L.A. police and politicians have been tripping over themselves to regain the public's confidence after two USC graduate students from China were murdered in a BMW outside their apartment near campus.
The mayor apologized profusely. The LAPD added 30 more officers to the Southwest Division. The City Attorney assigned a special city prosecutor to focus solely on cases around USC. University officials tried to throw money at the victims' parents “as a gesture of kindness and sympathy.” But it wasn't enough to keep this thing out of court:
The parents of both Ming Qu and Ying Wu have signed onto a “wrongful death” lawsuit against the school, claiming recruiters intentionally misrepresented the campus' safety level to their children.
The 15-page lawsuit is a fascinating look at USC's perception abroad, and how its happy brochure language might be misinterpreted by a foreign applicant. Here's the suit in full, courtesy of Marina Del Rey attorney Alan Burton Newman:
A highlight: “USC actively solicits international students particularly from China for its graduate studies program for which it receives a substantial sum of money from tuition to help fund the university.”
Both Wu's parents (Meinan Yin and Xiyong Wu) and Qu's parents (Wanzhi Qu and Xiaohong Fei) say they needed their children to help take care of them in their old age.
“USC knew that the Chinese students are a product of China's one child policy; that the child will be the primary and in many cases, the only support for the parents when they become older,” reads the lawsuit.
In other words, the Wu and Qu parents were counting on their sole offspring to get a prestigious degree in America and become the breadwinners of the family. That source of income is now moot — and will likely help calculate these “unspecified damages” the plaintiffs are asking of USC.
The argument at the core of their claim is that USC misrepresents itself on its website, through which Wu and Qu both applied to the Viterbi School of Engineering.
For one, it uses the word “urban” to describe the surrounding neighborhood — even though, according to the plaintiffs, USC has offices in China and should know that in Chinese, “the more 'urban' the area, the safer the area.”
In the site's FAQ section for potential applicants, the question “How safe is USC?” is answered as such:
No community is immune to crime. On any college campus, the level of crime is affected by enrollment, geographic size, location and other factors. USC is ranked among the safest of all U.S. universities and colleges, with one of the most comprehensive, proactive campus and community safety programs in the nation.
USC Public Safety Officers provide 24-hour law enforcement services on the University Park and Health Sciences campuses, as well as in surrounding neighborhoods. USC Campus Cruisers provide after-dark escorts–by foot, bicycle or car–for students whose destination is within the University Patrol area. The university also works closely with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The “wrongful death” lawsuit quotes the part in bold, calling it straight inaccurate.
There was some discussion, after the murders, about whether it was a smart idea for Wu and Qu to live so far West of Vermont, in a historically gang-ridden neighborhood. But in court, their parents' lawyer will argue that USC is well aware that many students live near the shooting site.
Wu lived in the “quick response area” on USC's security map, just outside the “patrolled area” where USC officers crawl the streets for criminals along with the LAPD. But “there was no visible delineation between the two areas and the neighborhoods are basically the same,” says the lawsuit.
University counsel responds in a statement: “While we have deep sympathy for the victims' families, this lawsuit is baseless and we will move to have it dismissed.”
For a deeper look at USC's awkward role in the West Adams hood, see LA Weekly print story “The Isolated Fortress of USC.”