Live lawsuits against the University of Illinois and Gary Xu

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McAllister Olivarius is representing Xingjian “Vina” Sun, Xing “Ely” Zhao and Ao Wang in their court case against Gang “Gary” Xu, a former professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (“UIUC”) who emotionally and physically abused his students, many of whom were Chinese nationals who depended on him for their funding and visas.

A trafficking lawsuit has also been filed against the University for deliberately overlooking the two Chinese women’s allegations of sexual violence and harassment in order to safeguard future revenue from the Chinese student population.

The University relies on revenues from Chinese students – who pay higher tuition fees than domestic students – so much that it has taken out a $60 million insurance policy against a drop in Chinese enrolment. 

It felt like the university brought us to campus not for an education but for Professor Xu’s personal pleasure and profit

– Ely Zhao, plaintiff in both lawsuits
Sexual Assault at UIUCSexual Assault at UIUC
Hear from survivor Xing Zhao, whistleblower Ao Wang, and the team at McAllister Olivarius on the case against Gang “Gary” Xu.
Trafficking at the University of IllinoisTrafficking at the University of Illinois
Lawyers, plaintiffs, University alumni and prospective students discuss the University’s failure to protect its students.

Plaintiff Vina Sun

As the chair of UIUC’s East Asian Languages and Cultures (“EALC”) department, Xu had immense power over the educational and visa trajectories of many students. He wielded this power to coerce Sun – an undergraduate student from China – into a physically and emotionally abusive sexual relationship when she was 19 and he was 45.

On several occasions, Sun attempted to stop the cycle of violence and reported Xu’s abuse to UIUC. As is typical of a domestic violence victim, she quickly recanted after Xu beat her and threatened to hurt her family if she persisted. UIUC took no meaningful action in response to these reports, allowing Xu continued unsupervised access to all the young students under his tutelage, including Sun.

Students accuse former University of Illinois professor of sexual misconductStudents accuse former University of Illinois professor of sexual misconduct
Vina Sun speaks to CBS News about the abuse she endured from Professor Gary Xu, at University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne.

Plaintiff Ely Zhao

Zhao was another of Xu’s graduate students. Xu wielded his title and authority at UIUC to require her to do hundreds of hours of work for him for which she was not compensated or recognized, although this bolstered Xu’s reputation and, correspondingly, the reputation of the school. Xu had been exploiting his Chinese students’ work in this manner for decades, as had other professors. UIUC became aware of this abuse of student labor but did nothing.

Xu publicly and privately sexually harassed Zhao on numerous occasions. He grabbed her and attempted to forcibly kiss her. He barricaded her in his UIUC office and locked her in his car. When it became clear that Zhao would not entertain Xu sexually, he began to humiliate her—at first publicly in class, and then by suddenly refusing to be her advisor soon before her thesis was due, threatening her ability to remain at the University and in the United States.

UIUC was aware that Xu was sexually harassing and abusing his students, but did nothing to protect them. Zhao ultimately left UIUC early, without her Ph.D., unable to face Xu any longer.

Photo of Ely Zhao as a student at University of Illinois.
Zhao suffered harassment, attempted assault, and threats of violence.

Plaintiff Ao Wang

Wang is a renowned Chinese poet and an Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University. In 2018, Wang publicized allegations against Xu on Chinese websites, prompting important conversations about the #MeToo movement within the Chinese art world. Wang’s posts quickly garnered dozens of responses, including many from Xu’s victims. Xu was furious with Wang. He immediately launched a counterattack, attempting to undermine Wang’s professional reputation. At one point, Xu even threatened to kill Wang. He has since launched a costly and baseless legal action against Wang in China.

(1) The Joint Action Complaint Against Gary Xu

In September 2019, Sun, Zhao and Wang filed a complaint against Xu in Illinois state court, bringing claims of (1) Sex Trafficking, (2) Forced Labor, (3) Trafficking Into Servitude, (4) gender-related violence under the Illinois Gender Violence Act, (5) Involuntary Servitude, (6) Trafficking in Persons, (7) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and (8) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.

The litigation is ongoing.

(2) Trafficking Lawsuit against the University of Illinois

The suit by Sun and Zhao, filed against the Board of Trustees of the University on January 28, 2021, alleges that the University discriminated against them on the basis of sex and national origin and that it broke its contract with them by mishandling investigations into Xu and permitting him to conduct a sexual relationship with his student. It also claims violations of the Illinois Gender Violence Act and state trafficking laws. Sun and Zhao seek damages for pain and suffering, unpaid wages, lost business opportunities, medical expenses, and attorneys’ fees.