University Failed To Protect Student Murdered By Her Ex-Boyfriend

The University of Utah appears to have failed to protect slain student Zhifan Dong after she reported to school staff that she was in danger.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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University of Utah

Since the “me too” movement swept the nation, many Americans have pushed back against the systemic policy’s found in institutions that have pandered to and abetted rape culture for decades. Colleges and schools have long been accused of this, sweeping women’s claims under the rug and allowing perpetrators to get away with violence and abuse. In a recent case, the University of Utah appears to have failed to protect one of its students, whose life was tragically taken because of it. 

The University of Utah can no longer deny its participation in the events that led to the murder of Zhifan Dong after orders from the district attorney’s office required the university to make documents outlining the events that led up to her death public domain. The 19-year-old international Chinese student was an undergraduate at the Salt Lake City school. This past February, however, Dong was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend, despite the young girl’s multiple attempts to warn the university that she was at risk. This marks the second story of this kind in which a student was killed and the school was accused of failing to act after reports of danger. 

In the timeline of events that has been made available, it is now clear that the University of Utah was well aware of the violent situation Dong faced, weeks before her death. After her at the time boyfriend had a violent altercation with the 19-year-old, he was arrested by police, and Dong was granted a temporary order of protection. She went to the housing staff at the school to make them aware of the situation and warn them about her ex-boyfriend, which is when staff failed to respond in a proper moral and procedural manner. 

Dong’s roommate, Bailey McGartland, spoke with The Utah Chronicle about her fury over how the University of Utah mishandled the situation.  McGartland had consoled her friend every step of the way through trying to protect herself from her ex, including when she filed reports of domestic violence and requested wellness checks be ordered on him. She said the murder was “absolutely preventable.” 

The campus housing staff neglected to report to the University of Utah’s on-site police department about what Dong had relayed. In a lawsuit, attorneys for the student’s family say that evidence depicted how the school lacked adequate internal communication, which led to improper reports and handling of the situation. Furthermore, it calls for the school to enforce stricter policies for procedures and training on these matters.

Additionally, school administrators neglected to upraise the report of the young female’s case to a “welfare” situation, which would have classified the incident as a higher concern to authorities. Ultimately, it ended up taking weeks for the University of Utah to contact the police and report that Dong’s life was being threatened. On the day police were alerted, officers found her dead inside a motel room along with her ex, who admitted to killing her.

The University of Utah student’s parents are now filing suit against the school and its failure to protect their daughter. The representing law firm represented another family against the college from a 2018 death in which a female student attempted to alert campus police more than 20 times that she was in danger from her ex-boyfriend before he killed her. When that suit was settled in 2020, the family was awarded a multimillion-dollar settlement from the school.