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USC Chinese students demand more security after fatal attack

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USC's largest Chinese student organization is calling for more off-campus guards and surveillance cameras after one of their own was killed in late July just blocks from school. 

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association is petitioning USC President C. L. Max Nikias to "provide necessary security measures year-round," pointing out that Xinran Ji is the third university student from China to be killed in two years.

Topping its list of proposals: The group wants USC to station security guards in off-campus neighborhoods during the summer — not just the school year. 

Yan Zhang, an engineering graduate student who backs the proposals, said that a USC security presence could have prevented the July 24 death of Ji, who was robbed and beaten on the way home from a study group.

"I think that when bad men see (a guard) standing there they cannot do whatever they want," Zhang said.  "If there is nobody around, they can do whatever, like what they did to Xinran."

To call attention to its demands, CSSA has deployed the hashtag #TrojansDeserveSafety on social media. A Facebook photo album with that titles features hand-written messages from members, voicing anger, disappointment and trepidation.

There is also a Change.org petition titled "Trojans Deserve Safety" that had drawn more than 1,400 signatures as of Sunday night. 

USC officials are heeding the students' concerns. Students from China make up the largest number of international students at USC — about 2,700, according to Clayton Dube of USC's U.S. China Institute. (Another 800 or so students of Chinese descent hail from Hong Kong and Taiwan.)

In its letter to Pres. Nikias, the group said that it's still mourning the deaths of Ying Wu and Ming Qu, who were shot in an apparent robbery in 2012 near campus.

On Thursday, a week after Ji's death, Chinese student leaders met with Ainsley Carry, vice provost for Student Affairs and John Thomas, chief of the school's Department of Public Safety. In a statement the next day, Carry said officials "appreciate the students’ proposals for additional security measures, several of which were already in progress and others with which we will now plan to move forward at their request."

Carry said USC plans to have follow-up meetings with student leaders this coming week.

The students outlined their security proposals in an open letter to USC's president posted on the CSSA Facebook page. They include:

  • Round-the-clock, year-round presence of guards in areas patrolled by USC's Department of Public Safety
  • Surveillance cameras and emergency call boxes on the streets to serve as a crime deterrent
  • Extending summer operating hours of campus cruisers from 6 p.m. to 2:45 a.m. like it is for the rest of the school year.
  • Increasing student involvement in safety school sessions "so as to provide relevant awareness and measures"

Zhang said that it's important to have a strong security presence in the summer because there are even fewer students on campus than normal, making them more vulnerable.

The school appears to have responded by posting security guards off-campus. On Friday night, two guards wearing red and yellow shirts stood watch by Orchard Avenue, in between 29th and 30th streets, around where police say a group of teenagers attacked Ji. Four people have been charged with his murder.

A public safety spokesperson could not be reached for this story Friday.

In a July 25 statement from USC, Chief Thomas said the university and the Los Angeles Police Department have "significantly improved security on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods."

Thomas also noted that resources "include a free campus cruiser service so that students do not have to walk alone, late-night shuttles, and the added security of more than 150 security cameras and dedicated LAPD patrols." 

David Zhang, a film graduate student from China not related to Yan, said he did not entirely fault USC for what happened to Ji. He said the surrounding neighborhood is dangerous because there are many impoverished, struggling people living in the shadow of the affluent school.

"Poor and rich people,  I think, is American society’s problem, not only for the school," Zhang said. 

He said he commutes to USC from the relative safety of LA's Chinatown.

This story has been updated.

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