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Remembering Zhifan Dong Two Years Later

Two years after Dong’s death, McGartland continues to mourn her roommate. University police, housing and international student services reflect on changes.
Bailey+McGartland+points+to+her+domestic+violence+awareness+pin+in+the+Alpha+Chi+Omega+Sorority+house+by+the+University+of+Utah+campus+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Feb.+9%2C+2024.+%28Photo+by+Rachel+Kloepfer+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29+
Rachel Kloepfer
Bailey McGartland points to her domestic violence awareness pin in the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority house by the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo by Rachel Kloepfer | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Feb. 11, 2024, marked the two-year anniversary of the murder of University of Utah student Zhifan Dong. Bailey McGartland, a junior at the U who was Dong’s roommate at the time, is working to keep her memory alive through service. 

In 2022, Dong was killed in a domestic violence situation by her ex-boyfriend, Haoyu Wang. Despite multiple attempts to get help, including reporting an assault to the U’s Housing and Residential Education department, Dong was injected with lethal drugs in an off-campus motel. 

In remembrance of Dong, the Daily Utah Chronicle examined the perspectives of several important parties and explored a variety of resources for international students or students who may be experiencing domestic violence. 

Bailey McGartland

Just before the anniversary, the Chronicle sat down with McGartland for the second time. 

In the two years since Dong’s murder, McGartland has grappled with the aftermath while feeling as if the community has forgotten about Dong. 

“Lauren’s name, Lauren McCluskey, is always mentioned, but never really Zhifan,” McGartland said. “It’s just hurtful because the situation did happen again, to somebody else. So it’s important to have these conversations and revisit these topics. Over and over.”

McGartland listed several statistics regarding domestic violence in the state of Utah but said they only mean so much until something happens to someone you know. 

“When it’s a real story, it just hits differently. It sticks with you,” McGartland said. 

Grief has also become a larger part of the story. When the Chronicle spoke with McGartland in 2022, she described most of her feelings as coming from a place of anger. 

“I’m still angry,” McGartland said. “In our first interview, a lot of it was very emotional. But I think now it’s more subdued … I’m more sad these days.” 

McGartland discussed how currently, she is dealing with having memories of Dong and her own involvement in the case. 

“Grief is a really funny thing. It just pops up at random times,” McGartland said. “It’s [been] two years and I’m still like, ‘Oh my gosh, like, this happened,’ and how awful and how tragic this is.” 

McGartland currently serves as the president of the Beta Nu chapter of Alpha Chi Omega, a sorority at the U. Their chapter’s philanthropy that they raise money for each year goes to support domestic violence awareness, a cause that is now closer to home than before. 

“We work very closely with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition and we’ve had multiple representatives come out and share their stories … We teach our members never to tolerate any sort of kind of abuse ever,” McGartland said. “I’m so happy to have the opportunity to prevent instances of abuse when I can, and then also just to make others aware as well.”

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition offers an extensive list of resources for victims of domestic violence on its website, including housing assistance, legal support and counseling.

Bailey McGartland poses for a photo in the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority house by the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo by Rachel Kloepfer | The Daily Utah Chronicle) (Rachel Kloepfer)

University of Utah Police Department

On Jan. 12, 2022, a month before her murder, Dong reported an act of intimate partner violence to the front desk of a hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, to which the Salt Lake City Police Department responded. The University of Utah Police Department did not learn of the incident until Feb. 8, when HRE staff filed a missing person report for Dong. 

There is currently no mandated process to identify someone arrested by SLCPD off-campus as being a student at the U, according to Major Heather Sturzenegger, executive officer of the U’s Department of Public Safety. However, she said the UUPD administrative command staff attend regular meetings with the SLCPD command staff and collaborate when possible. 

“If things are happening off campus … oftentimes, they don’t know that people are students here,” Sturzenegger said. 

If the UUPD were the first responders to a domestic violence report, Sturzenegger said the response would involve doing interviews to “find out who the primary aggressor is and make a determination on whether or not they’re going to make an arrest.” 

They would also connect the victim to a victim advocate. There are currently two in-house crime victim advocates who work for UUPD. 

“They’re involved in all interpersonal violence cases … sexual assault, domestic violence, anything like that, they’re involved,” Sturzenegger said. “It’s been a huge asset to our department. We did not have that for years.” 

The crime victim advocates website states they can assist with filling out documentation, safety planning, obtaining protective orders and helping to navigate the legal system.

“Our team provides trauma-informed care to folks who have been harmed. We are available to respond to crisis incidents 24/7 year round,” the website states. 

Sturzenegger described the UUPD as “victim-centered” and said police officers are regularly trained on “trauma-informed policing.” She mentioned a recent one-day training the officers participated in, facilitated by the Lauren McCluskey Foundation. It involved victims of crimes sharing their experiences and challenges reporting sexual assault. 

In the case where a student at the U was arrested for domestic violence, Sturzenegger said there is a temporary protective order automatically issued to protect the victim when the perpetrator is released from jail. This gives the victim a chance to file a full protective order, which she said victim advocates help them file. 

If the victim lived on campus, as Dong did, the protective order would prevent the perpetrator from coming back to campus. Sturzenegger said they would work with campus partners to change housing for the perpetrator and if necessary, the victim. 

With regards to navigating language barriers, Sturzenegger said they currently have staff that speak more than one language, including an officer that speaks four. Alternate options she mentioned were a “language line” phone number, translator monitors used at the U Hospital and drawing from people on campus for help translating. 

UUPD conducted a tour of the Public Safety building and a press conference for representatives of the Daily Utah Chronicle in October 2023. While significant emphasis was placed on changes made after the murder of Lauren McCluskey in 2018, Dong’s case or name was not mentioned. 

Housing and Residential Education

Housing and Residential Education was the department held the most responsible by the U for malpractice during Dong’s case. Since her murder, they have replaced a significant amount of staff, including their Associate Vice President. 

Associate Vice President Sean Grube started in his role in March 2022, about a month after the murder of Dong. 

“I will say we’re nearly an entirely different department than we were in 2022,” Grube said. “When I joined HRE I think we were less than 50% staffed for our live-in team.” 

The U was first made aware of Dong’s Jan. 12 report to SLCPD two days after it happened, when Dong requested a wellness check on Wang and reported that he was dealing with suicidal ideation to HRE staff. Mental health first responders did not make contact with Wang after a wellness check was requested by HRE. 

Multiple additional contact attempts were made without success. 

HRE trainings were also being conducted alongside the events. On Dec. 16, 2021, HRE staff completed a mandatory domestic violence training from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. On Jan. 26, all housing staff completed mandatory OEO Sexual Misconduct/Title IX training.

Grube explained an external audit had already been conducted on HRE’s Emergency Procedures Manual when he took on his role and he had a second external audit conducted as well. These audits provided several recommendations. 

A couple of the changes implemented include clarifying the difference between a welfare check and a wellness check and increasing responses to Campus Assessment, Response and Evaluation reports. 

“[HRE staff] are more involved in everything from everyday ‘I’m homesick,’ to ‘I have an eating disorder,’ to, you know, ‘I experienced sexual assault,’” Grube said. “I think we’re doing a much better job responding to CARE reports.”

Grube said HRE keeps track of the length that a CARE report remains open as a metric. He said they do them pretty quickly, mentioning that they are able to close quicker than the reports in the Dean of Students Office. 

Grube said they also worked on making HRE well-staffed and boiling down the 140-page Emergency Procedures Manual to make a version that was more useful for student leaders. 

All student leaders in HRE are mandated reporters, requiring them to report any suspected sexual assaults or domestic violence. 

“They must report those pieces to us, and then there’s a … fairly complex process that kind of takes place after that,” Grube said. “It really has a lot to do with how that CARE report gets routed through the university system, and so it will leave our office … and go out to, depending on the nature of the situation, several different offices.”

These offices might include the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Department of Public Safety. 

Grube said to manage language barriers with international students, HRE has worked with the university to get a translator to assist with communication, if there is not a native speaker in HRE staff available. 

International Student and Scholar Services

The U has international students from 106 different countries. International Student & Scholar Services is a central part of this experience. Their roles include preparing students for the transition, providing resources and conducting orientation. 

Anastasia Fynn, director of International Student & Scholar Services, started in her role in Aug. 2022, a few months after Dong’s murder. Fynn said that while ISSS used to be a center on campus that was associated with being “in trouble” if you had to visit, there has been a push to change that. 

“We’re focusing more on 50% compliance and 50% programming,” Fynn said. “Come in if you’re experiencing cultural shock, come in if you’re experiencing where you feel you don’t experience that sense of belonging. How can we help with that?” 

Fynn explained that when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault, they explain during orientation what these things are to incoming international students. This includes everything from cultural norms in dating to the role of law enforcement. 

“We take it for granted,” Fynn said. “We assume that they would know to report these things, but they don’t.”

ISSS has made a commitment to expanding resources for international students by evolving the orientation process, hosting global beverages events to encourage conversation and educating students on cultural differences in the U.S. 

Fynn also said they are more concerned with cultural understanding as a barrier for students rather than just language proficiency, as students are required to pass English proficiency tests. 

However, McGartland said English was a “struggle” for Dong, saying that it made it difficult for her to communicate with their dorm suite. 

Despite consistent efforts to help Dong communicate with the authorities, McGartland still struggles with questioning her own role in Zhifan’s case. 

“I am still left with questions … What if? And I carry that with me. If there’s something more that I could have done,” McGartland said. “Could I, or others, have been a better friend to stop this from happening? And just been a better human? I think about that constantly.”

 

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@rachelkloepfer

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About the Contributor
Rachel Kloepfer, Assistant Investigative Editor
Rachel Kloepfer began at The Daily Utah Chronicle in October of 2021 before becoming the Investigative Assistant Editor in May 2023. Rachel is a proud Seattleite, born and raised in Washington state. She is studying strategic communication and finance, and in her free time, she loves photography and camping.

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  • S

    SeanMar 26, 2024 at 8:29 am

    In the last month, HRE hast lost/fired 3 RDs, 1/2 of the staff that reviews/responds to CARE reports, and the Assistant Director who oversees the CARE and conduct team. Oof!

    Reply