The boyfriend of a Malaysian student who committed suicide is suing Utah State University, says she suffered racial abuse

Sanjeevi, who was of Indian and Chinese heritage, was only 24 years old when she died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning.
Facebook / Jerusha Shi Yuan Sanjeevi

Editor’s note: This article touches on the topic of suicide. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in emotional distress, you may contact the following:

Singapore:

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Malaysia: 

Befrienders Malaysia: 603-79568145.

  • Utah State University is facing a lawsuit for not addressing alleged racial abuse faced by Jerusha Sanjeevi, a Malaysian student who committed suicide in 2017
  • According to reports, the lawsuit filed by her boyfriend states that students in Sanjeevi’s cohort made racial and mental health jokes about her for several months, but the school’s counseling center dismissed her concerns
  • In her suicide note, Sanjeevi said that watching the university’s department choosing not to act on her bullying report was the “last nail in my coffin”

The Utah State Univerisity (USU) has been sued for not doing enough to address months of racial abuse a Malaysian student allegedly faced before committing suicide in 2017.

According to a report by The Herald Journal, Jerusha Sanjeevi, a Malaysian PhD student of psychology, took her own life on April 22, 2017.

Sanjeevi, who was of Indian and Chinese heritage, was only 24 years old when she died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning, The Herald Journal said.

The lawsuit was filed on August 1 by Sanjeevi’s boyfriend, Matthew Bick, against the university, the psychology department head, multiple professors and some students in Sanjeevi’s cohort.

It alleges a pattern of bullying, the PhD’s program’s failure to address the bullying, and a failure to mediate conflicts between Sanjeevi and her alleged bully, The Herald Journal reported.

Richard Kaplan, an attorney with the law firm representing the plaintiff, was quoted by The Herald Journal as saying: “I’m hoping that USU will take a hard look in the mirror.”

Racial and mental health jokes

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the bullying allegedly started during Sanjeevi’s first school semester in 2016. Two students in her cohort are accused of saying she had a “weird Asian name” and joking that she was bipolar.

The students are also being accused of saying Sanjeevi only made it into the psychology programme because she was “given a handout” as an international student from Malaysia, the report said.

One of the students allegedly also spread rumors that Sanjeevi was “mentally unstable” because she was worried about being deported after Donald Trump was elected as the President of the US in 2016, it added.

Counseling center dismissed her concerns

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Sanjeevi reported the bullying to at least five faculty members over the course of several months, in addition to a member of the school’s counseling center, student conduct office, and the affirmative action department.

However, the psychologist from the counseling center dismissed Sanjeevi’s concerns, while students allegedly called her names after finding out that she had made a report, the report added.

Felt that she did not matter

According to American news website The Daily Beast, Sanjeevi reportedly told a friend that she was “overwhelmed by the department’s apparent apathy” days before she killed herself.

In a note left behind, Sanjeevi reportedly said that when the department dismissed her bullying report, they “provided a final confirmation that I did, in fact, not matter”.

“Watching the department not only choose to not enact consequences, but to give an award to the sick person who bullied me, was the last nail in my coffin. My heart was broken,” she was quoted by The Daily Beast as saying.

A USU spokesperson, Amanda DeRito, disputed the lawsuit claims and was quoted by Utah-based news website The Salt Lake Tribune as saying: “We believe Utah State took all appropriate action[s] to address interpersonal issues between students in the department.”

Currently, the lawsuit is seeking unspecified financial damages for Sanjeevi’s family, who lives in Malaysia.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or is in emotional distress, you may contact the following:

Singapore:

Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

Malaysia:

Befrienders Malaysia: 603-79568145.

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