Utah State Settles with Family of Student Who Died by Suicide

The lawsuit alleges the international graduate student was harassed by a classmate who told her dark skin was “a sign of inferiority.”

Utah State Settles with Family of Student Who Died by Suicide

(Photo: Africa Studio, Adobe Stock)

LOGAN, Utah — Utah State University (USU) has agreed to pay $140,000 in a settlement with the parents of a 24-year-old graduate student who took her own life.

In a lawsuit filed in August 2019, the parents of Jerusha Sanjeevi allege their daughter reported severe harassment to multiple employees but little was done to stop it, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Sanjeevi’s boyfriend Matthew Bick, on behalf of her parents, who still live in Sanjeevi’s home country of Malaysia. The settlement money will go to her parents and will come from the school’s risk fund and insurance providers.

According to the settlement, which includes dropping the lawsuit, USU admits no wrongdoing or liability but agreed that the treatment Sanjeevi faced “may have caused injuries or damages or given rise to claims for damages.”

Sanjeevi first enrolled as a doctoral student in USU’s psychology department in fall 2016. The lawsuit claims two students in her cohort harassed her, including making fun of her for having a “weird Asian name” and calling her stupid. The students also allegedly told their classmates that Sanjeevi wouldn’t have been accepted into the program if she hadn’t been “given a handout” as an international student.

One of the students, who Sanjeevi worked with in a professor’s lab and as a teaching assistant, would discredit Sanjeevi while instructing classes, saying she smelled like Indian food and that dark skin was “a sign of inferiority,” the suit said. The student also allegedly spread rumors that Sanjeevi was mentally unstable because she was worried about being deported.

Sanjeevi reported her harassment to a co-worker in September 2016 and then to a professor. The professor, who had a close relationship with the accused student, allegedly “dismissed [the reports] as a misunderstanding” and continued to show preferential treatment to the other student.

The suit further claims a pattern of favoritism and racism has existed within the psychology department for years, and that international students, in particular, have faced a hostile environment with faculty members knowingly allowing abuse to continue.

Over the course of several months, the suit said Sanjeevi talked to at least five faculty members, in addition to employees within the school’s counseling center, student conduct office, and affirmative action department. She also met with an employee at the equal opportunity office several times to file a report of harassment and told the employee she was depressed.

The lawsuit said the attacks against Sanjeevi worsened when the student who was harassing her found out about the complaints. By the end of the semester, the department faculty allegedly suggested moving Sanjeevi to another research lab or dismissing both her and the other student from the program, implying both women were to blame.

Sanjeevi died by suicide in April 2017.

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can text TALK to 741741 or initiate an online chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. Additional resources can also be found at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

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