The crowd that filed quietly into Regina Chapel on Tuesday filled the room with green – they wore bright green shirts and pinned small green ribbon to their tops. They came to remember Saint Mary’s sophomore Ziqi Zhang. Zhang, 19, who died last week from injuries sustained in an accident between her bike and an SUV outside the entrance to the College on State Route 933. Green was her favorite color. But even as they filled the chapel with green, they also filled the room with stories. During the service, faculty, staff and students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s stood one after another and shared their memories of an international student who had been their friend. A resident of Regina Hall, Zhang was a dual-degree student majoring in mathematics at Saint Mary’s and taking engineering classes at Notre Dame. She was a resident of Jiangsu Province in China. International student Ariane Umutoni met Zhang shortly after the two arrived at Saint Mary’s. She remembered Zhang as fearless while they discovered America together. “I remember going to the beach with her in Michigan,” Umutoni said. “There were big stones. … She was like, ‘I want a picture there.’ I said, ‘That’s dangerous,’ and she said, ‘Let’s take a chance.’ I was so scared, but she wasn’t. “That was Ziqi.” Umotoni asked the Saint Mary’s community to come together as a family during a time of need and grief. “We need you,” she said. “Some of us are far from home. You cannot imagine how my family is feeling to know that they have not seen me in so long and such a thing can happen. We need each and every one here. “We’ll hold hands, mourn together, cry together, share memories and just be a family,” she said. The stories from Zhang’s friends prompted both tears and laughter during the service. Paige Edmonds was Zhang’s resident assistant during her freshman year. She joked about a resident she said was both curious and warm. “She was one of those freshman that the questions you think you’re never gonna get asked as an RA, she asked them,” Edmonds said. “She was the type of resident who when you had a section event, would come knock on my door the next day and ask where everyone was. But she definitely challenged me to grow as a person. … Remember her smile.” Saint Mary’s graduate Chen Chen recalled a story she heard about Zhang before the two had even met. A mutual friend brought Zhang to pick up the keys to her dorm room on her first day at Saint Mary’s, but when they went to open the door, they had some trouble with the lock. “Ziqi just whipped out a toolkit … and started seriously working on trying to break into her room,” Chen said. “So I got really excited, and the first thing that came to my mind, I got to tell this story to Dr. Barstis, who is the engineering advisor, to let her know that we have a student who has the right engineering spirit. … That’s basically how she got to the engineering program.” Other professors and friends recalled Zhang as constantly smiling and always willing to push her limits for new experiences. They talked about an excellent student newly fascinated by philosophy and dedicated to her studies. They remembered a girl excited to return home to China over winter break for the first time since she had left for college. Notre Dame sophomore Christine Nie said she came from the same city as Zhang in China, but only met her after they came to South Bend. She remembered feeling at home hearing Zhang speak their first language with the same distinct accent as her family members and friends in China. “I thought even though she couldn’t stay in this beautiful world, as a girl of the same age and of the same city and of similar background, I can live this life for her,” she said through tears. Elaine Meyer-Lee, director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), read an email from Zhang’s parents to Dr. Alice Yang, director for global education. Another Chinese-speaking professor had translated the letter. “We lost our precious daughter,” they wrote. “She was our pride and joy. She longed for this wonder country of America, and we wish that she could have completed her studies, learned the sciences and humanities so that she could have played a worthy role in the betterment of the entire human race.” College President Carol Ann Mooney also wore bright green as she addressed the crowd gathered in the chapel. “Each of us has lost a sister,” Mooney said. “It is terribly difficult to lose a young person with so much talent and so much promise. Ziqi’s death leaves a hole in the Saint Mary’s community.” Zhang’s family is working to obtain passports and visas to come to the United States, Mooney said. Donations to help the family with funeral and travel expenses may be sent to Karen Johnson, vice president of Student Affairs, in 175 Le Mans Hall. Checks should be payable to Saint Mary’s College and indicate in the memo line that the donation is for the Ziqi Zhang family. “For her family, this is an unspeakable grief. … Our hearts break for her parents, her sister and her good friends and family in China,” Mooney said. Student Affairs is also collecting notes for Zhang’s family at the same address. The notes will be translated and delivered to her family when they arrive in the United States. “When they arrive on our campus, we will make every effort to let them know how valued Ziqi was, what a positive contribution to Saint Mary’s she was and that she had a home here.”
We’re in the middle of a monthslong pandemic that is now hitting Southern California hard. If not done strategically and with health at the absolute forefront of decision making, playing any sport this fall will put not just the health of student-athletes, coaches and team personnel at risk but also that of the surrounding South Central community. Universities across the country are not incubated from the neighborhoods that surround them, meaning every NCAA-affiliated event carried out carelessly could endanger residents whether they are fans or not. At the same time, it is evident that this brand is part of a flawed system reflecting the plague of systemic racism so deeply ingrained in our society. The student-athletes that make college sports function are using their platforms to say as much — and we should listen. The NCAA has long been known as an organization that exploits its student-athletes by reeling in hundreds of millions of dollars for predominantly white administrators, commissioners, athletic directors and coaches without directing a dime of that money toward the student-athletes generating its revenue. This dynamic is especially prevalent in college football and basketball — sports that make the most money and comprise the highest percentage of Black student-athletes. The Black Lives Matter movement has firmly ingrained itself in athletics, and that cannot and should not be undone. The work begun by Colin Kaepernick and carried on by Eric Reid, LeBron James and countless others has made a profound impact on sports, and athletes on both the professional and collegiate stage are continuing that today. Note: This article was written prior to the postponement of Pac-12 sports through 2020. It’s our responsibility to tell these stories. It’s our responsibility to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Black student-athletes, both on and off the field, that are too often taken for granted. It’s our responsibility as journalists at USC to shed light on how college sports are not a vacuum outside of society but rather part of an inherently unequal hierarchical system. We know that USC Athletics is a major aspect of campus life for students, identity for alumni and pride for fans. USC Athletics is a brand, one that plays a central role to so many members of the University community. The term “Trojan Family” is perhaps best on display amid the backdrop of USC sports, and that’s a reality we don’t take lightly. The Daily Trojan is a completely independent, student-run platform, and it is our job to provide a voice to our local community and student body. This means increasing profiles that highlight the achievements and contributions on and off the field of the Black student-athletes in our community, dedicating ourselves to covering social justice issues within USC Athletics and the wider world of sports and holding the Athletic Department accountable to follow through with its initiatives to fight for racial justice both within Trojan athletics and beyond. We want to look at the big picture when reporting on our student-athletes. All of us love sports, but that doesn’t mean the system providing us with such rich and entertaining moments is or has ever been anything close to perfect. The student-athletes who make you proud to call yourself a Trojan are reckoning with a sporting landscape that doesn’t prioritize their equity. Tradition is everything to USC, but change is demanded for a reason. These are just some of the many ways we can and must listen to the voices — especially those of color — in our community and help do our part in effecting lasting, tangible change. College athletes have said as much. A group of Pac-12 football players wrote a letter in the Players’ Tribune Aug. 2 stating they will opt out of the 2020 season if the NCAA does not remedy these shortcomings. Student-athletes at USC formed the United Black Student-Athletes Association in June to demand that the Athletic Department better support its Black student-athletes and actively fight racial injustice. Statues of USC’s 1969 defensive line, known as “The Wild Bunch,” cast a shadow outside of Heritage Hall. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan) There is a multitude of questions regarding whether fall sports will be played this year. Administrators are forced to consider not just the economic necessity and logistical feasibility of safely carrying out a 2020 season but also the ethics of taking such a risk in the first place. Tailgating? Wouldn’t bet on it. Fans in the stadiums? Unlikely. Games taking place at all? Far too early to tell, but there’s no guarantee — no matter what the schedule says. This is a moment when we must collectively understand that acknowledging systemic injustice without actively working to dismantle it is simply not enough. So, until we’re all told there won’t be college sports this semester, the Daily Trojan sports team will continue to bring you as close to your typical fan experience as we can with the resources available to us, even if much of that work will be done remotely. Now, to add on, student-athletes are having to fight for uniform coronavirus prevention protocols and medical coverage from the NCAA during a pandemic that disproportionately affects the Black community. This is our promise to reflect these complex truths in our reporting. This is our promise to improve upon our regrettable lack of diversity among our staff and our columnists to uplift the voices that we have historically undercovered. In just about every way, this won’t be a normal semester for anyone in the USC community. Athletics are no exception, and that’s not just because the football schedule will exclude Notre Dame for the first time since World War II. Most people across the sporting landscape have concerns about the feasibility of safely carrying out a fall sports season. Almost all are hoping there’s a way to make it happen. Both statements apply to us.