Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2019

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


José Alemán, Ph.D.


The impact of protest on South Korean democracy has been documented for many decades. Scholars have focused primarily on the Kwangju Uprising and mass protests that swept the nation. They have viewed these movements in relation to topics like labor or North Korea. This thesis asks: how have college-aged student-led protests impacted the shape and formation of Korean democracy? Previous scholarship has viewed the protests in one of two lights: either destructive for South Korean society, or a guiding force championing democratic freedoms. This thesis makes the claim that the student protests acted as both a destructive and transformative force. In this thesis, I examine the ways protests from the 1960s (starting with the removal of Syngman Rhee from office) evolved in each subsequent decade. As they evolved, the protests adapted to the regime in charge at the moment and the socio-political events facing the nation at the time. This cycle continued until the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye 2017. I break down my analysis of the evolution of student protests by decades and then analyze the impact of these protests on the succeeding generations. The conclusion of the thesis shows that college- aged students were a driving force: they determined the direction South Korea moved in the past, and are poised to move South Korea in the future, as today’s South Korean students find new issues worth organizing around.