UTAH

A student’s boyfriend sues Utah State and alleges bullying led to her suicide

Aug 10, 2019, 4:55 PM
Utah State University bullying...
Utah State University's Psychology Department allowed a student to be verbally abused, intimidated and subjected to discrimination by other students, leading to her death by suicide, a lawsuit alleges. Photo: Anderson and Karrenberg Law Firm

(CNN) — Utah State University’s Psychology Department allowed a student to be verbally abused, intimidated and subjected to discrimination by other students, leading to her death by suicide, a lawsuit alleges.

Malaysian student Jerusha Sanjeevi, 24, was a doctorate student. She ended her life in April 2017 after what the complaint said was eight months of racist bullying by classmates.

The lawsuit was filed by Matthew Bick, her boyfriend and personal representative in the complaint.

It specifically names the university, several professors in the Psychology Department as well as the two women the suit accuses of bullying Sanjeevi.

According to the complaint, Sanjeevi asked for help from professors in the department and even discussed the bullying in her essay assignments.

In one essay cited in the complaint, she wrote that 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.”

The complaint states that she confided in a fellow student and friend that she did not know why the department was not believing in her.

” I don’t know why they’re letting her continue to bully and bully another student’s sanity away. I just don’t understand why I matter so little to them,” she told the student, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, one defendant would put down Sanjeevi, saying that she was “whiter” than her and therefore more deserving of a research position.

CNN has reached out to all of the people specifically named in the suit but has not received a response.

University responds

The university issued a response to CNN.

“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,” Utah State University said in a statement.

“It is inappropriate to wage litigation through media, and as with all student matters and pending litigation, Utah State University is limited in what it can say. The facts should and will ultimately guide the outcome of this matter, and it’s grossly inaccurate to say that USU did nothing.”

Over a period of several months, university faculty in the combined clinical/counseling psychology program and other administrators worked to address her reports of bullying and the conflict with the students in the program. They intervened in a manner that was consistent with her requests and the graduate program’s educational objectives, the university said.

Attorney: It took a lot for her to come forward

Rick Kaplan, Bick’s attorney, said it took a lot for Sanjeevi to come forward.

“It’s important because this was a psychology training program, and this was a program that purported to emphasize diversity and for this girl culturally to come forward as she did and say I’m being harassed and intimidated they should have realized that just coming forward was huge for her,” Kaplan said. “She told them she didn’t want to get anyone in trouble at the beginning. She just wanted the bullying to stop.”

The complaint says the suicide note ended with the lines, “Please be kinder in the future. Please send my ashes to my parents.”

“This is a tragic loss of young life that shouldn’t have happened and wouldn’t have happened if they had intervened professionally,” Kaplan said.

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A student’s boyfriend sues Utah State and alleges bullying led to her suicide