California campus boosts security after killings of three Chinese students

Deaths of three Chinese in two years puts pressure on University of Southern California to better protect its international students

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 6:44am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 11:27am


The University of Southern California has announced new measures aimed at better protecting its large international student population - as well as the rest of the campus - after the killings of three Chinese graduate students over the past two years.

The move comes two weeks after a 24-year-old graduate student was beaten to death just blocks away from campus, an attack that renewed demands from USC's Chinese community for increased security. USC has the largest foreign student population of any US university; about 3,000 of its 8,000 international students are from China.

The university will now require international graduate students to take "extended safety education" programmes, create an international student safety advisory group and train campus police about the different cultures of students on campus.

Other security measures announced by USC on Friday include more patrols by campus security and Los Angeles Police Department officers in the neighbourhoods around the campus, expansion of a free ride service offered to students and more staff to monitor surveillance cameras.

The university will also now extend the deployment of unarmed security "ambassadors" to summer months. They were previously only in place during the school year, which drew criticism after the death of Xinran Ji, an engineering student from China who was fatally beaten with a baseball bat in the early hours of July 24.

The changes mark the latest in a string of security improvements that USC has made since 2012, when two students were shot and killed during a botched robbery near campus.

Six months later, a man opened fire outside a Halloween party on campus, injuring four people who were not students.

Security on and off campus was amplified. The university installed dozens more surveillance cameras and licence-plate readers. The LAPD created a 30-officer task force focused on the campus and the surrounding neighbourhood. USC also limited public access to campus in the evenings and added fingerprint scanners at dorm entrances. About 500 metres of fencing went up along the campus' 3.5km perimeter.

The campus has been on edge since the most recent death. Four teenagers have been charged over the killing, which authorities said began as a robbery.

The death was particularly hard for USC's Chinese community. In 2012, Ying Wu and Ming Qu, two 23-year-old graduate students in the electrical engineering programme, were shot dead while sitting in a parked BMW just west of campus. The students' parents filed a wrongful-death suit against the university, saying the school misled them when it said it ranked among the safest in the nation. The suit was dismissed.

After the most recent death, parents called on the Chinese government to issue a "study advisory" which would alert parents to the safety risks they said came with attending USC.

Xu Yuan, the president of USC's Chinese Students and Scholars Association, said university officials formally met his group twice to discuss their safety concerns. His group wrote one of two online petitions that called on USC to take action - their demands were among the new measures announced by the university.

"So far, USC has shown that they are taking what we've petitioned for very seriously," he said, calling the new measures a good step. But, he cautioned, it was too early to know if these measures would be enough to prevent something from happening again. "Only time will tell," he said.

Shelley Wu, a graduate student, helped write a second petition that called on the university to take more responsibility for the most recent death. She was sceptical about the new measures.

The "death happened not because the technology was not advanced enough - there are already a lot of cameras in the area," she said. "The question is, even if you have cameras and high-end security technology all over the place, how do you prevent something like Ji's death from happening again?"

At USC, many students said they had not heard about the increased security measures. University officials said they planned to send a letter to students when they returned to campus for the new academic year.