UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A former UI professor used his position as the head of the East Asian Languages and Culture department to abuse and exploit his students, according to a lawsuit. 

Three of Gary Xu’s alleged victims, including two former students and a professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut who publicized Xu’s alleged exploits, filed the 87-page suit in Urbana on Tuesday.

The three are seeking damages related to counts of alleged sex trafficking, forced labor, gender violence, and emotional distress, among others. 

Xu started his career at the UI in the early 2000s, but was made head of the EALC department in 2012. Xu remained in that position until 2015, according to the lawsuit. 

An internal investigation by the UI concluded in September of 2016 resulted in a settlement agreement that allowed him to remain a faculty member — and to retain his annual salary of $85,446 as well as health benefits — until August of 2018, according to the lawsuit. 

Xu took a $10,000 “separation bonus” with him after resigning. 

The lawsuit does not name UIUC as a defendant. It does, however, note multiple instances that the university did not intervene into Xu’s alleged behavior.

The UI released a statement:

We are aware of the filing and are reviewing it. We cannot comment on any of its contents at this time.

Prof. Gary Xu, was placed on administrative leave Jan. 1, 2016. He later resigned, and left the university in August of 2018.

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.

Chris Harris Public Affairs Spokesperson

Allegations of rape, exploitation 

Xingjian Sun was 19 when she entered into a sexual relationship with then 45-year-old  Xu, who became her professor in 2013, according to the lawsuit. 

“She was new to the country, isolated and so young,” the lawsuit reads. “She was the perfect target for him. Xu was a typical domestic abuser.” 

By then, the lawsuit alleges, Xu’s “reputation for cultivating beautiful young Chinese and Taiwanese students as his ‘mentees’ and advisees” was well known. 

Sun had asked him to be her instructor for an independent study course in the fall. “Almost immediately,” the lawsuit alleges, “Xu began making sexual overtures.” 

In September 2013, Xu took Sun to his home, which he shared with his wife and children, where he had sex with her.

“Sun was not asked if she wanted to have sex with her professor…” the lawsuit reads. “That set the stage for future encounters.” 

The lawsuit alleges Xu “would generally have sex with Sun several times a week,” and required that she keep it secret. 

By November, Xu had turned physically violent, according to the lawsuit. He pushed her against the wall, yelling insults. 

On November 14, the lawsuit says, Sun attempted suicide in response to Xu’s alleged continual insults against her, and threats to break the relationship off. 

Sun was supposed to complete eight therapy sessions with the UIUC, but cut them short at Xu’s request. 

“No one from UIUC followed up with her as to why she abruptly stopped, or to see whether she was safe,” the lawsuit reads. 

The lawsuit goes on to detail how Xu “raped Sun for the first time” not long after her discharge from the hospital for her suicide attempt. In months to come, there would be more, similar incidents of rape. 

By early 2014, Sun was pregnant, according to the lawsuit. Xu forced Sun to have an abortion, which led to a second suicide attempt on March 27, 2014. 

Sun made a Title IX report on April 25, 2014, according to the lawsuit. She formally withdrew it “a few weeks later,” after pressure to drop the matter from Xu. 

By September 15, 2014, Sun was called in for an “emergency meeting” with her student advisor, where she “confessed everything,” according to the lawsuit. 

“Formally, UIUC went through the motions to handle Sun’s complaint,” the lawsuit reads. “The University sent Xu a letter telling him to have ‘no contact’ with Sun. But this was form without substance. …UIUC failed to even tell Sun that Xu was not to have further contact with her.” 

Xu came to Sun’s apartment after learning she’d confessed; where he again turned violent, according to the suit. Again, Sun withdrew the reports she’d made to the UI. 

“UIUC never followed up,” the lawsuit reads. 

After another incident of violence in August 2015, in which Xu tried to run Sun over with a car as she fled her apartment, the UIUC again became involved: Sun had called her adviser while she ran, according to the lawsuit. 

During this same time period, Xu was also involved with Xing Zhao, another UI student, according to the lawsuit. He’d wanted a sexual relationship, but she did not. 

“As it became more obvious to Xu that Zhao would not willingly have sex with im, he determined to find other ways she could service him,” the lawsuit reads. “Most often, this came in the form requiring her to do free labor, under the threat of being kicked out of school and the country if she refused.” 

Zhao was a “curatorial assistant” to Xu, helping curate a commercial exhibit in China. “Her work was all done without pay, except for one lump-sum payment of $1000 in cash,” according to the suit. 

Xu also required Zhao to do work for him “throughout her time at UIUC,” the suit says, including things like translation work or graphic design. 

“Zhao received no compensation or credit for any of this work, usually around 5-20 hours a week” the suit reads. “This work ahd no benefit to zhao or her education — it was outside her interests and desired skillsets. ….But failure to obey Zu was not an option. He held too much power.” 

Publicizing the behavior

Ao Wang, the third plaintiff in the lawsuit, attempted to publicize Xu’s alleged exploits. According to the lawsuit, Wang knew “Xu casually, and knew of him more deeply through the experience of his friend, whom Xu had tried to rape.” 

“He knew it was inevitable that he would prey on other students,” the suit reads. 

To try to stop it, Wang posted an article on Chiese websites in early March 2018, according to the suit. Xu learned of the posts and emailed Wang, denying the allegations, the suit says, and asking for a withdrawal of the article. 

When Wang refused, Xu turned to cyberbullying and harassment campaigns online, the suit says.  

“Xu’s relentless threats and attacks against Ao Wang have caused him substantial reputational harm,” the suit reads. “Xu’s threats and attacks have also resulted in serious harm to Ao Wang’s health.”

A defamation suit filed by Xu against Wang in China is still ongoing, according to the lawsuit. 

Xu could not be reached for comment Wednesday.