University of Utah to Pay $5 Million Settlement to The Parents of Zhifan Dong


Maya Fraser

Evening on University of Utah campus, Thursday in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Maya Fraser | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Andrew Christiansen, Online Managing Editor


The University of Utah has agreed to pay a settlement of $5 million, pending legislative approval, to the parents of Zhifan Dong for failing to recognize she was in danger before being killed by her boyfriend in February 2022.

The university said in a statement that the financial agreement will not come out of funds from student tuition. The agreement also includes a commitment to establish a memorial on campus in Dong’s memory. 

The proposal was announced Tuesday as a joint resolution filed by the Utah State Legislature to approve the settlement. Any settlement agreement that legally binds an action to be taken from a state entity, including universities, has to be voted on by lawmakers, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

In a statement from the U and the parents of Dong, the university wrote the resolution is expected to be voted on in the legislature the coming days. The proposal has already been approved by Gov. Spencer Cox. 

The settlement will require any members of the Dong family to release the university of any from all grievances, complaints, claims or costs related to Zhifan Dong or any other matter.

U President Taylor Randall said in the statement that the campus continues to mourn the death of Dong, pledging the university will “remain diligent, continue to improve, and advance the health and well-being of our students.”

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our seriousness in honoring Zhifan Dong and reaffirming our commitment to the ongoing work of addressing all aspects of student safety,” Randall said.

Dong’s parents, Junfang Shen and Mingsheng Dong, issued their own statement, translated from Chinese to English, Tuesday night.

“One year ago, we lost our sweet daughter, Zhifan Dong, and continue to miss her every day,” they wrote. “A beautiful and capable young woman, she was tragically separated from us eternally in an instant.”  

Dong’s parents also expressed that they’re grateful for this important step toward justice for their daughter. 

“It is our hope that Zhifan will be remembered and that her memory will inspire others to help prevent intimate partner violence and save lives on campus and in all our communities,” they wrote. “We hope she will inspire other victims to seek help and to leave their abusers.”

In the settlement, the university recognized the mistakes it made in handling Dong’s safety concerns. 

“The University acknowledges shortcomings in its response of its housing and residential education team to the complex situation that resulted in Zhifan Dong’s death and acknowledges the terrible loss that the Dong Family has suffered,” it stated.

Dong, who was a 19-year-old international student, was killed when her boyfriend, Haoyu Wang, injected her with a fatal dose of drugs in a motel in downtown Salt Lake on Feb. 1. Wang is currently incarcerated, awaiting trial on murder charges in the case.

Both Dong and her roommate spoke to U housing about concerns of safety. They told housing that Dong’s boyfriend hit her after she broke up with him and that she was scared about what he would do next, including possible self-harm.

Bailey McGartland, one of Dong’s roommates at the time, said she helped Dong file many domestic violence and wellness-check-related reports, according to previous reporting from The Chronicle. Campus police weren’t called until nearly a month after Dong’s first report. She died three days after that.

Documents released by the U last July showed that housing employees failed to recognize clear signs of intimate partner violence. This continued even after Dong told them she had gotten a protective order against Wang, who lived in the same dorm building, one floor up.

Since then, the U has taken disciplinary action against three housing employees and two have resigned. 

In the statement from Dong’s parents, they expressed it’s still hard to accept that their daughter really has left this world.

“When we shed tears and choked up over the pictures of our daughter, her lovely smiling face and familiar voice replayed in our minds over and over again,” they wrote. “We know that she has never gone far, and she is in our hearts.”


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