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Univ. of Utah to pay $5 million to parents of slain international student Zhifan Dong

The University of Utah announced this week that it will pay $5 million to the parents of an international student from China who was killed last year.

The death of 19-year-old Zhifan Dong in a Salt Lake City motel room on February 11, 2022, was a domestic violence homicide. Her then-boyfriend and fellow student Haoyu Wang has been accused of her death. An internal university review published in July revealed that school housing staff members failed several times to recognize that Dong was in danger in the weeks leading up to her death.

Dong’s father Mingsheng Dong and her mother Junfang Shen said in a statement Tuesday about the settlement, “While we mourn Zhifan’s death, we are proud to take this important step toward justice for our daughter.” Is grateful.” “It is our hope that Zeefan will be remembered and that his memory will inspire others to help prevent intimate partner violence and save lives on campus and in all of our communities.”

Wang, 26, has been charged with murder and is in jail. He has been declared incompetent to stand trial and has pleaded not guilty through his attorney, Joseph C. Almilla.

At the settlement, the school admits its failure to protect Dong.

Zhifan Dong.
Zhifan Dong.Courtesy Dong Family

“The university acknowledges deficiencies in its housing and residential education team’s response to the complex situation that resulted in Zhifan Dong’s death and acknowledges the terrible loss caused to the Dong family,” the school said.

University President Taylor Randall said the settlement demonstrates the school’s “seriousness in honoring Zifan Dong” and “commitment to its ongoing work to address all aspects of student safety.”

In a statement, Randall said Dong’s “murder is a reminder that intimate partner violence is a social problem that crosses borders and cultures, and manifests in many ways.” “No one should have to suffer the loss of a child to violence and our university will persevere, continue to improve, and advance the health and well-being of our students.”

Dong’s parents said in an interview in July that the university was not forthcoming about missteps in responding to concerns about their daughter’s safety.

“We betrayed and lied to,” he said. “This is bureaucratic arrogance, contempt for life and an unforgivable mistake.”

According to university documents, on January 14, 2022, about a month before she was killed, Dong alerted the school housing department that Salt Lake City police had arrested Wang two days earlier and charged her with assault. Imposed. But housing staff didn’t inform school police of the arrest until a month later—after Dong had disappeared. Records also showed that staff members repeatedly confused Dong’s name with Wang’s and mistakenly called the phone number of another student who shared the same name as Wang, also an international student from China. Is.

The school said the agreement would be voted on in the coming days, as any legal agreement in Utah involving a state entity that exceeds $1 million requires legislative approval. (Gov. Spencer Cox has already signed the resolution.) The settlement, which will not include state appropriations or money from student tuition, resolves “outstanding legal claims against the university,” the university said in an official statement. Following an internal review, the school took disciplinary action against three housing staff and two others resigned.

In addition to the financial settlement, the school said it would erect a memorial on campus in Dong’s memory.

Dong is the second University of Utah student to be killed in four years after filing a domestic violence report to school officials. Lauren McCluskey, a track athlete who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2018, called campus police more than 20 times to report harassment. In 2020, the McCluskeys won a multimillion-dollar settlement from the university through Parker & McConkie, the law firm representing the Dong family.



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