Students push for Korean Studies

A group of students has been working since September 2012 to raise awareness of the lack of a major in Korean studies at Yale — but students have undertaken similar efforts for at least the last decade.

The Council on East Asian Studies currently allows undergraduate EAS majors to concentrate in Chinese or Japanese studies but offers no concentration in Korean studies. Though former CEAS chair Mimi Yiengpruksawan told the News in 2002 that the council hoped to set up the Korean studies track by the fall of 2003, the council has struggled to establish the concentration for at least the past decade due to insufficient resources. A newly formed student group, called the Korean Studies Initiative at Yale, has gathered over 200 signatures on a petition released to students online Jan. 29 to urge the University to invest the teaching resources necessary for the program’s establishment.

“In order for the teaching of and study of East Asia as a culture to be complete, we should at the very least add two ladder faculty positions … that would focus on Korea,” said Edward Kamens, chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures. “We currently have none.”

Kamens added that the University is not currently creating new faculty positions while the Faculty of Arts and Sciences undergoes an academic review that will evaluate the size of individual departments this academic year. Still, he said contributing to the establishment of Korean studies is among his department’s “highest priorities” for the future, adding that creating Korean studies would also involve several other departments, such as the History Department.

“My department is very interested in seeing the growth of Korean studies within the larger context of the study of East Asia. We would very much like to have the resources,” Kamens said.

Seungja Kim Choi, associate director of undergraduate studies for East Asian Languages and Literatures, said in an email Tuesday that a perceived lack of books on Korea at Yale libraries has been a factor that administrators discussed whenever the topic of Korean studies came up, but she added that technology and online resources have eliminated this problem in recent years.

Provost Benjamin Polak, who was appointed in mid-January, said he is too new to his job to “have an informed opinion” about the Korean studies concentration.

Miriam Cho ’14, one of the Korea Studies Initiative’s founding members, said the group would like to see Yale take Korea seriously as an academic discipline. Working toward this goal, the group seeks a tenure-track professor specializing in Korea and more classes on Korea to be offered across various departments. Cho added that she finds Yale’s academic climate to be “Eurocentric,” even though Korean studies is becoming increasingly important to the national academic community.

“We don’t want Yale to not see Korea as an important international independent entity,” Cho said, adding that she believes the University will need to establish a Korean studies concentration in order to remain competitive.

Harvard, Columbia, the University of Chicago and the University of California, Los Angeles each have programs focusing on Korea.

Despite the importance of these academic concerns, Kamens said budgetary issues will ultimately determine whether Yale creates a Korean studies concentration in the near future.

“We … have a new provost who says we are going to have to make hard choices,” Kamens said.

Yale first taught Korean as a language in 1946 to a group of Protestant missionaries preparing for work in Korea, and has been teaching the language continuously since 1990.

Correction: Feb. 7

A previous version of this article mistakenly suggested that Yong Cho ’13, a leader of the Korea Studies Initiative, had to “settle for” majoring in Art History. In fact, he is double-majoring in Art History and East Asian Studies with a concentration in China.

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