In the Hands of the Students

기사승인 2017.05.15  23:36:28


- Reflecting back on the meaning of Dae-dong


THE festive season is finally here and universities are now busy preparing for Dae-dong-jae. Dae-dong-jae is a South Korean campus festival usually held in the month of May. At Yonsei University, the festivities go on for three consecutive days, with the AKARAKA festival on the last. The school invites popular celebrities during this festival and students open up pub booths on campus, as it is the only time alcohol is allowed on campus. Although the word Dae-dong-jae connotes unity of students, many question whether campus festivals manifest a sense of community among students.


History of Dae-dong-jae

   “The Scene of Attraction: National Customs 81 and University Dae-dong-jae,” a research paper published by Han Yang-myung, depicts how university festivals have evolved over the last few decades. According to this paper, the tradition of university festivals stems from the 1950s. In 1957, the May Queen celebration was held in Yonsei University in order to celebrate mixed-gender education. They nominated a May Queen out of thirteen female student candidates to enhance the female students’ statuses on campus and encourage their education. The festival also included other events such as academic contests, short theater productions, and dance performances that comprise Dae-dong-jae even today.

   In 1960s, various academic events such as forums and lectures took place as well as entertaining events such as folkdances, masquerades, and marathons. Students particularly enjoyed costume parades in which they wore masks and performed satirical skits. 

   As the 70s emerged, the universities began absorbing the western culture that eventually influenced parts of campus festivals, such as western dance parties. One of the most representative dance parties during this period is the Ssang-ssang party in which women and men paired up and danced to modern songs. However, as the political tension intensified, many began to criticize university festivals for being lavish and superficial. Seoul National University Newspaper reported that around 1000 students at Seoul National University gathered to protest against Ssang Ssang party. The students rejected festivals that only focused on entertainment and, instead, opened mock assembly conferences to satirize the oppressive government as a sign of protest.

In 1980s, the numerous political turbulences including Gwangju Uprising caused the romantic vibe of the festivals to fade out. Students began to form political groups and actively participate in protests. University students from other regions also stood up to fight against the dictatorial regime. As a result, campus festivals were used as a means to demonstrate the students’ unified resistance against the undemocratic regime. Hence, the romantic and entertaining facets of the festivals were considered inappropriate. Yonsei University also took part in minimizing the festive atmosphere. For instance, it abolished Y-Y Je-jun, a 1970’s event that invited celebrities to perform concerts at the Main Auditorium. Also, the students replaced some of the events with student marches, open debates, and seminars to further foster the democratic movement.

   In 1983, Korea University renamed its Seok tap chuk jeon as Seok tap Dae dong jae. The word “Chuk-jeon,” which meant “party,” seemed inappropriate for the social atmosphere at the time. Thus, the university festival took up the name Dae-dong-jae, which means “At one place, we gather, fight and celebrate.” Most South Korean universities followed and changed titles of their campus festivals to Dae-dong-jae later that year. By this time, school festivals included various communal and traditional games such as tug-of-war as well as pung-mul, Korean traditional band*** to encourage cooperation and unity among students.

   In the 1990s, the political atmosphere grew more stable, making room for a change in the role of university festivals. As the society became democratic and free, individualism dominated the university culture; students no more found the need to stay united, as their primary purpose of staying united was to create student rebellion movement. Instead of student council dictating the entire festival, student clubs and individual colleges could organize their own events. Students acknowledged diversity and individuality rather than obsessing over united student body. As Dae-dong-jae lost its role as a means of unity, student participation rate dropped drastically.




Present-day campus festivals

   Campus festivals today are very different from those of 80’s and 90’s. They have become increasingly entertainment-oriented and have less academic events. The universities invite renowned celebrities to perform and permit students to install pub booths on campus during this period. Last year at Yonsei University, the General Student Council installed a water slide on the university’s International Campus. The school also hires popular artists for the AKARAKA festival in which students all gather at Amphitheater to cheer and watch them perform. While the present-day campus festivals are enjoyed by many, problems such as university alcohol culture, commerciality, and isolation of student minorities need to be addressed. These problems can be witnessed in various aspects of university festival primarily in student-organized pub booths. During campus festivals, student clubs or departments organize fundraising events by selling alcohol and snacks. Student booths, placed along the main road, are one of the main features of Dae-dong-jae; however, they incite several problems.

   First, students use inappropriate content to advertise their pub booths. Some clubs and departments have received heated criticisms for using sexual contents to advertise their pub booths. These ads often include sexual objectification of female figure. For example, one of the universities in Jeonbuk province used a provocative image of a renowned South Korean celebrity, Kyung-ri, to promote their R-rated theme booth. This became highly controversial. They not only violated the copyright of the photo, but also sexualized Kyung-ri for advertisement purposes. Consequently, Kyung-ri’s agency filed a lawsuit against the university.

 Kangwon University also induced a heated debate with its “Couple Milk Drinking Contest” in 2015. During the contest, the male participant had to lick off the milk that was poured onto the female participant’s body, who was lying down on the table. The event was criticized for being sexually suggestive and objectifying women.

 Dae-dong-jae is also criticized for straying away from its original purpose. The campus festival is supposed to facilitate cooperation unification among the students. However, many students complain that Dae-dong-jae has just turned into a mix of binge-drinking and celebrity concerts. Jung Soo-yung (Soph., UIC, Dept. of International Studies) claimed that she could not find any distinguishing features of campus festivals. Lim Hyun-seung (Jr., Dept. of Chemical & Biomole. Engin.) also added, “I find inviting celebrities to campus festivals banal and I hope to find more interesting events that would encourage interaction amongst students.

 As celebrity fans buy off the AKARAKA tickets to see the starring artists, many students lose chance to participate in their own university’s event. The tickets are often illegally exchanged, as Chosun Ilbo reported in 2015. When there was a rumor that EXO, a famous Korean idol group, was to perform at AKARAKA, the tickets were sold at 200,000 won, whereas the original price was only 10,000 won. As a result, many students could not afford to buy the tickets and could not participate in their own school’s event.

   Moreover, disabled students are often excluded from school festivities. According to Yonsei University Disability Rights Board, student councils and AKARAKA fail to embrace disabled students during Dae-dong-jae and AKARAKA. In 2015, General Student Council postponed the negotiation on the seat arrangements for disabled students until a day before the festival, and thus failed to secure safe seats for them. The seats assigned to disabled students during the AKARAKA festival were mostly near the stairs. This hindered students with wheel chairs from comfortably moving around and enjoying the festival.

   The Disability Rights Board further emphasized how students in wheel chairs are neglected during Dae-dong-jae as well. Student booths are mostly installed on football field that is covered with artificial grass. Therefore, it is difficult for students to move in wheelchairs.  Moreover, a student who participated in a band performance during the festival faced huge difficulties. The student had hard time getting on and off the stage because it lacked the necessary facilities for disabled performers. Hence, Dae-dong-jae needs a new manual that will consider disabled students and help them enjoy the festival.




Opening up new horizons for Dae-dong-jae

According to Kim Mi-sung (Prof., Understanding of Festival Culture), campus festivals are too commercialized these days. She added, “Campus festivals are not established with a commercial purpose like other regional festivals. But in campus festivals today, companies come to advertise their products, like Cass, the beer company. You probably have seen Cass advertisements during our festivals; they are all over the campus and, personally, I feel that they are overly projecting themselves to students.” However, the professor also mentioned that today’s celebration culture is not all to be criticized. There are some positive shifts from the 80’s to the present Dae-dong-jae. She said, “The atmosphere of Dae-dong-jae in the 80’s was too suppressed. Students ceaselessly participated in demonstrations, got hit by tear gas, were arrested, and mourned and cried. It is nice to see the vibrant energies of the students during the festivals these days unlike the old times.”

The professor also gave an insight on how students could further improve school festivities: She suggested that, in order to develop festival culture, the university and the students must invest their budget on experimenting and researching new student-led activities to realize the true meaning of Dae-dong. However, currently the school spends most of its budget on inviting popular celebrities. This is an ongoing yet delicate issue at hand that serves as the primary reason that explains why campus festivals are now perceived as a commercialized event. It is now time for the students to take initiatives to actively transform their festivals to something of their own.

Sungkonghoe University is an example of a successful university festival in which students have contributed. The students organized their own special Dae-dong-jae by utilizing podcasts to broadcast student-made films instead of inviting celebrities. They also initiated student-conducted activities such as T-shirt making, treasure hunt, and basketball games that brought about positive responses from the students. Sungkonghoe University Newspaper reported that students showed great enthusiasm towards basketball games and asserted that they thought such activities revived the meaning of Dae-dong, or togetherness. Their student council claimed that they did not want their festival to become commercialized and hoped to manifest the true meaning of university festivals.

   Yonsei University also attempted to implement activities to reflect on the meaning of Dae-dong, or student unity. In 2015, the 52nd General Student Council Synergy led “Eco-campaign” during the festival in which students collaborated in recycling and cleaning up the leftover trash. Moreover, in order to prevent excluding student minorities, the Emergency Planning Committee and AKARAKA met with the Disability Rights Board early this year to discuss the regulations for 2017 AKARAKA ticketing. They agreed to sell 1% of total nine thousand tickets on flatland for disabled students who have trouble in moving around in areas with slopes. The Disability Rights Board also added that they would meet up with the new General Student Council-elect <All-together> to write an official manual on the disabled students’ security.

   The universities must now take action by investing on developing innovative contents. One possibility is to host idea contests in order to generate student feedback and provide professional consulting services.


*                   *                   *

   Dae-dong-jae has changed significantly over time. Even though it is an event that many students revel in, there are still improvements to be made. It is now time to increase student participation by reshaping the campus festival to give students the chance to become the owner of Dae-dong-jae.


*Gwangju uprising: Also called the May 18 Democratic uprising, a political demonstration organized by the Gwangju citizens in 1980.

**Pung-mul: Korean traditional percussion music



Kim Min-seo

<저작권자 © 연세애널스 무단전재 및 재배포금지>




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