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Harassment Case Stokes Xenophobia at Seoul Nat`l Univ.

Posted December. 29, 2008 04:35,   


“To avoid suspicious eyes, I used to walk all the way to a classroom instead of riding a shuttle bus.”

So said a 24-year-old graduate student at Seoul National University who also heads the Indian students’ association there.

He said he has suffered from unfounded rumors over sexual harassment perpetrated by a foreign student.

The rumors began at the on-campus Internet bulletin board “SNU Life.” One female student posted a message Nov. 24 that she was sexually harassed by a foreign student who looked Indian on a shuttle bus.

A Dec. 1 post by an anonymous user said she witnessed a foreign student sexually harassing a female student and took a picture of the alleged culprit.

The bulletin board has since been bombarded with derogatory posts targeting students from India, saying things like “Indians look down upon fellow Asians” or “(Indian students) must be expelled.”

Controversy is thus brewing over xenophobia at the country’s top university. For their own safety, school authorities have recommended that Indian students avoid hanging around campus alone.

A probe by the university’s counseling center for victims of sexual harassment and abuse found that a Pakistani student at the engineering graduate school was the culprit. This is the first time for the university to investigate sexual harassment allegedly committed by a foreign student.

The counseling center said the Pakistani sexually harassed five female students. He told school officials that he inadvertently made mistakes due to Pakistani culture, which deems women inferior to men.

“The Indian students’ association felt deeply affronted by this incident,” said a university official. “On the day of the incident, the association launched a voluntary investigation to track the whereabouts of all Indian students and reported the results to school authorities.”

A 31-year-old Indian Ph.D student wrote on the Web that Indian students were greatly offended by responses from Korean students. “It’s wrong and hasty to lash out at all Indians on the comment that ‘He looked like an Indian,’ even though the investigation results have yet to come out,” he said.

“How would a Korean feel if he or she was wrongly blamed for a crime committed by a Chinese or Japanese abroad?”

Faced with the first sexual harassment case involving a foreign student, the university is coming up with measures to prevent a recurrence.

Jang Jae-seong, head of the university’s administrative department, said, “Based on the final results of the probe, we will decide how to punish the offender. From next year, we will require foreign students to receive special education on sexual violence prevention.”

At orientation, the university gives only Korean students education on sexual violence prevention.

One expert said that with the number of foreign students growing in Korea, university authorities should step up efforts to communicate with them.