A year ago, In Soo Chun, a Korean-American custodian at the University of Washington poured gasoline over his body and lit himself on fire in front of the office of the university’s president. Several students rushed to try to put out the fire in vain. In Soo Chun soon passed away.
The media dismissed him as deeply troubled, following the lead of UW public relations rep Norm Arkans. There was no effort to ask why he chose such a public way to die. There was no effort to ask whether it had to do with the poor working conditions many UW custodians face. There was no effort to ask whether In Soo Chun was attempting to carry on a tradition of self-immolation that has been a central part of the Korean labor movement.
I work closely with an organization called International Workers and Students for Justice, a group of rank and file UW custodians and tradespeople. IWSJ held a memorial on the one year anniversary of In Soo Chun’s death at which they asked these difficult questions.