On Oct. 29, over 150 people lost their lives and more than 140 were injured after a Halloween celebration crowd surge in Itaewon, a popular multicultural neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea. As the country lifted COVID-19 restrictions involving face masks and crowd limits, hundreds of thousands of people, especially young adults and teenagers, flooded into streets in the neighborhood to celebrate Halloween. However, the festive moment turned into a tragedy not so long after huge, packed crowds pushed against each other in narrow alleys, resulting in screams for help and uncontrollable panic, according to witnesses on the day.
The unexpected tragedy brought shockwaves across the country, with the government announcing a national mourning period for a week and furthering investigations on causes of the incident. Michelle Lee ’23, president of Korean Students Association (KSA), expressed her shock and deep sadness when she came across the news.
“As a Korean American, it felt different than any other tragedy in another country because I have a form of identity and tie there,” Lee said. “Some of the footage on social media was heartbreaking, and I was extremely shocked by how many people were affected and passed away from the incident. My heart goes out for the victims and those who lost their friends and family members.”
Karen Shih, assistant dean of Intercultural Education and advisor to students of Asian Descent, also shared her feelings about the tragedy in Seoul.
“I was shocked, and this is a heartbreaking incident for the country,” Shih said. “It was supposed to be a happy moment for people, but it unfortunately turned out to be a tragedy. I immediately thought about the impact on our students because we have lots of Korean American students and international students who both have strong connections and families in South Korea. KSA gladly reached out to me right away for advice about what they can do for the College community.”
On Nov. 3, KSA and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) organized a community gathering in light of the tragedy in Itaewon, providing an altar to write reflections, place flowers and light candles. Members of ORSL were also present to give counseling for those who wanted to privately share their thoughts and feelings. Lee felt that it was crucial to take action in supporting students during this difficult time.
“I reached out to Karen and ORSL because I wanted advice on putting out a statement and how our group can be a support for students, and I was able to get lots of resources,” Lee said. “Through reaching out and working to create a gathering space, we wanted to do something action-oriented and not just with words. In general, KSA likes to be a space where we are not just a social group, but a group for the entire community. I felt that the gathering reflected that we truly care about our community, and provided a private space where people could have a moment to reflect and pause in the middle of the day, surrounded by others who feel the same.”
Shih also provided additional resources and suggestions that can help students go through this time of grief.
“Some people may take longer times to recover for different reasons, while others may naturally feel better as time passes. Grieving is a process where we each go through different stages, and all these feelings are normal in the process. I am always there as a resource for support, and Dean Sendoya and Stone Center are also definitely great resources. I can connect students to Stone Center as well, if needed. Students are encouraged to reach out to whoever they are comfortable with, including faculty and staff members they feel comfortable sharing what they’re going through.”
Available Resources for Help and Support:
Free trauma therapy service (available in both Korean and English)
Dean Karen Shih