The Korea University Pride Club (KUPC), a fundraising campaign that collects donations from alumni, has not only been of great help for students with financial difficulties, but also a source of pride for all KU members. Yet its scholarship awards ceremony held last November went against everything KUPC stands for and a handful of recipients were left offended due to the carelessness of the school administration. Although the school administration has recognized their complaints, it has dismissed them as the hyperbole of a few sensitive students. Can the good cause of KUPC justify a poorly thought out ceremony and heal the wounded pride of the recipients?
On November 21, 2016, a post from an anonymous KUPC scholarship receiver appeared on the KU Bamboo Forest Facebook page and soon sparked heated controversy among users. The recipients who were at the 2018 Spring KUPC Scholarship Awards Ceremony identified three main problems with the event that embarrassed them—being forced to take photos for promotional purposes, listening to the host’s unpleasant jokes, and having the recipient list revealed to the KUPC ambassadors. They specifically mentioned that the host of the event, a professor at KU Law School, made tasteless jokes such as, “If you do not come up to take photos, we will not grant you your scholarship.”
While this may sound unreal, the administration has confirmed that such inconsiderate conduct did indeed take place. In response to the Bamboo Forest post, the recipients were denounced by some who claimed that, since poverty is not a crime, those scholarship recipients who felt ashamed of their financial situation should hand over the money to those who are more desperate; thus, they argued that the administration and the KUPC should not be criticized. It is safe to say that the KUPC itself is innocent, as the alumni simply want to grant students the gifts of “time” and “opportunity.” However, the administration’s overall planning of the ceremony and its response to the witnesses leave much to be desired.
Even in elementary school, teachers are extremely careful when managing the list of students receiving government subsidies. During the KUPC ceremony, the students’ information was unwillingly disclosed to other students and the media. Although the students are now all adults, they should still be able to choose whether or not to reveal their financial status, especially when it can bring discomfort. Thus, revealing a student’s economic standing without consent could be considered a form of psychological abuse.
In addition, despite the administration’s explanation regarding the professor’s jokes—he was simply trying to encourage students to be in the photos—the professor should have taken into consideration his position before telling them. As his jokes gained a sort of coercive power when combined with his authority, the students, who need a scholarship to cover their living expenses, could no longer take them at face value.
What has been more disappointing is the attitude of the school administration in response to the Bamboo Forest post. A faculty member from the Department of Development said that the author of the post was simply overreacting and very few students would have felt the same way as the author. However, one cannot rashly dismiss a feeling that an individual would have experienced throughout their entire life due to poverty as an overreaction; experiences differ from individual to individual. To trivialize them would be to judge others’ lives by one’s own standards. The school administration needs to be more open to student feedback and put further effort into finding ways to improve its events. Indeed, instead of holding ceremonies that are basically formalities, the school should consider alternative ways for alumni to meet the recipients, such as having a group dinner or exchanging letters.
No one should condemn the KUPC itself. The KUPC still firmly represents the warmth KU alumni feel towards current students. Nevertheless, the good cause of KUPC and the sacrifice of the alumni cannot justify every misstep taken. If the administration wishes to attract more donors to the club and establish its importance on campus, it would be better to put themselves in the recipients’ shoes rather than endeavoring to blindly protect the event for promotional purposes.