Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Listen to Yeonmi Park’s concerns about college culture

Courtesy of KJ Jugar and Liberty University
Conservative activist and North Korean defector Yeonmi Park speaks at Liberty University for a Young Americans for Freedom event.

Editor’s note: Garrett Marchand is a member of UA Young Americans for Freedom.

Born and raised in left-wing totalitarianism, Yeonmi Park and her mother escaped from the oppression of North Korea in 2007, when Park was only 13 years old. Her story is one of hardship, endurance and a desire for a better life. 

Describing her journey as one of necessity, Park says she didn’t even know what freedom was before escaping North Korea. After years of living in the United States, Park has devoted her life to protecting her new home

On Feb. 27, Park will be bringing her perspective to The University of Alabama to share her story of escape and her fear that America may mimic the authoritarian tendencies of North Korea. As a conservative activist, she’s decried what she sees as the growing totalitarianism of the American far left and its push for equity over equality.

The right typically depicts equity as the pursuit of equal outcomes for all. In contrast, equality is understood as the pursuit of equal opportunity. As a college student, I have often seen professors lead class discussions promoting the superiority of equity over equality with little to no critical examination. 

Park noted during her time at Columbia University that it’s simply assumed that equal outcomes are always better than unequal ones, the same dangerous idea around which North Korea is fundamentally oriented.  

Park’s speech, titled “Fight for Equality, Not Equity,” will provide a unique voice against the pursuit of equal outcomes from the perspective of a woman who, after suffering under socialist totalitarianism, now fights to prevent the taking of her freedom in the West.

Christian Calvert, president of the UA Young Americans for Freedom, the conservative student organization that is hosting Park’s speech, told me that “Yeonmi grew up in a place where life is not valued, the government exercises full economic and social control, and the people have no rights.” He added that “when the Kim dynasty took over, they promised equity to the people of Korea. … We have seen the result of that.”

Park’s fears arise from the left’s push to view people as members of a group with collective guilt for the mistakes of their ancestors, mimicking the group guilt she saw in North Korea, where three generations of family members are punished for the crimes of one person. Pointing to slavery, Park often discusses how many Americans are made to feel guilty for their ancestors’ sins despite having no control over their forefathers’ actions. We are effectively viewing each other as members of a larger group rather than as individuals, a trend especially prevalent on university campuses. 

In what’s meant to be the freest country in the world, why resort to diversity, equity and inclusion departments to try and equalize outcomes between every group by treating people collectively? These initiatives claim to foster a sense of welcomeness but often assume we cannot simply be individuals, instead boiling our lives down to immutable characteristics and group identities.

We must return to viewing each other as individuals, not group members. However, universities are, purposefully or not, pushing collectivist ideologies on their students, including negative views of the United States and positive views of socialism.

A 2021 nationwide survey conducted by North Dakota State University found that 32% of college students have a favorable view of socialism, including 47% of liberal students. Among these liberal students, 55% said college has made them have a more negative view of the United States. 

To me, the implications of this poll are clear: Colleges often promote left-wing thought, and fail to simply be places where one goes to learn how to think.

This is not meant to suggest that left-wing students do not hold genuine beliefs. Indeed, some on the left criticize the race-centered group identity that has permeated much of American political thought. 

Undoubtedly, students on the left and on the right are often well-educated and hold nuanced versions of their respective ideologies. There is nothing wrong with that. However, I remain concerned by the degree to which colleges influence people to take a more negative view of the United States and push liberal-leaning students toward socialism. 

On the other side of this trend, we see right-wing colleges around the nation attempting to counter the education system’s perceived bias by creating echo chambers of their own. This is just as dangerous: Colleges should teach you how, not what, to think, no matter your political orientation.

As a conservative, I have great respect for Hillsdale College and the efforts of Ron DeSantis to redress the issues at New College of Florida, but it’s worrisome that colleges have become battlegrounds in the culture war.

When we regress to groupthink and isolate ourselves in echo chambers, we accept the destructive belief in equity that has ruined the lives of countless people worldwide. This is exactly what Park’s experiences in North Korea should teach us to fear.

However, while Park should be taken seriously as a North Korean defector, some controversies do surround her stories of life in North Korea. As The Washington Post reported, Park’s stories often differ from other North Korean defectors’. Some of her recollections did not even align with her mother’s less dramatic retellings of their experiences. Allegedly, over time, Park began depicting her early life as more desolate than she described early on.

Given the secrecy of North Korea and the lack of credible records to prove or disprove Park’s accounts of her early life, her audience is left to determine the validity of her stories. Either way, Park still provides a unique perspective on the United States and an opportunity to understand someone who has experienced totalitarianism firsthand. 

There is no denying that she is a unique figure among the American right and her perspective on the American university system a valuable one. 

 As an escapee from the tyranny of the Kims, Park knows firsthand what the equity-focused left is capable of in its most totalitarian form. Every student should consider listening to her story when she comes to campus later this month.

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