Yeonmi Park—a North Korean defector, human rights activist, and accomplished author—spoke about academic freedom at an April event that the Chicago Thinker attended. The Adam Smith Society chapter at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business sponsored the lecture, titled the “Fragility of Freedom.”
Park quickly established her credibility as a commentator on ideological censorship by citing her childhood years in North Korea, where free speech was so limited that her mother had to instruct her, “Don’t even whisper, because the birds and mice can hear you.”
Park told attendees that when she finally escaped North Korea and made her way to America, she never thought that in “the land of the free and the home of the brave, I’d be fighting for freedom of speech.” Nonetheless, Park saw forced ideological conformity firsthand as a student at Columbia University and was particularly concerned. “[Y]ou have a right to be wrong, you have a right to be stupid,” said Park, “especially in the classroom.”
The Thinker asked Park how students should respond to UChicago’s concerning shift from its policy of academic freedom, exemplified by its “creation of the Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity (RDI) Department, multiple departments sending out official statements in favor of Black Lives Matter, and students being forced to agree with COVID-related political statements as a prerequisite for attending the university.”
In response to the Thinker, Park explained that when she attended Columbia University, she “paid almost a half-million dollars to hear about how everybody hates Trump […] It’s appalling.” She noted that she was not “defending Trump in any way,” but that when university professors “have the power in teaching these children, these university students, to do that [condemn Donald Trump], I think that is some form of indoctrination […] You need to call it what it really is.”
Additionally, Park compared her experience with North Korean indoctrination to American higher education, telling the Thinker: “Why in North Korea, in classrooms, and telling us that ‘American bastards’ are evil, that was brainwashing, we are accepting that, but […] telling university students that all the problems that we have are because of white men, that is not brainwashing? It’s the exact same thing.”
This is not the first time that a prominent figure has condemned UChicago’s RDI Department. In March, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson said that its creation will “make it impossible” to conduct science.
The recording of the event can be watched here.
“telling university students that all the problems that we have are because of white men”
This is such a massive strawman that it makes it difficult for me to take anything else here seriously. I have not once been told by any professor that “all the problems we have are because of white men,” or anything close to it. I have also never had a professor explicitly condemn Trump. I’m not so naïve as to think that college professors are evenly balanced between left and right, but they’re not the political hacks that this website and right-wing media as a whole love to paint them as.
I looked into things a bit more and it looks like this particular individual has had a history of embellishing her stories and sometimes just making things up. To be clear, I’m not in any way defending North Korea or its regime, but much of what she says contradicts what other North Korean defectors have said, or even previous stories she has told.