Achieving the proper balance

September 30, 2015 by Eric Jeong

When I walked into Hubbell House on my first day back at the College, I saw the phrase “Welcome to Bubble” written in red marker on the glass frame in front of the main staircase. It reminded me of how, in the past, Koreans of Williams (KoW) has been criticized for being “exclusive,” caught in its own bubble. As co-chair of KoW this year, I have thought about how KoW can be more inclusive and contribute to diversity at the College.

First, however, I think that students at the College have to understand that KoW, as its name suggests, is a club created by and for Koreans. In the beginning of my first year here, I had trouble socializing with non-Koreans; KoW, rather than my entry, felt like home to me. Indeed, KoW’s raison d’être – just like those of many other student organizations – is to provide a community for students of a common heritage who seek belonging. In that sense, we have to respect the need for Koreans, and for other groups of people, to be amongst themselves. To be certain, this does not mean that KoW, or any other club, has the right to discriminate. But I do not think that Koreans, or another group of similar individuals, socializing by themselves privately, deserve to be called a “cult” or criticized for being “exclusive.” After all, all of us enjoy spending time with those with whom we share commonality.

If anyone wants to criticize KoW, he or she can criticize it for this: KoW, as a club, has failed to reach out to the community at the College. KoW can and must do better. To be sure, I sincerely appreciate every effort that has been made by Korean alumni; without them, there would be no KoW today. With the funding and structure it now has, KoW is prepared to have a bigger presence at the College, from sharing the wonderful culture and delicious food of Korea to educating the student body on some of the intractable problems that Korea faces.

The problem has been that almost all KoW events have served social purposes for Koreans. Our non-Korean friends who showed up to KoW felt isolated; naturally, they stopped coming. Events designed for the entire College community were few and lacking in ambition. Due to KoW’s exclusive image, they attracted little enthusiasm and participation from non-Korean students.

How can KoW shed its old image? In short, I think KoW can play a more substantial role in promoting diversity on campus by reimagining how it hosts its events. For instance, KoW can emulate the Black Student Union (BSU): In the first week of school, BSU hosted a back-to-school barbecue, advertising it to the College as a whole on Facebook. BSU not only invited African American students to come but also extended the invitation to any students interested in coming, socializing and perhaps engaging in fruitful discussions pertaining to racial problems in America.

In the past, KoW has hosted similar events in the beginning of the school year: namely, the ice cream social, which allows new members of KoW to get to know the Board and upperclassmen. In that regard, our ice cream social is similar to BSU’s back-to-school barbecue. However, for the ice cream social, and for most of the events that KoW has hosted, the location of the event severely delimited the size of the audience, effectively restricting the event to Korean and Asian American students.

I would like for us to envision what an inclusive KoW would look like. It is mid-September – still balmy – and warm enough to enjoy some ice cream. As you walk by Paresky Lawn after class, you see that KoW members have set up a table in front of Paresky; they are selling Patbingsu, delicious Korean style shaved ice. Everyone is lining up to get his or her share of one of the most popular Korean desserts. My point here is not that KoW should host its ice cream social event in the way described above, but rather to explore, through a possible example, how KoW can reimagine its events to reach the whole student body.

In the spring, KoW will be revamping its traditional Spring Dinner, an event designed for the entire community, into an intercollegiate Culture Show. From Taekwon-Do martial artists and traditional percussion bands to singers and dance groups, our students and performers from nearby schools will proudly showcase Korean culture. However, I think it is worth asking here: Even if KoW was “inclusive,” how many students at the College would come to the show, especially on a Saturday night?

KoW will strive to evolve and create a more inclusive culture. But I also ask the community at the College to learn more about other cultures and countries, to develop interests outside of the few issues that they are deeply passionate about. This summer, I had the opportunity to discuss with students from other schools and countries not only polemical issues among Korea, Japan and China, but also pressing challenges being faced in their home countries, from the refugee crisis in Europe to the threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. In my experience, the scope of critical engagement and dialogue outside of a few contentious domestic issues is quite limited at the College. No doubt KoW’s bubble needs to be popped. But the bubble is not exclusive to Koreans. We all have work to do.

Eric Jeong ’18 is from South Korea. He lives in Hubbell House.

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