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Racial harassment at universities in focus as Kyoto poll exposes lack of tailored rules

A survey report listing cases of racial harassment, including the comment, "I hate South Koreans," is seen in Kyoto on June 17, 2022. (Mainichi/Ryo Chatani)

KYOTO -- Academics in Kyoto are calling for countermeasures against "racial harassment" at universities following a survey highlighting the lack of specific rules at surveyed institutions, with one expert describing the issue as one "bringing each university's stance on human rights and diversity into question."

    A 28-year-old "Zainichi" Korean resident of Japan living in Kyoto was shocked by the words read by a male teacher during class about eight years ago when she was a student at a private university in the city. In a multicultural understanding class attended by about 170 students, the woman was asked by the teacher to speak about Zainichi Koreans. In the next week's class, the teacher read aloud discriminatory feedback written by several students, such as "If you have any complaints, just go home" and "There is no reason for you to be in Japan."

    The woman felt, "There are people in this classroom who are hostile and uncomfortable with my attributes." She later suffered from heart palpitations and headaches when she saw the faculty building, and she kept away from the university. She protested to the teacher with her peers, but he took a defiant attitude, saying, "If you have an opinion, just raise your hand and say it in class," which made her distrustful of him.

    Regarding this case, Ryuta Itagaki, a professor of modern Korean social history at Doshisha University and co-chair of an association calling on Kyoto Prefecture and the city of Kyoto to promote effective measures against hate speech, noted, "If the students' comments were going to be presented, the teacher should have criticized them for their discriminatory content."

    In July and August 2021, the association asked 30 universities in Kyoto Prefecture to conduct a survey on racial harassment. It received responses from 19 universities, and compiled a report this spring.

    According to the report, all schools had regulations and guidelines regarding harassment, but only Ritsumeikan University singled out racial harassment. Of the 18 universities whose responses were made public, sexual harassment was mentioned by all of the institutions and power harassment by 17.

    Ritsumeikan University specifically classifies "unfair discriminatory speech and behavior from a teacher during class against a specific country, race or ethnicity with no relation to the theme of the class," "using racial slurs as a form of bullying in class" and "ignoring international students' cultural backgrounds and forcing them to act according to the same standards as Japanese people," among other acts, as racial harassment.

    When universities were asked if they are aware of the nature of racial harassment at their facilities, all of them responded that they were either "not aware" of it or "unable to disclose" information.

    The report cited cases of racial harassment that Itagaki saw and heard which include: a faculty member repeatedly making insulting remarks about South Korea during class; a Zainichi Korean faculty member being directly told by a student that they "hate South Koreans"; and a Korean student being told outside of the university to "die."

    The number of victims of racial harassment is believed to be growing amid worsening sentiment toward China and South Korea. Although legislation has lagged behind for many years, some progress has been made with the revised law on the promotion of labor measures and enrichment of workers' lives that went into effect in 2020. The law obliges employers to take measures to prevent power harassment. A notice by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has indicated that the workers' nationality will also be considered when determining whether cases are power harassment.

    At the same time, there is currently no clear legal basis for universities to take measures against racial harassment in Japan. Itagaki said, "Each university should define racial harassment in its regulations. In doing so, they will be able to grasp the actual situation and take countermeasures."

    (Japanese original by Kanae Soejima, Kyoto Bureau)

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