KUALA LUMPUR, August 8 — Utah State University (USU) has outlined how faculty and administrators addressed Jerusha Sanjeevi’s complaint of racist bullying before the Malaysian PhD student killed herself in 2017.
USU spokeswoman Amanda DeRito said it was, however, inappropriate to wage litigation through media, after Jerusha’s boyfriend, Matthew Bick, filed a federal lawsuit last week against USU and several of the United States university’s professors and students over the death of the 24-year-old psychology student.
“The facts should and will ultimately guide the outcome of this matter, and it is grossly inaccurate to say that USU did nothing,” DeRito told CodeBlue.
“Over a period of several months, USU faculty in the combined clinical/ counselling psychology programme and other administrators worked to address Ms Sanjeevi’s reports of bullying and the interpersonal conflict between the students in the Ph.D. programme. They intervened in a manner that was consistent with the graduate programme’s educational objectives and with Ms. Sanjeevi’s requests.
“As noted in the complaint: faculty members directly engaged with Ms Sanjeevi and the other student in response to allegations of social exclusion and gossip, monitored the situation, and proactively reached out to students to check on their well-being, and reassigned labs and mentors. The Office of Equity also provided training on respectful interactions in a professional environment to Ms Sanjeevi’s entire student cohort.”
DeRito said USU’s combined clinical/ counselling psychology programme was committed to diversity in its educational programmes with students getting training on working in diverse environments and providing services to diverse populations.
“The programme’s course work and training requirements include education and instruction on issues of diversity, inclusion and cultural competency. And consistent with the programme’s policies and statements on diversity, when students experience harassment, intimidation, or more general interpersonal conflict, faculty and staff intervene appropriately and in a manner consistent with policies,” she said
According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Jerusha’s family in US District Court in Salt Lake City, the young Malaysian woman of mixed Chinese and Indian parentage ended her life in April 2017 after being bullied by her classmates for eight months over her ethnicity.
Students in Jerusha’s cohort allegedly made fun of her “weird” Asian name, told her she smelled like Indian food, and said her darker skin colour made her less deserving of a research position, the complaint claimed. Jerusha’s psychology professor also allegedly gave Jerusha’s alleged bully financial assistance for tuition and research projects, while the Malaysian student purportedly got nothing.
The complaint claimed that Jerusha’s alleged Native American bully, according to students that the plaintiff’s lawyers spoke with, “started a narrative in the (psychology Ph.D. programme) about a ‘minority hierarchy’ which basically stated that if two parties were of a minority status, the one with the darker skin was the inferior of the two.”