Statement by the President of the University of Utah on the Zhifan Dong case and documents

The explanation and disclosure of the records comes five months after the murder of student Zhifan Dong.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Taylor Randall, President of the University of Utah, pictured Friday, May 13, 2022.

On Tuesday, University of Utah President Taylor Randall issued a statement about the mistakes school officials made in responding to concerns reported by student Zhifan Dong before she was killed earlier this year.

Here is Randall’s full letter:

Dear University of Utah students, faculty, staff and community,

During my first year as your President, I sadly witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering of the family, friends and teammates of two of our murdered students – Aaron Lowe and Zhifan Dong. I sat with their families, heard the sorrow in their voices and saw the pain in their tears. No loved one should ever have to endure such heartache. After each untold loss, I have been moved to demand change and challenge our campus community to do more.

“What better way can the university do to serve and protect our students, and what role can I play to ensure their safety?” I’ve asked myself this question over and over again for the last eleven months. I come to the same conclusion every time: listen, learn, hold people accountable, be transparent and constantly find ways to improve.

As a public university, the U has a responsibility to serve the public interest and respect the public’s right to information, in good times and bad. Of course, being fully transparent while respecting the privacy of students, faculty, staff and their families is always a challenge. But let me be clear: transparency sheds a bright light on what we do. Only by seeing can we improve.

Regarding the death of freshman Zhifan Dong last February at the hands of fellow student Haoyu Wang, I believe the university must err on the side of full transparency. Today, the University released a detailed timeline of our employees’ actions before and after their deaths, including known public information related to this case and documents that would ultimately be subject to disclosure under public records laws and policies.

While we have been actively working on an honest and comprehensive self-assessment of the university’s actions before Dong’s death since late February, we have delayed the release of a detailed timetable and related documentation and information to protect a pending criminal case. Let me be clear: the university’s review of the matter and resulting accountability actions are ongoing.

Although the university made extensive efforts to support and ensure Dong’s safety and support Wang, our self-assessment revealed shortcomings: a delay by former employees of our housing services in notifying the University of Utah Police Department of evidence of an intimate partner Force; Housing processes, procedures and training that need to be clarified and improved; and inadequate and unprofessional internal communications. We have looked at each of these areas, including employment measures.

In addition to holding staff accountable, we have updated and clarified emergency procedures for housing staff; restructured the organizational approach to streamline reporting processes; hired a new housing executive director; refined processes for communication between housing staff and university police; and conducted regular audits on incidents of behavior, racism and prejudice in university-managed housing.

Additionally, since the tragic murder of Lauren McCluskey in 2018, the U has made sweeping, sweeping changes to our safety practices to better ensure the safety of our students. We’ve completely redesigned the University of Utah’s public safety based on expert recommendations and our police department’s recent state audit. These improvements include, but are not limited to: Establishing a new position of Chief Safety Officer; Recruitment of new police officers (more than 90% are new since 2019); creating more robust and thorough investigative practices; improving interpersonal violence intervention training; Investments in new public safety facilities and equipment; Development of a publicly accessible dashboard; and establishing a research center to improve campus security.

When it comes to protecting our students, our job is never done. I have urged college leadership to leave no stone unturned as we seek additional avenues to improve student safety, and I encourage all of you to do the same – all students, staff and faculty. We must always actively prioritize the health and well-being of the students entrusted to our care.

As your President, I will lead through transparency, taking action and constantly striving to do better.

You have my commitment and I demand the same commitment from you.

Taylor R Randall, President

Here are the documents the university released in the case:

• Notes, logs and reports of Zhifan Dong and Haoyu Wang’s interactions with U. staff, including apartment workers and campus police.

• Letters of discipline for three apartment employees.

• A schedule of which university departments responded and when.

And this is the Salt Lake City Police Department’s report on the alleged domestic violence-related assault on January 12: Statement by the President of the University of Utah on the Zhifan Dong case and documents

Justin Scacco

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