College Senior Spurs Call for Emory Korean Major

A petition requesting Emory College of Arts and Sciences to create a Korean major has garnered 165 signatures in the last two weeks.

College senior Chaesun Lee wrote and shared the petition on her personal Facebook profile and in Emory class Facebook groups about two weeks ago, along with a survey to gauge student interest in specific topics of Korean courses.

Lee realized last year that no Korean major was offered, and hopes the addition of a Korean major would make Emory a more diverse intellectual community and provide more options for future students.

“It’s not just about promoting Korea itself, but it’s really about expanding the view of liberal arts that Emory [boasts],” Lee said. “I think adding Korean as a major could be one [piece of] evidence to show other communities that Emory is promoting that [diverse community].”

Currently, students can take Korean language and cultural courses, and declare a minor in Korean in the Russian and East Asian Languages and Culture (REALC) department. Of the four languages offered through the REALC Department — Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Russian — only Korean is not offered as a major. The Korean minor at Emory started in 2013, according to REALC Department Korean Language Program Coordinator Bumyong Choi.

Should a Korean major be offered in the College, it is likely that more Korean classes would be offered and more faculty members hired, Choi and Kim said in a discussion with Lee.

Choi and Korea Foundation Assistant Professor Sun-Chul Kim both expressed support for Lee’s initiative. Since its 2007 inception, the Korean Program at Emory has a “long-term goal” to gradually increase the number of both its faculty members and courses to make a Korean major feasible, Choi said.

REALC Department Chair Julia Bullock met with Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Michael A. Elliott Tuesday to inform him of the petition, Lee said.

Lee said she wants to collect 500 signatures before presenting the petition to Elliott. She, Choi and Kim hope to gain those signatures and formally send the petition to Elliott in April or May of this year, Lee said.

She plans to publicize the petition more during Korea Week in late March, during which the Korean Undergraduate Student Association (KUSA) organizes various events throughout the week to celebrate Korean culture.

“[I plan] on doing demo classes where speakers or even students can choose a topic and they can do a quick workshop — several hours — to see if people are actually reacting to it or not and give them a taste of what it would be like if Korean was a major at Emory,” Lee said.

The survey Lee released alongside the petition measured student interest and explored which specific concentrations students would want to pursue should the Korean program expand. Of the approximately 100 responses in the survey, the most favored topics include Korean politics, Korean women’s history and Korean literature, according to Lee.

A number of students commented online on both the survey and the petition to express support for Lee’s initiative.

“There’s a significant number of Koreans at Emory and as a result the Korean culture and heritage is prevalent on campus,” College junior Kristi Yu said in an interview with the Wheel.  “It’s disappointing that the College’s curriculum doesn’t reflect the students’ backgrounds.”

Choi said that the University ought to offer Korean as a major at Emory because of the Emory’s special ties to Korea. The first international student to attend Emory was from Korea, and former University President James T. Laney was a missionary in and U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1993 to 1996, Choi said.

The professor added that there has been a more than twofold increase in enrollment in Korean classes at Emory since 2011, which demonstrates the student demand for Emory to offer more Korean courses, thereby hiring more Korean faculty members.

“In 2011, we [had] around 70 students and five language courses,” Choi said. “Now, there are more than 20 classes, including language and content courses, [and] more than 300 students are taking Korean courses.”

Michelle Lou contributed reporting.

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