This is a sequel to the two-part series bringing out the inconsistencies in SNU’s image of Queer support and actual policy regarding such documenting the events of a Pride fest organised by student volunteers. This fest was meant to serve as a source of acknowledgement and celebration of the queer community on campus. However, the festivities and cheer were still accompanied by widespread judgment and even retaliation, with little in the way of actual justice.
The spirit of pride was high in SNU when members of the student community, in alliance with the SNUQC organised a Queer Fest, with three events spanning over 16th to 21st November. Students came together to celebrate queerness, spending the night of the 16th making posters and drawing flags in support of the LGBTQ movement, with many contributing to the aura of inclusivity by sharing makeup and nail polish. This was followed by the unfurling of a Rainbow Flag in the D Block the next night, as numerous students gathered around to hear about the history and politics related to the queer community on campus, and their struggle for visibility. The 21st of November was characterized by colors and music, as students gathered in front of the ISC to rewrap the Rainbow Tree—one of, if not, the most prominent symbols of SNU’s rich queer history. Young adults, taking pride and celebrating their differences, all worked to gather thread and endow the tree in the unifying colors of the prism, following which the students all marched to the Lonely Tree, one of the most popular landmarks of SNU, as the new Rainbow Tree. Having been denied permission to establish the Lonely Tree as the Rainbow Tree for years on end, ironically enough due to it being “too visible”, the establishment of the Lonely Tree was to serve as a historical step towards a more inclusive and diverse SNU campus.
“The event was much more than just shimmers and wrapping rainbow yarn around a tree. It was the celebration of love and pride itself.” – 1st year student
“What I loved about the pride fest the most was the pure joy which radiated from everyone. It truly was all about love, in all its forms. As an ally, watching my friends feel like they are loved and heard was one of the most heartwarming experiences I have ever witnessed.” – 2nd year student
The fest could be termed as a success on one hand, providing a much desired platform for the queer folk on campus to express themselves, and greatly increase visibility. However none of this was free from judgment nor retaliation, the most dramatic of such coming a week later. In the early hours of 3am on the 29th of November, the Rainbow Tree in front of the ISC was vandalized, with the threads so painstakingly collected and wrapped around the trunk of the tree slashed and discarded. The incident received immediate publicity, with almost every single club as well as the student council publicly condemning the event and attempting to spread awareness.
The case of the vandalism was quickly taken over by the Disciplinary Committee (DC), involving numerous teams in the investigation, including the DSA office, representatives from the SNU QC and Campus Caravan, student volunteers and the security team to investigate the matter. After monitoring hours of CCTV footage, the team involved in the investigation managed to pinpoint the identities of five undergraduate students involved in the vandalism case. The case of these five students was sent to the Proctorial Board following an evaluation by the DC, with a final verdict sending the main culprit (who had instigated the incident as well as cut the thread themselves) back home, but with little other punishment for the student’s accomplices.
For the university, the issue had been resolved, with justice successfully meted out. A week after the initial vandalism had taken place, the DSA team sent out an email announcing that any form of discrimination or harassment will not be tolerated in SNU (though taking great care to not mention this specific issue). However for the queer community, it had felt like nothing had changed. The yarns they tied around the tree with love and hope were still torn down, along with the symbol of inclusivity and safety they provided. Witnesses during the Proctorial Board meeting gave accounts of how the vandalizers had little remorse and defended their actions by stating that they had not intended for their actions to be queerphobic, yet not answering the question of why they went for that specific tree nor why they carried around the knife. The very image of a group of students walking around the campus late at night with a pocket knife, with the intent to cause some chaos was enough to cause several sleepless nights to members within the QC.
“Obviously I was shocked, I felt unsafe almost, but in a very lowkey way (since you can never really let your guard down). Being queer, you grow up expecting attacks.” – 2nd year student on dealing with the vandalism incident
It wasn’t the first instance of retaliation faced by the Queer Community in response to their efforts for expression. Threats during the Queer Fest were made common, ranging from queer violence, threatening of families and more. Many women during the Queer Fest mentioned threats of sexual violence and objectifying comments made towards them in response to a queer empowerment quote written across their chests, which said “suck tits and clits”, as well as being accused of being obscene.
The execution of the Queer Fest proves to be movement in the right direction for enabling Queer culture within SNU, as well as the approval for monthly unfurling of the Rainbow Flag in the D Block serving as an example of progress for policy related to queer visibility.
“The tree was a symbol of acceptance and celebration; vandalising it was an act of extreme cowardice and unnecessary bitterness which should not in any way lessen the sheen of the beautiful event organised by the queer society at SNU.” 1st year student
These tangible steps will serve to benefit the future of the QC, but we must avoid complacency. The risk posed by indifference is too great, and as participants in the QC or as allies, we must stand up for what we believe in, to ensure that queer expression on campus remains a right, and not a mercy.