Jiaen Zhang (張佳恩), a 21-year-old Chinese student at the University of Illinois (UI) Urbana Champaign, was charged last week on three counts of aggravated criminal assault, six counts of sexual assault, theft, unlawful use of a credit card and animal torture.

Zhang allegedly assaulted a female student between five and 10 times over several months in 2015, the Illinois-based News Gazette reports. He is also accused of holding the female student in his dorm against her will multiple times.

The incident has raised questions about the effectiveness of background checks run by UI on international students.

UI has a disciplinary committee that evaluates students who indicate they have previously faced disciplinary action by another education institution or have a criminal record, UI spokesperson Robin Kaler told the newspaper.

"If it's behavior that would involve the student being dismissed from the university, then the committee would recommend that that student not be admitted in the first place," Kaler said.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department works with other U.S. government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to run background checks on international students who apply for visas.

There were more than 300,000 Chinese students in the U.S. in 2015, up 11% from 275,000 in 2014, according to a report by the Institute of International Education. Prior to 2000, there were fewer than 50,000 Chinese students in the U.S.

Amid the rapid increase in student numbers, several Chinese studying at U.S. high schools and universities have attracted mainstream media attention for high-profile crimes, including kidnappings, bullying and murder.

In 2014, UI student Yongfei Ci (時永飛) pleaded guilty to the murder of his girlfriend. In March this year, three Chinese high school students in Southern California were convicted of kidnapping and assaulting two fellow Chinese students. Yunyao “Helen” Zhai (翟芸瑶), Yuhan “Coco” Yang (杨玉涵) and Xinlei “John” Zhang (张欣磊) were sentenced to 13, 10 and six years in jail respectively.

The three had slapped and punched one 16-year-old victim; they also kidnapped another 18-year-old victim, took her to a park before stripping her naked, beating her, and burning her with cigarettes, Voice of America Chinese reported. They then cut off her hair and forced her to eat it. Other students were also involved, but they fled to China, according to the VOA Chinese report.

However, Chinese and other international students of Asian descent still face discrimination on U.S. campuses.

In March Ivan Tsang, a Hong Kong student at the University of Southern California, had eggs thrown at him while his aggressors shouted racial slurs.

Earlier this month, the New York Times started a #thisis2016 campaign to highlight discrimination faced by Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. after one of their editors was told to “Go back to China” by a woman on the street.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole