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Students gather at the College Green for a vigil for the Virginia Tech tragedy. Credit: Anna Cororaton

When College freshman Alex Lee learned that an Asian was responsible for the 32 deaths at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, one thought crossed his mind: "I hope he's not Korean."

Speaking about Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old Korean who committed the massacre, Lee was one of many Koreans and Korean Americans who expressed unease with being associated with Cho's racial identity.

Yoon Jeon, a Korean American graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences, had a similar reaction.

"All of my friends and I were just like, 'Don't be Korean. Don't be Korean,'" said Jeon, also the Korean Graduate Student Association public-relations chairwoman.

For many Koreans and Korean Americans, Cho's actions were not only startling but also a source of shame and worry.

"I always used to say that the Koreans are the most peaceful people," said Hannah Hwang, a College sophomore and Korean American. "When I heard about this, I was absolutely shocked."

"My parents have been calling me to ask if anyone has said anything or if I have seen anything anti-Korean," she said.

And, experts say, it's not surprising that so many Korean parents are so concerned about their kids in regard to this incident.

"Anyone who has Korean blood is considered family," said Charles Kim, president of the Los Angeles-based Korean American Coalition, a non-profit organization.

He called this the "we" concept - the idea that the Korean community is responsible for the actions of all its members.

For Korean and Korean American students, this mentality has meant that their parents have been very concerned for their well-being over the last few days.

In fact, most in attendance at the Korean Student Association's board meeting last night said they had gotten at least one call from a parent telling them to be careful.

"A lot of international students are really worried," said Engineering and Wharton freshman Haegin Chang, who is Korean. "My friends from home [in Korea] who are still in high school but have gotten into college in America are worried about hate crimes."

Still, there exists a significant voice in the community that seems optimistic that the Korean and Korean American communities will not face any major repercussions or security threats due to the actions of one angry young man.

"I don't think the Korean community will be made into a major target because of this," said Jason Yoon, the political chair of the Korean Student Association.

Cameron Hurst, director of the Center for East Asian Studies, echoed his statement.

"I don't believe there will be any kind of repercussions," he said.

Others, like June Chu, director of the Pan-Asian American Community House, are trying to remain optimistic.

"I'd hope people focus on the fact that it was a tragedy, rather than a race issue," she said.

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