Yeonmi Park escaped North Korea and its oppressive regime with her family when she was only 13 years old. Now, at the age of 29, she is a university graduate, author, and vocal advocate against what she sees as a pernicious progressive movement that is making American society more like the brutal system she fled over a decade ago. Park has been sounding the alarm about the growing prevalence of “woke” ideology permeating the nation’s education system – especially in higher learning institutions. Her warnings about the troubling trend are a stark reminder of what President Ronald Reagan highlighted when he uttered the words: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
American Universities Channeling North Korea
In an interview with the New York Post, Park recounted her story of escaping North Korea only to be trafficked after arriving in China. “In 2014, she became one of just 200 North Koreans to live in the United States – and, as of last year, is an American citizen,” according to the report.
Park told the news outlet about her experience attending university as a North Korean and observing the far leftist culture that was being created. “They were in Manhattan, living in the freest country you can imagine, and they’re saying they’re oppressed? It doesn’t even compute,” she told The Post about her fellow students at Columbia University. “I was sold for $200 as a sex slave in the 21st century under the same sky. And they say they’re oppressed because people can’t follow their pronouns they invent every day?”
She recalled how her professors introduced various readings and lessons with “trigger warnings” to allow some students to opt out of the session. “Going to Columbia, the first thing I learned was ‘safe space,’” she explained. The author noted that “every problem … is because of white men” and said some of the conversations reminded her of the caste system imposed in North Korea, where people are placed into categories based on their lineage.
During an appearance on Fox News, Park said she was criticized for liking author Jane Austen. One of her fellow students said writers like Austen “had a colonial mindset” and that “they were racists and bigots and are subconsciously brainwashing you.” The anti-American sentiment expressed in these classes mirrored what Park experienced in North Korea. “I thought North Koreans were the only people who hated Americans but turns out there are a lot of people hating this country in this country,” she said in a different interview with the Post.
“Voluntarily, these people are censoring each other, silencing each other – no force behind it,” she noted, illustrating how universities have created a culture of self-censorship to silence people without using violence. “Other times (in history) there’s a military coup d’etat, like a force comes in taking your rights away and silencing you. But this country is choosing to be silenced, choosing to give their rights away.”
Is Park Right?
It is difficult to imagine American society resembling that of North Korea, which exists under a vicious dictatorship that starves its citizens, punishes dissent, and exerts absolute control over the populace. But even if universities are not going to that extreme, they seem to have no qualms about employing similar methods to ensure compliance with the prevailing progressive orthodoxy.
When it comes to cowing students into censoring themselves, there is data backing up Park’s claims. In 2022, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), in conjunction with College Pulse and RealClearEducation released its latest College Free Speech rankings analyzing how various institutions are handling freedom of expression on campus.
The report found that “[a]larming proportions of students self-censor, report worry or discomfort about expressing their ideas in a variety of contexts, find controversial ideas hard to discuss, show intolerance for controversial speakers, find their administrations unclear or worse regarding support for free speech, and even report that disruption of events or violence are, to some degree, acceptable tactics for shutting down the speech of others.”
Interestingly enough, Columbia University, the university Park attended, ranked the lowest “by far” in terms of protecting free speech on campus.
The study found that about 63% of students reported feeling worried about “damaging their reputation” if someone misunderstands something they have said or done. About three-in-five students said they felt discomfort with the idea of publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial issue or “expressing an unpopular opinion to their peers on a social media account tied to their name.”
The results were similar to what the report found in previous years. The reality is that self-censorship is becoming an increasingly dangerous problem on college campuses. Training young people to keep their thoughts to themselves if they have anti-progressive views is likely to continue after the student graduates and is ready to step into adult life. This appears to be the outcome desired by progressives in higher learning.
America differs from North Korea in that it is not easy to use government force to silence opposing views. Instead, the authoritarian left uses other means to crack down on free speech, including cancel culture, censorship, and other tactics. But, as Park indicated, getting people to censor themselves might be an even more effective way to diminish conservative, libertarian, and other anti-statist voices. When you can convince someone to believe that they should not express themselves, you don’t need a gun – social ostracization is threat enough.
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