The windows in the Arts, Research and Culture House Cafe have pieces of stained glass embedded within them. One of these panels caught the attention of College sophomore Seunghun Lee while he was eating in Tortas Frontera one day.
He noticed in the glass an image of a rising sun, which historically has been represented on the flag of the Japanese military.
As an international student from Korea, Lee said, “I grew up in an environment where it’s been natural for me to find the flag really offensive.”
Associate Director of the Center of East Asian Studies Frank Chance said that both Korea and China were victims of Japanese aggression in World War II, and there is still tension today between those countries.
Lee reacted strongly to seeing that image in the window and posted about it on Facebook. It immediately went viral, primarily within the Korean student community on campus.
Some Korean students decided to reach out to the University to address the issue.
College senior Hyun-Soo Lim wrote a personal email to the Director of the Pan-Asian American Community House, Peter Van Do , expressing her sentiments on the rising sun symbol. Lim said that shortly after, University administrators responded and arranged a meeting to sit down with the students and discuss the issue.
“They clearly understood this issue to be a very urgent and important one,” Lim said.
Lim and Lee sat down for a meeting with Associate Vice Provost for Equity and Access William Gipson , University Architect David Hollenberg , who oversaw the recent renovation of the ARCH, University Archivist Mark Frazier Lloyd and history of art professor David Brownlee .
Both Lee and Lim said that their initial reaction was to demand the removal of the stained glass, but they decided to come into the meeting with an open mind.
“I wished to talk with them in a cooperative manner and resolve this issue through the discussion,” Lee explained.
Chance noted that the meaning of symbols change over time. “The rising sun is a beautiful thing but unfortunately has come to be associated with some bad things,” he said.
“It’s important to have a response to it to help people understand,” he added.
Frazier said that there are 15 stained glass coats of arms in the windows of that room in the ARCH. Each is meant to represent the international missionary work of the Christian Student Association, the group that built the ARCH in 1928 and owned it until Penn bought it in 1999. While it is unclear when the stained glass was put in, Frazier’s educated guess is that it was installed around the time when the ARCH was built or shortly thereafter.
At the meeting, one of the proposed solutions was for educational signs to be placed around the room explaining the historical significance of the stained glass. Hollenberg said they have not yet decided where to place these signs.
Other solutions included placing a brochure at the ARCH front desk and including information about the stained glass windows as part of the “Discover Penn” cell phone tour.
Hollenberg explained that drafting the material for the signs will take some time, and a team of experts will review the text before anything is produced. He did not have an exact timeline, but said that he is “cognizant” that students would like to see something done quickly.
Lim believed the efforts of the meeting were productive and said the University was “very receptive” to the students’ concerns.
Lee walked out of the meeting initially satisfied, but he indicated that the Korean community at Penn is still not satisfied with the response. He described the proposed solution as a compromise and said that many Koreans still want the stained glass to be completely removed.
Moving forward, Lee plans to continue dialogues with students and administrators about the topic to “participate in resolving the issue and represent the Korean perspective in the process.”
Lee also would like to spread awareness of this issue on campus, particularly among Asian interest and cultural groups.
In response, Gipson said that the Division of the Vice Provost for University Life is open to discussion and engagement with students. “The University is listening and is concerned,” he said.
“Hopefully, we will come up with a solution that will take all thoughts into consideration,” he added.