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Mellon Sawyer seminar series hosts virtual event: ‘From Comfort Woman to Comfort Child: Genealogies of Gendered and Sexualized Violence in the Korean Diaspora’

On Jan. 23, Brandeis University hosted an online seminar titled “From Comfort Woman to Comfort Child: Genealogies of Gendered and Sexualized Violence in the Korean Diaspora” as a part of its Mellon Sawyer seminar series for the year, themed “Imperiled Bodies: Slavery, Colonialism, Citizenship and the Logics of Gender-Based Violence.” Yuri Doolan of Brandeis University organized this event, and Ji-Yeon Yuh of Northwestern University moderated it. The seminar featured a panel of esteemed scholars, including Kimberly McKee from Grand Valley State University, Christine Hong from UC Santa Cruz, Jeong-Mi Park from Chungbuk National University and Yuri Doolan from Brandeis University.

The seminar provided great insights into the historical and ongoing impact of imperialistic violence on Korean women and children in the diaspora. Christine Hong was the first speaker for the seminar. She is renowned for her work in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies and an author for her book “A Violent Peace.” Her talk examined the labor dynamics during the Korean War under the theme “Home away from Home”, particularly focusing on the labor associated with the “Comfort” system, which was a form of militarized labor.

Following Hong, Jeong-Mi Park shared her extensive knowledge in South Korea’s historical sociology. Her focus was on the dual facets of “comfort women”—the well-known Japanese military “comfort woman” system from 1932-1945 and the lesser-known camptown sex workers associated with the U.S. military. Park discussed the evolution of the term “comfort women,” its exclusive association with the Japanese military system, and the obscured history of those associated with the U.S. military. She highlighted the legal victory of former U.S. military “comfort women” in 2014, their struggle for recognition, and the support they received from feminist activists, pro bono lawyers and researchers in restoring the public memory about them.

Yuri Doolan, an Assistant Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University, then contributed his expertise and insights into the impact of U.S. militarization on Korean women and children in the diaspora. Doolan is an award-winning historian whose work explores the structural violence of U.S. militarism and empire. Lastly, the session was rounded off with Kimberly McKee’s presentation about transnational adoptees. After McKee, the event concluded with a question-and-answer segment.

This seminar is part of the broader “Imperiled Bodies” series, supported by a John E. Sawyer Seminar grant from the Mellon Foundation. The initiative is led by Principal Investigator (PI) Anita Hill of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, alongside co-PI Harleen Singh and ChaeRan Freeze. The series is a collaborative effort across Brandeis University’s various departments, including the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Women’s Studies Research Center. 

The “Imperiled Bodies” seminar series aims to explore the complexities of gender-based violence across different contexts. Examining the roles of heteropatriarchy, colonialism, imperialism, racism and capitalism in perpetuating such violence, the series comprises nine panel sessions and an associated exhibition that draws on the rich educational resources of metropolitan Boston and partnering with local and national organizations. This initiative aligns with significant anniversaries at Brandeis University, emphasizing the institution’s commitment to social justice and its long-standing focus on addressing issues related to gender-based violence issues. 

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