Undergraduate Spotlight: E Ju Ro

Headshot of E Ju Ro

Photo of E Ju Ro

E Ju Ro is pursuing a sociology major, a philosophy minor, and a coterminal master's degree in sociology. As an international student from Seoul, E Ju has been engaged in Korean peace advocacy work and the "comfort women" movement, both of which guide her academic passions as well. At Stanford, E Ju is a research assistant at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center's Stanford Next Asia Policy Lab (SNAPL) and a research assistant for Sociology Professor Asad Asad. Outside of academics, E Ju likes to spend her time grabbing coffee with friends, putting together an outfit, journaling, or reading.

Why did you choose to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?

My interest in the program and in political philosophy more broadly began in Professor Brian Coyne's class, "20th Century Political Theory: Liberalism and Its Critics." I realized that what I was really interested in was theoretical work—particularly postcolonial, feminist, and decolonial theory. At the same time, I had always been interested in real-world problems that concerned systemic and historical injustices. Ethics in Society was the perfect program for me to bring these two axes of inquiry together and apply a theoretical framework to an empirical ethical problem.

What are you exploring for your honors thesis research?

In this project, I explore the way in which comfort women survivors—survivors of the Japanese military’s system of sexual slavery during World War II—have been memorialized by the comfort women movement. Specifically, I examine the Statue of Peace, the movement’s symbolic statue, as a manifestation of this memorialization. My primary question is “Can the Comfort Women Speak Through the Sonyeosang?” inspired by Gayatri Spivak’s seminal essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. I chose this essay as a theoretical starting point, as it makes an incredibly provocative argument—that subaltern speech and representation are inherently impossible, in short—that I hoped to evaluate through the case of the comfort women that seems to prove otherwise.

I explore the discourse surrounding Spivak’s argument that subaltern speech and representation are inherently impossible, or in other words, that it is impossible for the voiceless marginalized groups in society to speak about their experiences in a way that is considered intelligible and legitimate. I evaluate her argument and consider varying responses to it in the literature in conversation with comfort women cases. Some of these responses include critiques of Spivak’s lack of recognition of the different forms of speech that the subaltern may engage in, as well as arguments that the issue is not the impossibility of subaltern speech itself but instead the unwillingness of powerful classes in society to listen to this speech.

Explain why your topic interests you and share any “aha” moments that you’ve experienced in your research.

In high school, I worked for the comfort women's movement by interning at their museum, the Museum of War and Women’s Rights in Seoul, which memorializes the lives and demands of survivors. Ever since then, I've been deeply passionate about the cause and have been interested in exploring it academically.

Most of my "aha" moments occur in the theoretical components of my project. For instance, I've had "aha" moments when I could finally understand what Spivak was arguing after reading and re-reading several times or when I could finally elucidate and articulate why a certain theoretical argument did not sit right with me.

How do you define ethics, and how has this approach affected how you examine your thesis topic and your other studies?

I understand ethical inquiry as the exploration of normative right and wrong. In pursuing this specific project, I've come to realize that I understand ethical inquiry as raising and contemplating more questions rather than necessarily providing a clear-cut answer to them. This approach has guided my project by allowing me to weigh and explore ethical considerations regarding "subaltern representation," deriving value from this exploration itself rather than attempting to arrive at a singular normative answer.