navigate this world?

The hallways are a battleground, and on most days, you’re out to kill yourself. They are always at the back of your mind: the eyes that must be scanning you for flaws, the comment that must have stemmed from judgement, and most of all, the bathroom mirror that must have reflected the gaze of thousands of students picking themselves apart before shuffling away to their B block classes, still thinking about their noses or shoulders or legs, perhaps even an ugly pinky finger. Meanwhile, the media sings of slim limbs and wide eyes, the religion we were all introduced to unwittingly.

You’re not alone. A 2013 survey of Korean female university students showed that almost 95% of them were unhappy with their bodies, and 61% of them said they felt the need to lose weight to be more attractive.[1] All of them were in the normal weight range. Even small children are beginning to lose their naivete- according to the Body Image Center, 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to lose weight, and in another survey, 81% of ten-year-old girls reported to having dieted at least once.[3][5] What’s important is that, according to a study commissioned by Dove’s self-esteem project, a girl’s self-esteem is more strongly related to how she views her own body than how much she actually weighs.[4] Think about it: this means their self-hatred stems from their own minds rather than actual appearances.

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 10.41.17 AM.png
(The 1965 Slumber Party Barbie came with a miniature scale fixed to read “110 pounds” and a mini-book that read “How to Lose Weight: Don’t Eat!”)

The effects are devastating. Teenaged girls with low self-esteem are three times more likely to engage in behaviours such as disordered eating, self-harm, and bullying, and 78% of them admitted that it is difficult to feel good at school when they do not feel good about themselves. But these statistics and the prevalence of self-hatred comes at no surprise to many of us- it’s the water we swim in. After all, studies have shown that conventionally attractive students are more popular, both with their classmates and teachers, who give them higher scores and have higher expectations of them.[5] It continues later on in life- attractive applicants have a higher chance of getting jobs, and earn higher salaries when they do. They are even more likely to be found innocent in a court of justice. Can we blame these teens for having their minds on their looks?

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What if we saw more models like Kim Ji-Yang on TV and magazine covers?

A large portion of this comes from the media. The average American woman weighs 165 pounds at 5’4, while the average American model weighs 120 pounds at 5’11. Overweight characters in film and television are often the “lovable comic relief”, ready to be ridiculed to get a laugh out of the audience. Meanwhile, the romantic heroes and heroines are typically more muscular or thinner than average. This has a powerful grip on the population’s psyche, since people are exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements a day, and the average American watches five hours of television daily. [5][6] Because people psychologically rely on external models to form their self-perceptions, their concept of an “ideal person” is molded by the media.

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Could you imagine this commercial by Dove airing successfully in Korea?
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Or does this one (by Victoria’s Secret) seem more familiar?

The “ideal” body is fictional. It is a mirage we chase after. And there is no strategy, no workbook to follow, because eventually, the only tool we have to love the way we look is our own willpower. Some never get there; but is it not incredibly liberating to think that you could live a life free from self-judgement? It’s so easy to pass this off as “impossible”, because it requires a total shift in perception, but challenging yourself to stop criticizing your body in the mirror is the more valuable thing to do than spending hours staring at pictures of people we want to look like, sacrificing precious time at the shrine of physical beauty.

When I was little, I found it peculiar that my mother would peer into every mirror we came across, turning around to examine her legs. I would tease her about it. Then I felt self-conscious about my body for the first time in middle school. As I tried to lose weight in 8th grade, I remember catching myself looking into every random mirror, and suddenly realizing that I had crossed a threshold that I may never be able to cross back. Maybe I’ll look into mirrors all my life, well into my 50’s and 60’s. Maybe this is how I’ll end up wasting away so much of my hard-earned happiness. Maybe this is generational, and my daughter will look at me with the same confused eyes when I stare too hard at a mirror or opt for a menu objectively less delicious.

I write this article as I google the calories in my Starbucks drink. Some of you have never done this before. Some of you do this every single day, even while knowing how irrational it is. Maybe you’re even opinionated enough to lecture others about it, as I am, and maybe you’re a victim nevertheless, as I am. I do not pretend to be any wiser than I was in 8th grade, or any happier about how I look. But things have changed, even from the mere realization that I was a prisoner of my own mind. There was a certain power, new and electric, in taking ownership of my body and consciously reminding myself that every second I spend dissecting myself is a fraction of my life wasted, and that I have much better things to do. I began to blame society, but it was better than blaming myself.

I know the next time my friends and I start comparing and criticizing our own bodies, I will be the one to cut the conversation off. I know I’ll stop complaining about the way I look to those around me. I won’t let it slide when someone in the room says something like “she’d so pretty if only she lost some weight”. This is a lifelong journey, but I am not lonely, because I know many of my readers are on this boat with me. We are all headed the same way. Maybe after enough genuine compliments and supportive conversations, after enough forgiving glances at the mirror, we will learn that sometimes, happiness is a choice.

– Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

 

Sources

  1. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160613000623
  2. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/about-face
  3. http://thebodyimagecenter.com/education-awareness/eating-disorder-statistics/
  4. http://www.isacs.org/misc_files/SelfEsteem_Report%20-%20Dove%20Campaign%20for%20Real%20Beauty.pdf
  5. http://www.sirc.org/publik/mirror.html
  6. http://www.waldencenter.org/popular-searches/media-and-body-image/
  7. http://www.businessinsider.com/how-much-tv-do-americans-watch-2016-6

Image sources

  1. Featured Image- Hannah Kim (‘19)
  2. http://kollaboration.org/tag/kim-ji-yang/
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/21/dove-real-beauty-campaign-turns-10_n_4575940.html
  4. http://www.wunderweib.de/victorias-secret-der-kritik-perfect-body-kampagne-82381.html
  5. https://www.pinterest.co.kr/pin/575897871080779834/

SJL Controversy: At a Crossroads Between Love and Hate

The latest controversy of KIS: Social Justice League. What are the various student viewpoints, and what should we really be focusing on? How much of it is justified? Follow Blueprint on a much-needed debate.

 

Cover Image: A poster hung in KIS, originally reading “Gender is a spectrum, not a binary”, has been ripped to read “Gender is a binary”. 

When Sara Kim (‘18) opened her locker thoughtlessly on an average Thursday afternoon, a piece of paper floated out. It read “feminazi bitch”. The words were typed up, and she found an identical note the following day. They were referring to her activism with her club, Social Justice League (SJL), which had been campaigning for women’s and LGBTQ rights in the school throughout the previous week. Some of their posters were found with the word “nazi” written on them, or deliberate cuts and snips. A few students made their dissent public through Snapchat, and Sara even received threats to take the posters down. A peculiar, negative current filled the KIS hallways as the controversy continued to gather student attention. And all this during the KIS “Random Acts of Kindness” week.

The issue concerned me, as someone with no involvement in putting up the posters. Not because the pro-feminism and LGBTQ movements had met disagreement, or because some people found the activism to be “lame”- these things were to be expected. It was rather because a few students had chosen to actively display their opposition in aggressive methods. I’m not sure if I was surprised, but I do know that not too long ago, I had been watching news stories of racial hate crimes in the U.S., with vandalized cars and ridicule of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The detached, seemingly far-away issues formed a haunting reflection with what was happening in the very hallways that I roam daily. I wondered what could drive an active choice to hate.

It had to be more than just an eye roll, more than just a whisper of dissent. It had to be vandalism, threats, and personal attacks. It had to have been caused by something more than “this is lame”- it had to either have stemmed from a problem involving personal relations with SJL members or a legitimate disbelief in women’s or LGBTQ rights. It could have been both.

It’s okay to disagree. Perspectives matter. Especially in a comparatively conservative society, LGBTQ rights (more so than feminism) can be a controversial subject. But finding the notion of queer sexualities to be difficult to accept is different from actively pitting themselves against the inclusion movement- then it ceases to be a perspective, and becomes hate. Hate is not a perspective.

As much as I hold my personal beliefs that the fight for LGBTQ rights is not a debatable fight like democrat versus republican, and rather a fight of acceptance against discrimination, I understand that different upbringings lead to a different level of comfort regarding the issue. As I gathered the opinions of different KIS students (all anonymous for the purposes of this article), I realized that many viewed the plastered visuals of SJL’s posters as attempting to shove the issue into uneasy faces, or that it is belittling for those who do not follow SJL’s agenda to be called “ignorant”. I think the line is difficult to draw, but it is definitely there: it is ignorant to make no attempts at sympathizing and to blatantly disregard the existence of the queer community, and it is hateful to slur- it is neither ignorant nor hateful to attempt but fail to sympathize with the queer community and yet accept that some people are passionate about this cause and will take action.

Multiple KIS students also raised more constructive criticism about the club’s activism. The first was that the posters are largely ineffective. Some people thought that the decorations only served to irritate people of a neutral position on the issue, or that they failed to change the minds of those who had opposing viewpoints. Some voices raised concern about how not all the club members were given equal recognition for the work, or that the members did not have much voice in contributing to the decisions of the club. The biggest thing I noticed was that not everyone understood the posters to begin with- some slogans, such as “I am bi, you’re the one that’s confused” or “gender is a spectrum, not a binary” only stirred confusion among people who did not actively follow the queer movement and so did not understand what the slogans were supposed to mean. Some people thought that no group in KIS opposed feminism or gay rights in the first place, and therefore that SJL did not serve much of a purpose.

In the past, I may have agreed with the last point to some extent- until the controversy around SJL proved that it was clearly untrue. I also consider the issues regarding club management to be outside the scope of this article. But the other points all seem to point to a common theme: education. If ignorance is the obstacle, education is the logical vehicle for resolve. I agree that the posters did not have the power to change hard-held opinions, but they can get simple messages across, such as the fact that feminism is defined by the movement for gender equality, which makes being a feminist mutually exclusive from being a feminazi (who believes in the dominance of women). The decorations also provide a general atmosphere of positivity and acceptance, which is undeniably a benefit for the school as a community. The confusion that the posters created illustrates the problem caused when education is partially overlooked.

Another one of my personal concerns is that the term “social justice” is becoming strongly equated with feminism and LGBTQ rights, which are definitely a part of social justice but only encompass the best publicized portions of it. Social justice is the fight for human rights and equality as a whole, which also manifests itself in issues such as migrant worker rights and racism in Korea, the lack of opportunities for the handicapped population, or even socioeconomic statuses. After all, attending KIS is the biggest way in which we are all commonly privileged.

Feedback or criticism, such as those gathered from the KIS population, helps a club improve itself. But hate does nothing but create negativity, and means such as indirect threats or vandalism reveal the lack of courage to communicate or the lack of legitimate reasoning behind the argument, and thus the resort to immature means. The more divisive an issue is, the more interaction the two sides of the debate need to have, the more open the discussion needs to be- and, most importantly, the more polite the expressions need to become. 

Just last year, the campus of Seoul National University was shaken by an incident in which a banner put up by the school’s queer community was found ripped through the middle with a blade. But rather than respond with negativity, the group placed a box of band-aids next to the ripped banner and asked the school to help “heal” the banner and the wound that was inflicted to the queer community. The banner had read “we welcome all new students, both queer and heterosexual”. No matter what SJL is mistaken to be proposing, their ultimate stance is for equality and acceptance of all groups, which is a noble cause to strive for, and the backlash to their activism illustrates the necessity for their existence. Like all other clubs, their course has not been perfect. Like all other clubs, they will continue experimenting and adjusting in response to the controversy. And like all groups that begin voicing an opinion in a hostile crowd, they have faced unjustified derogation.

But let us find hope in the moments like the day after the band-aids were placed next to the ripped banner, when it was found patched with 564 bandages by the school community. These are the silent supporters, the whisperers of faith. The inertia of ignorance may raise opaque clouds around minds, and the blade of contempt may cut through the soft, velvet hearts of the victims, but love can win. After all, is it not the moment that we feel the cold shoulder of our fellow human beings that we feel the heaviest despair? And is love, removed from issues and controversies, not the way in which we all fight that? It is my greatest wish that humanity, in and outside of KIS, continues to associate its conflict and strife less with division and more with a common struggle for beauty.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)