Educational institutions are meant to be havens of knowledge and fellowship as bright young minds come together to learn and grow.
Sadly, we learn that is not always the case with the shocking news of a Malaysian PhD student’s suicide after experiencing 8 months of relentless bullying and racism in a US university.
24-year-old Jerusha Sanjeevi tragically took her life in April 2017 while studying in Utah State University.
Devastated by her death, The Herald Journal reports that the psychology student’s family has filed a lawsuit against the university for their lack of action.
Jerusha’s boyfriend, Matthew Bick, is acting as her personal representative in the lawsuit filed in the US.
In the suit, Jerusha’s family claims that the psychology department did not do anything to address the bullying experienced by Jerusha from another student.
Apparently, Jerusha was bullied by two other psychology students. Here’s some of the incidents stated in the lawsuit:
1. Told Jerusha “Asians only want to please their parents” and that “Asian names are weird.”
2. Text Jerusha pictures of Indian foods and memes, asking her whether they were “legitimate” despite Jerusha telling the student multiple times that she was from Malaysia, not India.
3. Also told her that she smelled like Indian food and made fun of her skin colour.
“Every day I dread going to class now because I sit three feet from my white bully.”Jerusha via Daily Beast.
4. Spread rumours that Jerusha was bipolar.
Jerusha wanted to share Malaysian-style comfort through food after the upsetting results of the 2016 US elections. She offered to drop off food to anyone who needed a pick-me-up.
Shortly after that, the bully spread a rumor that Jerusha was bipolar because she had been “so upset after the election but then made everyone food and was so happy.”
5. Called Jerusha ‘sl*t’ and ‘wh*re’ in the hallways.
6. Told Jerusha that she was “second best” in the lab and that the other student was going to get the best research assignments.
“Encountering racism even in graduate school in psychology reinforced a powerful lesson that I learned my entire life: that I can put a nice suit on, but I can never take my skin off.”Jerusha via Daily Beast.
The Last Straw
The saddest bit is that all of this could’ve been prevented.
Jerusha had gone to the head the department to report the bullying, telling her that she was “afraid” of at least one other student.
But, the head just labelled the issue as “a conflict between students” and did not investigate even after Jerusha’s death.
“I just don’t understand why I matter so little to them.”Jerusha via Daily Beast.
“I haven’t been feeling like living and this just confirms that I don’t want this life anymore.”
Daily Beast reports that Jerusha died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning on 22nd April 2017 and left behind a note with the following words:
“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.
Please be kinder in the future.
Please send my ashes to my parents.”Jerusha via Daily Beast.
As knowledge of Jerusha’s death and the following lawsuit spread, Utah State University responded with the following:
“Jerusha Sanjeevi’s suicide was a tragic event that had a huge impact on the Utah State University 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.”Utah State University.
The university also says that the faculty members of the combined clinical/counseling psychology program and other administrators worked to Jerusha’s reports of bullying.
They intervened following Jerusha’s requests and in a manner that was “consistent with the graduate program’s educational objectives.”
TRP sends our condolences to Jerusha’s family and loved ones.