When Alejandra Guerrero was convicted of murdering USC graduate student Xinran Ji on Oct. 13, the ruling helped to provide closure to a family that had endured two years of legal proceedings.
“The conviction means everything to the parents, who lost their only child,” said Rose Tsai, the attorney representing Ji’s family. “[Ji] came here to chase his American dream by studying at USC and tragically his dream was terminated, so it meant everything to the family that has suffered for two years waiting for justice.”
Ji was killed during an attempted robbery in 2014, and although Guerrero faces up to a lifetime in prison for her involvement in the killing, Ji’s death continues to affect the international student community at USC, particularly among Chinese students who think the University needs to increase safety measures.
When Yutong Gao, president of the Chinese Student and Scholars Association, learned about this incident, he reacted with a mixture of fear and sadness, especially since this was not the first time he had heard of a Chinese student being the target of violence. In 2012, Chinese graduate students Ming Qu and Ying Wu were fatally shot in an attempted robbery while parked outside a house one mile off USC’s campus.
Ji’s murder compounded feelings of insecurity among international students that had arisen after the deaths of Qu and Wu, and Gao said that this affected the way students and parents in China viewed the prospect of applying to USC.
“We were questioning the school system,” Gao said. “A lot of parents whose children just got accepted into USC were worried and many of them contacted us, questioning us about the school environment.”
Tony Tambascia, the executive director of the Office of International Services, noted that while Ji’s death deeply affected the USC community, the administration has increased safety precautions over time and still receives many international applicants.
“USC’s administration has been transparent about enhanced safety and security measures that have been implemented over time, always with the goal to create the safest possible environment for the university community,” Tambascia said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Enrollment of international students at USC remains very strong, with students representing over 115 different countries, and overall numbers higher than ever.”
The University did not return requests for the number of applicants USC receives annually from China.
After Ji’s death, members of the USC administration, including Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry, listened to concerns expressed by Chinese students and parents regarding safety. Two weeks after the killing, the University announced that it would add extra neighborhood security ambassadors, upgrade security technologies and decrease Campus Cruiser’s wait times in an effort to increase safety on and around campus.
Although Gao acknowledged that the University does aim to protect students, he said more needs to be done.
“The school already spends a lot of money and resources to ensure a secure environment,” Gao said. “However, the main issue is the education process. Before we enter the school, we should be informed of any safety [hazards] in the surrounding areas during our orientations.”
USC announced in 2014 that it would make graduate and international student orientations mandatory and emphasize safety education at these orientations. But Tsai said that a true increase in safety would also require changing attitudes about international students. Tsai said that the defendants admitted that they targeted Ji because he was Chinese, and therefore assumed he had money on him. She explained that this sort of discrimination is unfortunate and dangerous.
“Unfortunately, there is stereotyping and discrimination against Chinese people,” Tsai said. “Ji’s family was very middle class and saved every penny to put their child through school. Ji lost his life because of this false belief.”
In honor of Ji’s memory, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering announced a scholarship — titled the Xinran Ji Memorial Scholarship — soon after his death. The award will be granted annually to a promising electrical engineering graduate student from China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.
The scholarship may not heal wounds for the almost 5,000 international students from China who call USC home. However, it aims to provide support for potential Chinese students who may now be hesitant to consider USC a safe place to study abroad.
Tsai emphasized that Ji came to the U.S. to seize his “American Dream” and that during his time at USC, he studied diligently in order to bring pride to his family and his hometown.
“Xinran worked very hard. He put work before play his entire life and it was unfortunate because he did not get to enjoy the fruits of his labor,” Tsai said. “He was the pride of [his] hometown.”
Tsai also added that Ji’s family hopes the other suspects will be brought to justice in the remaining three trials.