Earlier today, students and UW faculty gathered at Red Square for a memorial service honoring In Soo Chun, whose life ended tragically on campus a year ago. Chun, an immigrant from Korea, worked as a custodian for UW's Facilities Services until a series of incidents occurred during the summer prior to his death.
According to a 2008 Seattle Times article, UW spokesman Norm Arkans felt that Chun had displayed confrontational behavior that eventually led to a change of venue from his normal Padelford Hall location to Lewis Hall. Chun eventually lost his job (he was never officially fired, according to Arkans) and returned to campus months later, covering himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire on a day when student traffic was high.Now, a year later, many who knew Chun feel that mistreatment was the cause that provoked his suicide. Gizachew Kassa, a fellow custodian who worked closely with Chun, felt strongly that he had "no mental ailment" and the university may have been an unsafe atmosphere for Chun. And many UW staff at the memorial feel that an investigation should take place, wherein information about his treatment at UW might surface.
Custodian James S. Wilson, who has been a full-time employee since 1985, felt that Chun just needed someone to talk to about his problems, and no one was there to listen. Wilson also expressed concern that UW had neglected to notice physical problems that made it hard for Chun to walk. "He had to take supplies down the steps," Wilson says, noting that UW moved Chun into a building that had no elevators that was in the process of getting some as part of the Lewis Hall Renovation project for 2007-2009.
Arkans says that Chun was "a healthy guy" that had no physical problems that UW was aware of. Arkans remains firm with his response that Chun was simply troubled, saying, "Anyone who burns themself to death in a public place has internal issues." Arkans further stresses that UW did everything in their power to help Chun get through his problems through Carelink, the campus's counseling service.
In the meantime, at the memorial, folks gathered to embrace the memory of a man who worked hard. "Even though he has no family or friends, someone still cares," says Mary J. Agard, another UW employee that worked with Chun. "We still remember him, and that's a good thing."