URBANA, Ill. (WAND) – A lawsuit filed against a former University of Illinois department head claims he sexually and emotionally exploited students.
According to an 87-page complaint obtained by The News-Gazette, Gary Xu ran the U of I East Asian Languages and Cultures department from 2012 to 2015. The alleged crimes happened in that same time period, according to the document.
The complaint alleges 10 charges, including sex trafficking, forced labor, emotional distress, involuntary servitude and gender violence. It seeks damages and unpaid wages, per the newspaper.
Xu began dating a 19-year-old woman from China who was a sophomore at the school in 2013, according to the lawsuit. Xu, who the newspaper said was married and had two kids, began dating the woman in the fall of that year.
The suit claimed Xu pushed her against a wall when she mentioned her ex-boyfriend. After she later attempted suicide, it said he told her to not go to eight therapy sessions scheduled ant the school and, at a later time, violently raped her in her apartment.
In the early part of 2014, the lawsuit said he got the woman pregnant and made her get an abortion, despite her “deeply-held beliefs”. The relationship had continued because Xu was paying the woman’s rent and giving her gifts, “with the unstated quid pro quo that she would sexually service him whenever he chose”, according to the suit.
After the woman attempted suicide again, the suit claimed Xu drove her to the hospital and physically attacked her when they were in the car. Xu also beat the woman by punching her repeatedly, kicking her in the stomach and injuring her legs when she went to China with him for an art exhibit and she said no when told to have sex with Xu’s colleagues, it also claimed. It said the woman had ripped Xu’s passport.
Xu allegedly more than once got the woman to withdraw reports she filed to the U of I, even writing her a script for what to say in a withdrawal the second time, the lawsuit said. Beatings continued past April 2015, the suit said, “sometimes with a rolling pin, sometimes with an ash tray, sometimes with his bare hands”. He was given a no-contact directive from the U of I and was told by the school he violated it.
The university parted ways with Xu after his August 2018 resignation. He went on paid administrative leave in January 2016. As part of a separation agreement with the school, Xu claimed $10,000 from the U of I.
The lawsuit claimed Xu also took advantage of a doctoral student, Xing Zhao, who was studying under Xu’s leadership from 2012 to 2015 after leaving the University of Kansas. It said he tried to kiss her and talked negatively about her intelligence, and, in December 2013, physically attacked an assistant in front of her while in China to show physical assault could be a punishment for disobeying him.
Finally, Xu allegedly retaliated against a Wesleyan University professor named Ao Wang, who made allegations against Xu public on Chinese websites in March 2018. The lawsuit said Xu had a friend show Wang a text message containing a death threat from him. Xu is also accused of suing Wang for defamation in China.
The News-Gazette was unable to reach Xu for a comment, but he did say in a response to the U of I that allegations against him were “preposterous” and also “full of speculations, imaginations, unfounded accusations and false statements”.
A U of I statement in response to the lawsuit, delivered by spokesman Chris Harris, said the school is “aware of the filing and reviewing it”. He added:
“Issues of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment threaten every aspect of our university missions, and they inflict personal and professional harm on members of our community. The university investigates and takes appropriate action whenever conduct is reported that may jeopardize or impact the safety or security of our students or others. The current administration is reviewing and revising disciplinary processes to allow us to take quicker and more forceful action when employment misconduct is proven.”
Lawyers for the three alleged victims are considering a different lawsuit against the U of I, according to New-York-based firm McAllister Olivarius attorney Alison Wilkinson. She called Xu a “very dangerous man” and said a goal is to “invoke some systematic change” at the U of I and other places, “where students can be taken advantage of by professors without any oversight to prevent that from happening.”