“Every day I dread going to class now because I sit three feet from my white bully.”
Jerusha Sanjeevi was a bright-eyed young lady who dreamed of helping children recover from the trauma of abuse. Eight months into her PhD program at Utah State University (USU), Jerusha committed suicide after enduring relentless racist bullying from classmates and apathy from faculty members.
A Malaysian national of Chinese and Indian descent, Jerusha had been pursuing a doctorate in clinical and counselling psychology when she encountered persistent and intense bullying from her classmates.
According to reports, Jerusha experienced bullying just weeks into her first semester at the university.
The bullies mocked her whenever she spoke in class, teased her for having dark skin, made fun of her name, and it even got to the point where they discredited her academically.
The bullies made remarks saying Jerusha “smelled like Indian food” and kept sending her racist memes about India even though she was Malaysian.
Despite the insults, Jerusha reached out to her classmates and even invited her bullies to a Deepavali celebration to bridge the cultural gap.
However, the bullying took a turn for the worse as her classmates started spreading rumours that she was a “whore” and a “slut” even along classroom hallways.
Jerusha feared she was going to be deported when Trump won the presidency and nurtured hostility against foreigners and immigrants. Looking at the bright side, she cooked Malaysian dishes for her classmates despite her worries.
But, the bullies found a way to turn Jerusha’s act of kindness into a rumour about her being mentally ill since she was “upset after the election but then made everyone food and was so happy.”
Jerusha reported her experience to at least five faculty members and her department, but her cries fell on deaf ears. She filed a complaint to her department which backfired because the faculty member appeared to have favoured the bully by giving her research projects and none to Jerusha.
When Jerusha sought help from the university’s Counselling and Psychology Services, the director dismissed the report as a mere “conflict between students” and even seemed to take the bully’s side by believing the rumours against Jerusha.
“I just don’t understand why I matter so little to them,” she told one of her close friends.
Jerusha died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning on April 22, 2017. She was 24.
When Jerusha died, the university released a statement describing the incident as a “tragedy.” However, the department told its students not to discuss Jerusha’s suicide.
In addition, the university allegedly declined to investigate other reports of racism and bullying even after Jerusha’s death.
Jerusha’s boyfriend, Matthew Brick, and her family have filed a lawsuit against Utah State University for its alleged inaction against racial bullying which led to Jerusha’s suicide. Defendants include former psychology department head Gretchen Peacock, Prof. Melissa Tehee, Emeritus Prof. Carolyn Barcus, and two students who were the alleged bullies. -/TISG