The U.S. Aviation Academy in Denton, Texas is being accused of negligence and racially discriminatory practices after a Chinese flight student committed suicide on campus.
Yang Yan, 21, believed to be from Huai’an, Jiangsu Province, was found dead on the morning on April 16th in the aviation school’s dormitory. His death was ruled as a suicide.
Since this tragedy, some of Yan’s classmates have begun to speak out anonymously regarding the struggles leading up to his death and the school’s general disregard for the well-being of its Chinese students in the form of travel and language restrictions as well as cruel punishments for breaking these rules.
According to CBS Dallas, pictures have been posted drawing attention to the flight school’s strict English-only policy. An image allegedly showed students being made to hold signs stating that they had broken the language restriction rules while another photo was showed such a students’ daily schedule with a 14-hour day that included “holding doors open for staff, cleaning scuff marks off of floors and cleaning toilets at night.”
In response to these claims the aviation academy has released two statements, one on April 19th and the other on the 21st, denying all accusations and deflecting the blame. In the first letter they wrote:
“We all know that not every student/cadet that comes to USAG or any other training facility will be successful. Such is the case with the student that has chosen to take his life. The fact is that the student was identified very early in his pilot training as someone who consistently underperformed and failed to demonstrate the minimum standard on a consistent basis. USAG did our due diligence and documented this information and provided it for review to his airlines as early as October 2018.”
In a followup letter, CEO of the academy J. Micheal Sykes again refused to take any responsibility for the death of Yan, stating:
“The unexpected and tragic suicide of Mr. Yan has stirred up much grief, frustration, and even anger. It is natural in the grieving process to want answers and even to look for someone or something to blame for this needless tragedy. I understand this emotion, but I cannot allow false accusations and information to continue without a response.”
Sykes is insisting that Yan’s poor mental health was due to his own poor performance at the academy and the school has done everything they could have done while the student was still alive. He continued in the letter:
“Mr. Yan was a student who did not meet the FAA safety and quality standards. We requested permission to cease Mr Yan’s training from his airline in October 2018. They initially denied our request and we asked that they reconsider. They still denied the request and so additional training was provided. Mr Yan continued to perform below an acceptable level and fall farther and farther behind his classmates. Now, as we look back, we all wish that the original request would have been accepted. Mr. Yan would be safely back at home in China right now…
“Becoming a pilot also requires natural talent, too… In our judgment, Mr. Yan did not possess the natural ability to become a pilot. We are deeply saddened that he was not allowed to return to China to pursue another career path.”
The CEO has also warned that students who continue to make such claims and criticisms publicly could face a defamation lawsuit in the future.
“I think it is also important that we each remind ourselves to be aware of the emotional stability of our friends and classmates. We must be willing to take action if we think there might be an issue…
“US Aviation will not allow its reputation be tarnished by false statements of any kind. We have the legal right and obligation to protect our reputation and will pursue legal action against anyone publishing false statements.”
As for the strict language restriction rule allowing only English to be spoke on campus, the academy is insisting that the rule was made for all students, not just targeted at their Chinese students.
“The actual rule is that English only is allowed on campus and applies to all students, not just those from China. This is not in discrimination against Chinese, but rather to reinforce the English training we provide through immersion in the English language. This is done to improve the training process. False statements that policies such as these are because of racial discrimination is false and will not be tolerated. We encourage open communication and suggestions for improvement, but not spreading of false rumors in hopes of causing damage to the reputation of US Aviation.”
Yan’s family were not immediately notified regarding the suicide and eight days after his death, his mother still had not received any notice from the American Airlines School and was unable to see her son.
On May 13, Yan received a funeral in a chapel at the Restland Funeral Home in Dallas. The building was filled with fellow students of the aviation academy and Yan’s family who traveled to Texas for the service, along with many silent demonstrators holding signs stating “Justice for Yang” and “End Discrimination Now.”