Posted : 2016-11-27 17:16
Updated : 2016-11-27 19:12

Students emerge as main force in protests

College students dressed in black call for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye, who allegedly helped her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in critical state affairs for her own benefit, at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Saturday. / Yonhap

By Choi Ha-young

A protester wears a mask to mock President Park as Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, who could not understand the plight of the people.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Students ― from high school to college ― have emerged as a core element in the candlelit protests.

Collegians from Sookmyung Women's University and other universities nationwide are joining a campaign to boycott classes to protest the presidential scandal.

They are taking to the streets to express their frustration and anger against embattled President Park Geun-hye who is under pressure to quit over the scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil.

College students, who call their country "Hell Joseon" (Korea) because of the high jobless rate and other hardships facing them, had previously been busy preparing to land jobs and ignored social issues.

However, the presidential scandal made it hard for university students to stay put.

Kim Ji-yoon, a sophomore at Sookmyung, said, "I am majoring in political science. According to what I learned, politics is all about how to distribute national resources in a fairer manner. However, the reality is the opposite."

Kim said politicians have ignored the public, failing to meet their main mission: serving the people. "They must think about the origin of the government authority they are exerting."

More student council bodies are pledging to join the campaign to boycott classes.

"We will boycott classes on Nov. 30., demanding Park's resignation," said Lee Tak-gyu, 23, newly elected chief of the student body of Soul National University (SNU).

Kim Ji-soo, 22, a Hanyang University student, said that students also need stronger solidarity to make their voice heard.

"We dream of equal solidarity. We welcome everyone regardless of their age and gender. We need to stage an active protest based on the legal framework that police and a court have approved," Kim said.

Students also demanded that the Park administration cancel its plan to publish a state-authored history textbook.

Cho Seong-hoon, 21, a student of Myongji University, said, "Students are taking to the streets as they are angry about Park's policies, including a government-authored history textbook."

Braving the snow and wind, around 3,000 students gathered in front of the King Sejong statue in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul., at 2 p.m. before the fifth mass rally began.
Protesters masquerade as men with no necks waiting to hear the news that President Park Geun-hye has decided to resign. The masquerade represents the Korean idiom, "Wait until the neck comes out," which means waiting for a long time. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Disputes inside campus

They shared their frustrations about the "one-sided communication" taking place in the country and schools at the same time. As of Friday, 13 universities adopted resolutions to boycott classes and more schools are planning to join, calling for Park to step down.

On top of the anti-Park candlelit protests, students who took to the podium during the rally also vented their anger over conflicts with their own schools.

Park Se-hoon, 23, student leader at Korea University said, "We've occupied the main building of the school since Thursday and will organize a general assembly Monday, for the first time in five years."

He said the university chief has pushed forward a plan named "future university," to raise tuition fees for certain departments. The plan includes the abolition of one department, but professors and students there did not have an opportunity to talk with the school president.

"We tried to enter the president's room to meet him before his overseas business trip, but university staff members threw us out of the door," Park said. "It reminds me of someone over there," he added, pointing to Cheong Wa Dae.

SNU students have occupied their school's main hall for more than a month protesting a plan to build a second campus in Gyeonggi Province. Lee, the student body president, said the continuation of the occupation was his main pledge during the election campaign.

"Amid the nationwide scandal, students' anger levels are increasing," said Lee. He also criticized unilateral decision making concerning the plan. "We will try to continue the occupation during the winter vacation and prepare another big protest in March."

Students commonly said their movements have faltered due to universities' interruptive policies besides increasing competition in the job market.

"I am majoring in library and information science. Most graduates become librarians, and it's getting more and more difficult to get a permanent job," said Myoungji University student Cho Seong-hoon, 21.

Sookmyung students successfully organized a parade from the campus to Gwanghwamun, Friday, joining the street protests demanding Park's resignation.

Kim Min-ji, 22, a student at the university, said. "Over 4,000 students supported the anti-Park movement in a vote."

Student protest methods appear to be evolving, by teaching each other to solve the problems on their own campuses.

Korea University student Yang Jae-hyuk, 21, said Ewha Womans University's recent struggle provided a helpful guideline.

"Ewha students who helped uncover Choi Soon-sil's core corruption have encouraged students at other schools to take part in their own activities to resolve school problems. We are also receiving more sympathy from students," Yang said. "We also learned how to negotiate with staff members, how to deal with possible police raids and how to use social media."

During the rally, the young speakers pledged not to use "hate speech" against social minorities. Many citizens cheered at the event. After the rally, they walked toward Cheong Wa Dae, chanting for President Park's resignation.

Protesters encircled the presidential office. They shared speeches with citizens in front of a police barricade, just 200 meters away from Cheong Wa Dae, which was the closest point the court approved for the anti-government protest.

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