After a months-long struggle of racist bullying by classmates at Utah State University, doctoral candidate Jerusha Sanjeevi took her own life, a federal lawsuit filed by her family alleges.
According to multiple news reports, Jerusha Sanjeevi, 24, of Malaysia, took her own life in April 2017 because of the racist bullying.
"Every day I dread going to class now because I sit three feet from my white bully," Sanjeevi, of Chinese and Indian heritage, texted a friend months before her suicide, according to the lawsuit.
The 91-page lawsuit, filed by Sanjeevi’s boyfriend, Matthew Bick, names as defendants Utah State University, the head of the psychology department, some of the students who were in her cohort, and professors, the Daily Beast reported.
The complaint alleges negligence, wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It contends that the university’s lack of action—even after Sanjeevi complained about the alleged bullying to professors and a department chairperson—violated her civil rights. The Herald Journal first reported on the lawsuit Aug. 2, according to the report.
Sanjeevi graduated from Minnesota State University with a master’s degree in clinical psychology and then enrolled in Utah State’s psychology doctorate program in fall 2016.
Eighty-three percent of students at the school are white, the lawsuit claims, the report added.
The department “knowingly allowed one of its students to be verbally abused, intimidated and subjected to cultural and racist discrimination by favored students over the course of eight months, when she was rendered so emotionally devastated and hopeless that she committed suicide,” the lawsuit claims.
Other students in her cohort spread rumors about Sanjeevi, made fun of her “weird” Asian name, told her she smelled like Indian food, and derided her darker skin color as making her less deserving of a research position, according to the lawsuit, the report continued.
One of the students repeatedly made derisive comments about Asians, including that “Asian researcher names are so weird” and “Asians only want to please their parents,” the complaint alleges.
Amanda DeRito, a spokeswoman for the university, told The Daily Beast that Sanjeevi’s suicide was “a tragic event that had a huge impact on the psychology department and on our entire university” and said the university “strongly” disputes the allegations in the complaint.
The complaint seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages for Sanjeevi’s family in Malaysia. “Please be kinder in the future,” Sanjeevi wrote in her suicide note. “Please send my ashes to my parents.”