The sound of beating drums and traditional songs delighted a packed Dunster dining hall on April 18 for the Korean Association's (KA) spring culture show, dubbed "The Korean Family." The evening also marked the inauguration of the merging of the four Korean student groups--Korean Students Association (KSA), Korean-Americans for Culture and Community (KACC), Yisei, a biannual magazine, and the Chun-sa fan dance troupe--into one organization: KA.
Harvard has not seen a unified Korean student organization since 1989, when Koreans of Harvard-Radcliffe (KOHR) split into KSA and KACC.
"It's about time," says Thomas K. Ryou '00, co-president of KA. "The Korean community is small here; it doesn't need to be any smaller."
The Dividing Line
In 1989, the KOHR fragmented when members diverged over the question of the group's focus. One faction wanted a greater emphasis on political activities, and less of a focus on social functions. The KACC was born and began organizing discussion groups on various issues affecting Koreans and Korean-Americans.
"There was a small group of Koreans [within KOHR] who were enthusiastic about being an active political voice," says Yunsun Nam '99, also co-president of the new Korean Association and current editor of Yisei.
The KACC also started a traditional drum troop. After the split, the remaining members of KOHR renamed themselves the Korean Students Association. The KSA coordinated a mentoring program in addition to organizing frequent social events.
After the split, the groups developed very different reputations on campus. Ryou says the perception was that KSA was too social, and KACC not social enough.
But former president of KSA, Jaehyuk Choi '98, says the group's image has been distorted by stereotypes and misperceptions. The purpose of KSA, he says, was never meant to be exclusively social.
"My highest objective was to foster a sense of community amongst the Korean students at Harvard. I had hoped that most Korean students could participate in KSA activities, share the Korean culture, and together get involved in any capacity on issues that affect Koreans politically," Choi says. "Some people use the term KSA to refer to a social clique, a Korean drinking group; it was never meant for that purpose," he says.
While Nam and Ryou both say the goals of KSA and KACC overlapped significantly, they acknowledge that the existence of two groups forced students to join one or the other, causing a divide in the community that, they say, ultimately was detrimental to the goals of both organizations.
"There was always that split; the two groups were mutually exclusive," Ryou said. "If you joined one, you couldn't join the other. You couldn't really become friends [with people in the other group]," he says.
A Desire for Change
Last year, students from the KSA and KCAA, as well as those on Yisei and in the Chun-sa dance troupe, began to question the split they had inherited, unconvinced of the need for multiple groups aimed at the same goal of fostering community.
"There had been a feeling among Korean organizations on campus for quite a while that there were too many separate Korean groups and that having so many organizations was detrimental to the Korean community at Harvard," says Juliette L. Lee '98, a founding member of KA and a former co-director of KACC. "We felt that it would be much more beneficial to the community if we could merge and therefore pool our resources," Lee says.
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