Seun Hi Kim: How Her Story Helps Shape Mine

by Joshua Kim

The beginning of my research was definitely very forward and shallow in terms of what I was looking for. When you join a project called “The Race & Racism Project” it’s easy to lose yourself in the obvious.

RACIST WORD RACIST WORD RACIST WORD RACIST WORD RACIST WORD RACIST WORD RACIST WO–

My initial search terms were all obvious. It was every racist term you could imagine: the N word, Chink, Gook, Injun, Redmen, etc. And these all led me to very obvious articles, pictures, columns, so and so forth. What it didn’t lead me to; however, were people. Real people.

I began to really think about what I was accomplishing by simply keying in “Racist Word,” and clicking on the first link I saw. Was it purposeful? What exactly was I doing?

Nicole Maurantonio, Ph.D, Associate Professor at the University of Richmond and coordinator of the Race & Racism project; Victoria Charles, post-baccalaureate fellow of the project; and Irina Rogova, project archivist.

The three mentioned above led me to realize that I needed to do more than simply search for a racist moniker.

After being exposed more and more to their thought processes, I began to realize that my goal wasn’t necessarily to expose some old-white man who was racist during the 1950s, but rather I should be exposing those people whose stories never got told. Instead of the Modlins, the Robins, even the Bob Cotten’s, rather I should be illuminating the stories of the Russell Jones, the Seun Hi Kim’s, the “Niseis,” and so much more.

Stories of how the University of Richmond was racist (and still can be racist) are of extreme importance, but what I have found more fulfilling are the stories of those students — Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous– and their various goals, accomplishments, and even the injustices that were dealt to them.

Self determination, resistance, and intersectionality. These three words are requirements for activist and historian, Free Egunfemi, director of Untold RVA.

To do as Free said and make our work self-determined, resistant, and intersectional, we have to first be intentional about it. We have to force ourselves to think outside of the shallow pool of racist words and think more about humanizing the subjects at hand.

So I refined my search, I used less racist terminology, and instead focused on simply searching for different ethnicities: Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, etc. I pleasantly found quite a bit of information on a variety of students, but one thing began to irk me: I wanted to know more about other Korean-American students.

I soon found my goal to be almost impossible to achieve, at least for now.

Utilizing The Collegian first, I began searching “Korean, Korean-American students, Korea, Kim, Park, Lee (the last three are some of the most common surnames found in Korea),” yet virtually nothing  appeared, only bits and pieces of Korean victims of the ongoing Japanese occupation (1910-1945) to those suffering during the Korean War (1950-1953).

Finally I found one student, Seun Hi Kim, class of 1975, who was a student born in South Korea and then immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13. She studied at Westhampton College (the University of Richmond goes by a coordinate college system separating men from women; men at Richmond College, women at Westhampton) during the 1970s.

I was extremely disappointed.

Reading the article about her, it seemed as if there was virtually nothing about her. I wanted to know so much, nonetheless here I was reading that her mother and her frequented Washington D.C. a lot to obtain “Oriental” ingredients.

I quickly added her to my spreadsheet of metadata and forgot about her existence.

Resigning myself to the lack of Korean-American representation, I focused on the one Asian ethnicity that seemed to have actually had student representation: the Chinese, but this left me very unfulfilled. Don’t get me wrong, these stories are just as important to this work, but there was already so much that had been dedicated to Chinese students done by the Race & Racism Project. After looking up Chinese student after Chinese student, I remembered my lone Korean student and decided to re-read her article.

Something clicked, and my mentors words punched me in the face, again.

When I had first read her article, I brushed it off as shallow and irrelevant, but I realized that I was so, so wrong. The information I had thought was useless was actually so revealing of who this woman was.

Seun Hi Kim wasn’t simply another Korean-American student at the University of Richmond. She was (allegedly) soft spoken.

She moved from California to Arkansas (she thought Arkansas was too rustic and small).

She took Math, English, Art and French (like me!). She knew how to swim.

She had two doctors for parents.

She was unsure of what she wanted to study. She wanted to make the U.S. her home.

I humanized Seun Hi Kim, and by doing so, I realized how much we had in common.

My parents moved from the grand metropolis of New York City to 3×3 miles Colonial Heights, Virginia. I’m double majoring in French and Journalism. I love to swim (even though I’m no good at it). I came into college pursuing a MBA because of familial pressures to succeed financially. The U.S. IS my home, and it was definitely Seun Hi Kim’s as well.

Despite how little there was written about her, I was able to feel a profound connection with her.

Frequently in this project, we are told to read against the grain and look for the things that weren’t meant to be seen. We are supposed to search for “hidden” voices, voices intentionally and unintentionally left out of the history of the University of Richmond.

Seun Hi Kim is one of those voices. She wasn’t given a full-length feature. She was barely even interviewed. Yet, I was able to relate so much to her because I saw me in her. I saw my story reflect in hers and that’s what is so important about this project:

It makes insignificant students like me, significant, and it gives me a comrade in my own fight to leave a self-determined, resistant, and intersectional story for the next out-of-place Korean-American student to be inspired by.

Joshua Hasulchan Kim is from Colonial Heights, Virginia. He is a junior at the University of Richmond who is double majoring in Journalism and French. Joshua is involved in various clubs on campus: He is the co-president of Block Crew dance crew, the opinions editor for the Collegian newspaper, and is the Co-Director of Operations for the Multicultural Lounge Building Committee. Joshua joined the project as part of the Spring 2017 independent study (RHCS 387) and expanded upon this research with the support of an A&S Summer Research Fellowship during Summer 2017.

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