US university sued over Malaysian student's suicide after reports of bullying

US university sued over Malaysian student's suicide after reports of bullying

Jerusha Sanjeevi
The family of a Malaysian student who died by suicide has filed a lawsuit against the Utah State University for failing to step in when she complained of bullying. (Photos: Facebook/Jerusha Sanjeevi)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah: The family of a Malaysian student who died by suicide has filed a lawsuit against Utah State University (USU), accusing the American varsity of failing to address the bullying she had encountered. 

Ms Jerusha Sanjeevi, a 24-year-old PhD student in psychology, took her own life in April 2017. 

The lawsuit, filed on Aug 1, 2019, alleges that there was a pattern of favouritism and racism played out for years within the psychology programme. 

According to the Herald Journal, the lawsuit named the university as a defendant, three professors, as well as two students who allegedly bullied Ms Sanjeevi.

"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," said lawyers Richard Kaplan, as quoted in the Herald Journal. 

"I'm also hoping to help the family in Malaysia with their circumstances financially." 

JOKES ABOUT INDIAN FOOD, BEING BIPOLAR

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that when Ms Sanjeevi applied to USU after graduating from Minnesota State University in 2016, she had been assured she would be comfortable there, even though more than 80 per cent of its students were white. 

However, reports said she was almost immediately singled out by two students in her cohort. 

The lawsuit alleged that they made fun of her "weird Asian name", joked that she was bipolar and told classmates she would not have made it into the programme if she had not been "given a handout" as an international student from Malaysia. 

One of the students, whom Ms Sanjeevi worked with in a professor's lab and as a teaching assistant, was said to have discredited her while instructing classes, saying she smelled like Indian food and criticising her "inferior" dark skin. 

The lawsuit accused the professors and department chairperson of not stepping in to help, even though Ms Sanjeevi had approached them, reported the Tribune. 

Exhibits to the case included email and text conversations between psychology professors that showed they were uncertain about how to respond to Ms Sanjeevi's complaints. 

Ms Sanjeevi's boyfriend Matthew Bick is said to have filed the case on behalf of Ms Sanjeevi's parents, who live in Malaysia. 

"The family in Malaysia can't adequately be compensated for the loss of a life," said their lawyer Mr Kaplan, as quoted in the Tribune. "It's altogether too devastating. But this is the only way we have of helping." 

USU has disputed the claimed detailed in the lawsuit, reported the Herald Journal. 

"Jerusha Sanjeevi's suicide was a tragic event that had a huge impact on the psychology department and on our entire university. She was a promising student, and her death tremendously affected her fellow students, as well as staff and faculty in the department," a USU spokesperson was quoted as saying. 

"We cannot release private and protected student records or comment on the specifics of this case, but we strongly dispute the facts and allegations in the complaint. We believe Utah State took all appropriate action to address interpersonal issues between students in the department." 

Where to get help: Samaritans of Singapore operates a 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444, or you can email pat@sos.org.sg. You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

Source: CNA/hs(gs)

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