Zhejiang University under fire for allowing convicted rapist to remain on campus

Society & Culture

The prestigious Zhejiang University (ZJU) has come under intense criticism for not expelling a male student who was given an 18-month suspended sentence by a Hangzhou court on charges of rape. The university decided to let him continue his studies, only punishing him with a one-year suspension, which many saw as a lax punishment.

The prestigious Zhejiang University (ZJU) has come under intense criticism for not expelling a male student who was given an 18-month suspended sentence by a Hangzhou court on charges of rape. The university decided to let him continue his studies, only punishing him with a one-year suspension, which many saw as a lax punishment.

In a notice (in Chinese) published on its website on July 17, the university announced the decision, saying that the senior-year student, surnamed Nu, was suspended because he violated the university’s student code of conduct, and also noting that a court in Hangzhou sentenced him in April for sexually assaulting a woman who was not a student at the school.

The news about the penalty quickly provoked a strong reaction among people who thought the punishment was not harsh enough. “I feel enraged thinking about the prospect of this student going back to school and walking around like nothing happened. Is Zhejiang University giving him a second chance to harm female students on campus?” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

Some critics also accused the university of having a double standard when it comes to students who misbehave and receive criminal penalties. In 2012 and 2015, two ZJU students were put on probation respectively after being convicted of theft. But unlike Nu, they were immediately expelled from the university following the sentences.

As a number of angry observers pointed out, ZJU’s handling of the matter looked particularly inappropriate in light of a recent controversy (in Chinese) surrounding Harbin Institute of Technology, a university in Heilongjiang Province, which expelled two seniors in its computer science department for cheating in an exam. The stark contrast has triggered much speculation on Chinese social media that Nu came from a well-connected family, with many calling for a thorough investigation into the case.

Related hashtags were also trending. As of this morning, the main hashtag associated with the news, “A ZJU student was suspended after being convicted of rape” (#浙大一学生犯强奸罪被留校察看# ), has been viewed more than 98 million times.

Meanwhile, several ZJU students have come forward (in Chinese) with sexual assault complaints against Nu, alleging incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact with female students when they were under the influence of alcohol.

Facing mounting pressure to explain its decision, ZJU told The Paper (in Chinese) yesterday that it had held an emergency meeting on July 20. The school added that it had launched an internal investigation into the case and would announce results when they are available.

Since China’s #MeToo movement took off in 2018, a string of college professors have faced various degrees of penalties over sexual misconduct accusations made by students. But there have been very few public discussions about students who commit sexual assault and how universities should fairly punish them.