The family of University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang has created an endowment fund in her memory. The money will be used to support international students in crisis and their families.
At a press conference Monday, U of I officials thanked the Zhang family for their initial gift of $30,000 to the fund. An additional $24,000 in contributions have poured in from more than 440 donors.
Zhang’s family said they hope more people will contribute to Yingying's Fund, which is meant to celebrate and honor her life.
Zhang was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 2017 by former U of I doctoral student Brendt Christensen, who is now serving a sentence of life without parole.
Speaking through an interpreter, Zhang’s brother Xinyang read a statement prepared by Yingying’s fiance, Xiaolin Huo.
He said the past two years have been enormously stressful for him and Zhang’s family.
Learning that Zhang was not just kidnapped and missing, but had been brutally murdered, has caused indescribable suffering, Huo said.
U of I Chancellor Robert Jones thanked the Zhang family for their generous and kind-hearted act, even in the face of immense suffering.
“We have seen the Zhang family face the darkest, and the saddest, and the most difficult experience imaginable, with nothing but grace, kindness and gratitude to all,” Jones said. “But even now, the family is thinking about how they might help others in the years to come.”
Speaking through a interpreter, Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, described Yingying as smart, beautiful and kind. He recounted the challenges he and his family faced when they first heard Yingying was missing.
“Our life turned upside down,” he said. “We were scared. Champaign is 7,000 miles away from our home, we didn’t know who and where to ask for help.”
He said the kindness and generosity of many U of I people and community members helped them make it through, and he hopes Yingying's Fund will help other families facing hardship and loss while far from home.
Yingying's Fund will be managed by the U of I Foundation. Campus officials said disbursement of the funds will follow processes already in place for identifying students in need of support.