Korean students afraid of backlash on campus
After the gunman in Monday's Virginia Tech massacre was identified as being of Korean origin by several news networks, members of Princeton's Korean community voiced apprehension over potential national reactions to the news. But students and alumni had mixed opinions about on-campus repercussions.
"My parents ... are fairly concerned about other people trying to revenge their family's death or relative's death on Korean families," Jae Hammet '09, whose parents live in Virginia, said.
Hammet added that he is not worried about his classmates associating him with the Virginia Tech killer, however. "I think that Princeton students will understand that one person is not representative of the Korean community," he said, "and I think that most people here see that student as an outlier and not as a [typical] Korean person."
The 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui — who shot himself after taking the lives of 32 people — immigrated to the United States in 1992 from a Seoul suburb, along with his parents and older sister. News outlets have reported that he dealt with personal mental issues, including depression, a penchant for isolating himself from peers and a fascination with gore that manifested itself in two bizarrely violent screenplays he wrote, which have since been posted online.
In contrast to Cho's struggles, his sister Sun-Kyung Cho '04 graduated from the University with a degree in economics. She now works for the State Department.
Princeton has a strong relationship with South Korea, with a consistently large contingent of students from the country matriculating at the University each year: The Princeton Facebook lists 20 students from Seoul alone. University trustee Y.S. Chi '83 is of Korean descent, and Un-Chan Chung GS '78 — a former president of Seoul National University — is widely thought to be considering a run for the country's presidency.
Despite these connections, John Lee '06, president of the Korean American Student Association (KASA) in 2005-06, said that he fears Monday's tragedy will taint some Princetonians' attitudes toward their Korean classmates.
"I would have liked to think that the Princeton community would be mature/intelligent enough to be an exception to this kind of racial antagonism," he said in an email, "but from what I have heard from my friends back in Princeton, it does not seem to be true."
Hyeon Keun Kim '10 echoed Lee's concerns, saying he has found "that in Princeton, Korean people are a little isolated ... I think some people might react harshly to Koreans [following the shooting]." So far, though, he personally has not experienced any negative repercussions, he said.
Many Korean students said they think the national media has inappropriately emphasized the shooter's Korean identity. For example, the Associated Press story identifying Cho as the killer noted his South Korean nationality in the article's first few words.
Cho, though a resident alien, had lived in the United States since the age of eight. "He's almost American," Jay Jiyong Kwak '09 said.
"I'm a little annoyed that the press has emphasized his Korean-ness," Youngho Ryu '07 said.
Many in the Korean community added that news coverage of the tragedy should not emphasize the race of the shooter. "I hope it doesn't become a racial issue because the truth of the matter is, 33 people died," said Grace Kim '07, who just stepped down as KASA president but specified that she no longer speaks for the organization. "The focus shouldn't be so much on the racial aspect but how to step back from the situation and how to prevent it from happening again and help people recuperate."
Students also said their parents have been the ones expressing anxiety, while they themselves remain relatively unfazed. "It's a little embarrassing, but a lot of Korean-American college students are fleeing the campuses because their parents are concerned about them," Kim said.
"My parents called me to see if I was okay, but I just kind of laughed at them because I don't think I'm a target for racial attacks," Kim said, noting that her parents' generation has had more direct experience with racial discrimination than she has.
To address possible concerns among students, KASA has planned a forum for its members and anyone in the Princeton community tomorrow afternoon, Julia Yoon '09, the organization's current president, said.
"We're deeply saddened and really shocked by this event," she added, "not just as Koreans, but as fellow college students."
— Princetonian senior writers Kate Carroll and Michael Juel-Larsen contributed reporting to this story.
CorrectionThe original version of this article misattributed a quote by Grace Kim '07 to Hyeon Keun Kim '10. The Daily Princetonian regrets the error.
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