Chinese students at the University of Chicago frightened by recent murder, demand uni to improve safety measures
Published: Nov 16, 2021 02:14 AM
Police officers stand watch near the Main Quadrangles on the Hyde Park Campus of the University of Chicago on November 30, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. File Photo: VCG

Police officers stand watch near the Main Quadrangles on the Hyde Park Campus of the University of Chicago on November 30, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. File Photo: VCG

The mother of a Chinese student from University of Chicago, who was shot near campus, is expected to arrive in the US on Wednesday, to collect his remains and bring them back home.

Meanwhile, the murder also shocked Chinese students in University of Chicago, who claimed they "had never been so concerned" about their personal safety and asked the university to update its security measures. 

Zheng Shaoxiong, a 24-year-old student, was standing on a sidewalk in a residential area on November 9 in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the city's South Side when the murderer, 18-year-old Alton Spann, approached Zheng and robbed him at gunpoint before shooting him in the torso and running off, according to the Deputy Chief of Detectives Rahman Muhammad.

Muhammad said surveillance cameras in the area recorded Spann running toward a Black Ford Mustang that then sped away.

The heart-wrenching incident has drawn attention of Chinese students in this university and Chinese community in Chicago alike. 

In a recent article that went viral on Chinese social media, a close friend of Zhang described how his mother started shivering when she heard about the murder in Chicago and could not reach her son.

The article said that on November 7, Zheng's 57-year-old mother just received a box of perfume as his birthday gift for her. Zheng had been saving for the gift and calculated time carefully so the package could arrive on his mother's birthday. 

It said that after learning about the tragedy, Zhang's mother did not break down but handled the process of traveling to the US in orderly fashion just to get her son back to the motherland. 

Shi Haotong, member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) in the University of Chicago, told the Global Times that the association and the Chinese consulate in Chicago have helped Zheng's mother with her travel and visa processes to come to the US.

The local Chinese community also started fundraising for Zheng's mother. A local media reported that a total of $50,000 were raised within days to help Zheng's family.

Shi said Zheng's mother is expected to arrive on Wednesday. However, the date is not certain. 

Several students in the University of Chicago reached by the Global Times said that the case has sent chills over their spines. "First, I felt sad, then turned into shock, and this shock later evolved into anger," said a Chinese student who preferred to remain anonymous. 

Shi said that she felt the city is becoming increasingly dangerous since COVID-19 went out of control in the US last September. "After I heard more and more violence, I rarely allow myself even to dine outside. It is truly a dangerous place," she remarked.

Citizen, an app that provides instant notifications and live broadcasts of nearby reported crimes and incidents, is getting increasingly popular around Chinese students. A Chinese student in Chicago told the Global Times that a notification of crime pops out every few minutes. The alerts happen "so often that I already get numbed. I had never been so worried about my safety," said the student.

In January, Fan Yiran, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, was killed in a shooting spree that started in Hyde Park and ended in Evanston.

After Zheng's murder, the university sent a bilingual letter in English and Chinese to students announcing certain measures it rolled out to guarantee students' safety, including increasing the frequency of shuttle buses, which used to operate three days a week, to seven days a week, and giving students safety notifications. 

Yet for students, such measures are hardly enough. Shi said that many students live outside campus and there is no clear division between campus and neighboring communities. Therefore, if the university failed to solve the safety problems for them outside the campus, other measures are simply useless. 

The CSSA made a request on Saturday asking the university to amend its safety measures. They also posted banners saying: "we are here to learn, not to die."

"We expect a rather long term change from the university to protect our safety, not a short-term solution," said another student. 

The deteriorating safety situation in the US has deterred many Chinese from studying in this country. "There are still a lot of unfavorable situations in the US. The pandemic is not under control and there are some hate crimes against Asians. Even with direct flights, I would not choose to attend classes on campus in the US," one university student previously told the Global Times.

Last year, a white paper co-issued by one of China's biggest private education services, New Oriental Education, shows that the UK has overtaken the US and became the favorite destination for Chinese students to study abroad. Chinese student enrollment in US universities started to decline even before the pandemic. In 2019, enrollments of Chinese students in the US dropped roughly 1 percent compared with the year before, officially putting an end to a decade of growth, while in 2020 they declined 2.5 percent.