Massachusetts Daily Collegian

International student sues UMass, alleging civil rights violation

Zhaozhong Du, a third-year, Chinese international student, is suing the University and two deans for allegedly violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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(Jackson Cote/ Daily Collegian)

(Jackson Cote/ Daily Collegian)

(Jackson Cote/ Daily Collegian)

By Jackson Cote, News Editor

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An international student at the University of Massachusetts is suing the University and two deans at the school for allegedly violating his civil rights.

After being placed on interim suspension March 28 for alleged disciplinary infractions, the student — third-year architecture major Zhaozhong Du — said that he was not provided an opportunity to be heard in his own defense by the University, formally or informally, with the assistance of an interpreter.

In addition to the University, Du is suing Patricia Cardoso-Erase, associate dean of students for student conduct and compliance, and Louis Ward, assistant dean of students.

According to Du’s complaint, filed in Hampshire County Superior Court on April 12 by his attorney, Dana Goldblatt, he is a native speaker of Mandarin and struggles to communicate in English. He is here in the U.S. on VISA status.

“The Defendants’ actions,” the complaint states, “violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…prohibiting discrimination on the basis of national origin, by a public system of higher education that accepts federal funding.”

Du was initially worried he would be unable to complete his courses and graduate on time. The University has since notified him, though, that — according to an email exchange between Goldblatt and Denise Barton, litigation counsel at UMass’ Office of the General Counsel, which was provided to the Collegian by Goldblatt — he will receive passing grades in three of the four courses he is enrolled in based on the work he has done up until the date on which his interim suspension took effect.

In one of Du’s courses, material experiments in landscape architecture, based on the work performed as of the date on which his interim suspension took effect, his professor cannot issue him a passing grade, according to Barton’s email. As Du needs seven credits to graduate, though, he only needs to pass two of his four courses and is therefore set to graduate on time.

But, according to Goldblatt, he still wants to pass his material experiments in landscape architecture course, and to do so, he needs access to UMass’ “Design Building Room 225, 380, Wood Shop [and] Fabrication Lab.” Due to his interim suspension, Du is restricted from the campus premises and from attending or participating in any University-sponsored activities and/or events on or off campus. Goldblatt has been in contact with Barton to see if he can access the rooms despite his interim suspension.

“[In] two years, he’ll be back in China,” Goldblatt said. “What he really cares about is going back to class.”

Du was arrested on March 27 by the UMass Police Department, charged with simple assault in Eastern Hampshire District Court and provided a public defender and interpreter in court. Lucy DeLacour, Du’s public defender, told The Massachusetts Daily Collegian that Du’s case is still an open criminal matter.

According to the police report of the incident leading to Du’s interim suspension, Du was arrested at 2:54 a.m. on March 27 after allegedly confronting his roommate with a box cutter. Du was woken up by police after the incident and asked what was going on between him and the victim. He was also asked to explain the events that led up to the police response.

“Du stood with a blank stare on his face and did not respond. To ensure that there was not a language barrier, I [sic] asked DU if he understood the question, and he responded, ‘Yes,’” UMPD officer Jeffrey Silva’s police report states.

The police report goes on to detail how UMPD officer Alexandra Wysocki asked Du a series of questions unrelated to the incident, such as his age and where he is from, to which he promptly responded. According to the report, Wysocki also asked if he would prefer an interpreter to which he responded, “No.”

When Silva questioned him about the box cutter, he stated that he was in bed sleeping when he heard a noise and grabbed the box cutter, and when asked if he and the victim were involved in an argument, Du responded, “When it’s quiet time, I just want people to be quiet.” Silva also asked Du if he threatened the victim with the box cutter because he was making noise during quiet time, and he responded to the effect of, “I don’t have to answer your questions without a lawyer,” according to the report.

The victim, Du’s roommate, reported to UMPD officer James D’Amours that Du approached him with a box cutter in his right hand. He further reported that Du continued to approach him while opening and closing the box cutter and thought that Du was going to kill him.

Du’s roommate was contacted for a statement regarding the incident between him and Du on April 17. He has not offered a response.

Du’s Code of Student Conduct proceeding began on March 28 when he was interviewed by Associate Dean Cardoso-Erase. In that meeting, Du alleges, he told Cardoso-Erase that he had an interpreter in court, but she did not offer to provide one for their meeting. Later, Cardoso-Erase told him that he was barred from campus as an interim restriction and should meet with Assistant Dean Ward to explain what happened, according to Du’s complaint.

“From that day forward, the Plaintiff was no longer able to attend class or access the resources in the architecture building,” Du’s complaint states.

The next day, March 29, Du sat in on a meeting with Ward. Du’s complaint states that in that meeting too, Du was interviewed without an interpreter’s services having been offered. Ward then told Du that he would be barred from campus until the University issued a decision about what to do, according to the complaint.

The Collegian reached out to both Cardoso-Erase and Ward on April 30, neither of whom have responded. The University too declined to comment.

“The university declines to comment about ongoing student disciplinary matters and active litigation,” stated Ed Blaguszewski, executive director of strategic communications at UMass.

However, in an email exchange between Cardoso-Erase and Goldblatt, provided to the Collegian by Goldblatt, Cardoso-Erase recounted a different series of events in which Du was asked whether he needed an interpreter for the student conduct process, and he declined.

“I met with Zhaozhong on March 28, 2018 to review the notice he received on March 27, 2018. In that meeting, Zhaozhong shared that an interpreter assisted him in the court proceedings. When, in response to that information, he was directly asked whether he needed an interpreter for the Student Conduct Process, he stated he did not,” Cardoso-Erase stated in her email to Goldblatt. “He then scheduled and attended a meeting with Dean Ward on March 29, 2018 where he discussed the incident from his perspective in the English language. He did not indicate at that meeting that he needed an interpreter or had difficulty communicating in English.”

She added in that email, “As you know, the language of instruction at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (‘University’) is English. Thus, unless a student indicates they need an interpreter, the University presumes the University student has the requisite English language proficiency to engage in the Student Conduct Process. Zhaozhong has been enrolled at the University for seven semesters which is indicative of his proficiency with the English language.”

Cardoso-Erase also stated that she spoke with Du’s public defender, DeLacour, on April 3 and DeLacour indicated then, for the first time, that Du needed an interpreter. She also alleges that April 6 was the first time Du indicated to the Dean of Students Office that he needed an interpreter. As a result, her office then began to secure one, according to her.

In an email from DeLacour to Goldblatt, provided to the Collegian by Goldblatt, DeLacour stated, “I can definitely say that Dean Cardoso did not tell me that Zhaozhong denied needing an interpreter nor did she say that they asked if he needed one. She seemed pretty clear that they simply assumed he spoke English. I informed her that he had not understood the meeting or the restrictions at all and that he needed an interpreter for court and she said, ‘well that is interesting’ and simply said she presumed he spoke English and that if he wanted an interpreter going forward he would have to request one in writing.”

To the Collegian, DeLacour confirmed what she stated to Goldblatt. Referring to Cardoso-Erase, DeLacour said, “She didn’t tell me she offered him an interpreter.”

“I contacted UMass on [Du’s] behalf,” DeLacour said. “He was making statements in situations where he couldn’t understand adequately what was going on.”

DeLacour added that Cardoso-Erase “basically assumed [Du] didn’t need an interpreter” and made it seem difficult to get one in the future, stating it might be cost prohibitive.

“Every effort should be made that he understands the proceedings,” DeLacour added. “He will use an interpreter in court, and he will use one again.”

On April 17, Du had a meeting with Ward in which Du was provided an interpreter. To show their support for Du, over 20 students gathered outside of the Dean of Students Office. According to Goldblatt, Ward said that because there’s a dispute of fact, Du’s disciplinary proceeding goes to a hearing.

According to an email sent to Du by Ward on April 26, provided to the Collegian by Goldblatt, Du’s conduct case has been referred to a Student Conduct Hearing Board. The board is comprised of students, faculty and staff.

“Dean Jonathan Connary, copied here, will be in contact to discuss the scheduling of the Hearing,” Ward stated.

“We were unsatisfied with the process,” Goldblatt said on April 17 after Du’s meeting with Ward.

Editor’s note: Since its publishing, this article has been corrected to add that Zhaozhong Du was provided an interpreter in his meeting with Louis Ward on April 17. The article was also edited to clarify that all the emails mentioned were provided by Dana Goldblatt, Du’s attorney. Additionally, Du’s charge was corrected to clarify that it is a simple assault charge and not a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.

Jackson Cote can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.

6 Comments

6 Responses to “International student sues UMass, alleging civil rights violation”

  1. Ed Cutting, Ed. D. on May 1st, 2018 5:09 pm

    Cardoso ALLEGED — and she, of all people, ought to be sensitive to ESL needs.
    She’s a social justice major…

  2. John aimo on May 1st, 2018 7:01 pm

    Good for Zhaozhong Du, more students should sue the university. Umass is all about ‘diversity’ ; but in reality it doesn’t care and will easily either discriminate or tolerate discrimination against students.

    Umass and other universities think because they have a degree of independence they can do whatever they want, but the reality is that they are subject to state and federal regulations and laws and can be sued. Students who for any reason are bullied by umass, should stand up and exercise their legal rights.

  3. Krs2 on May 2nd, 2018 12:12 am

    Thank you UMass Dean of Students, who placed the safety of its student body and some integrity of its academics above a student who allegedly committed assault on campus. Considering the University is willing to surrender a degree to an “honors” student who supposedly cannot speak English and has never made the deans list, I think he should consider himself lucky and seriously consider cutting his losses here.

  4. john aimo on May 5th, 2018 12:52 am

    So what he ‘assaulted’ someone in his dorm. People do it at all the time, he shouldn’t have been kicked out for that. There is probably a fight somewhere on campus between drunk people every weekend.

    Immigrants come from a different cultures, just the other day there was a stabbing attack on the PVTA bus and after the person who was muslim, said she was sorry and wanted allah to forgive her.

    It’s hard for people from foreign cultures to express their anger and upset in a normally acceptable way as our culture and society is so different and when they do, they either go overboard or its interpreted more harshly than it’s warranted.

    It’s also a danger areas, you have things like stabbings on the bus, riots and so on; its just part of umass. It seems this student was selectively singled out.

  5. john aimo on May 5th, 2018 1:02 am

    dangerous area*

  6. Nick Milam on May 7th, 2018 7:24 pm

    So, What happened with the criminal case?
    If he is convicted then thats it, he is guilty and
    should be expelled without a degree no matter how
    much of the money his family stole from the workers
    and peasants of the Peoples Republic of China and paid
    to U Mass. These spoiled Chinese “Princes” need to learn
    that justice is the same for everybody in America, no matter
    how much money he has.

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