More than two years ago in April 2017, 24-year-old Jerusha Sanjeevi ended her life after facing 8 months of racist bullying while she was studying at Utah State University (USU) in the United States.
According to The Herald Journal, Jerusha had a Master’s degree in clinical psychology and was pursuing her PhD at USU’s school of psychology. However, during her time at the university, she faced racism from her classmates.
Now, Jerusha’s boyfriend, Matthew Bick, has filed a lawsuit against the university, along with the institution’s school of psychology and some of her classmates and professors. The lawsuit alleges negligence, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit alleged that her fellow students bullied her by spreading rumours about her, making fun of her “weird” Asian name, told her she “smelled like Indian food”, and even said that her darker skin colour made her unworthy of a research position at the university.
One student allegedly made derogatory comments about Asian people such as, “Asian researcher names are so weird” and “Asians only want to please their parents,” according to the lawsuit. This individual allegedly bullied Jerusha on a daily basis.
The lawsuit also claims Jerusha told a friend that she wanted to leave her lab because she couldn’t take the abuse any longer. The 24-year-old reportedly said,
“She knew that I’ve been struggling with the fear of getting deported since the (2016) election. She knew that I have no power here as a foreign student and she did this to me on top of all of that. I don’t understand how a person can be so cruel.”
The lawsuit added that in December 2016, Jerusha met with the university’s head of department to report the bullying and that she was “afraid” of least one of her batchmates.
However, the department head concluded that it was just a “conflict between students” and did not investigate multiple reports of bullying and racism from other students, even after Jerusha’s death.
The PhD student filed complaints to at least five faculty members. She was then reportedly “despondent, withdrawn, defeated and tired” according to other students after no action was taken.
A few days before her death, Jerusha told a friend about how she felt about the school not taking her reports seriously, saying,
“I just don’t understand why I matter so little to them. I haven’t been feeling like living and this just confirms that I don’t want this life anymore.”
Jerusha passed away from acute carbon monoxide poisoning on 22nd April 2017 and her body was found two days later.
According to the Daily Beast, a note was found at the scene of her death, which reads,
“I have lived with depression for over half my life, and somehow survived each episode. But each wave of sadness grew darker and longer. I looked and looked for a lifeline. Until I realized that I didn’t deserve one. Because [the Department] succeeded at teaching me what poverty, violence, rape, and hunger somehow never did…”
“When you dismissed the bullying report, you provided a final confirmation that I did, in fact, not matter.”
“The innocence of blonde hair and blue eyes could deny, with toxic ease, the ‘crazy’ ramblings of this dirty brown skin. 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.”
Meanwhile, in response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman from USU stated that the university strongly disputes the allegations, saying,
“We believe Utah State took all appropriate action to address interpersonal issues between students in the department.”
Meanwhile, the attorney representing Jerusha’s boyfriend, who filed the lawsuit, was quoted by The Herald Journal as saying,
“I’m hoping that USU will take a hard look in the mirror.”
“I’m hoping that it will do what’s necessary to make diversity work there. And to avoid these kinds of multiple relationships. And I’m also hoping to help the family in Malaysia with their circumstances financially.”
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