A complaint has been filed against the University and Amazon.com Inc. on behalf of nursing student Arya Singh, who died in February 2013 by suicide in her Rodin College House dorm room. The document describes Singh’s ongoing struggle with finding help after her sexual assault and the depression resulting from it.
The lawsuit, filed by her mother Sujata Singh, blames Amazon for allowing her to purchase the soluble cyanide salts online that she used to kill herself. It alleges that there have been 51 purchases of these types of salts online that have resulted in 11 deaths — at the time of Singh’s purchase, Amazon did not have any policies in place to prevent such sales. The lawsuit also blames Thailand-based GMO Internet Inc. for their distribution of the cyanide through Amazon.
Penn is named as a defendant due to alleged “unsympathetic, hostile and at times vindictive” behavior that administrators showed towards Singh. On Jan. 16, 2011, Singh reported being sexually assaulted as a freshman in her dorm room in Kings Court English College House by another student.
Singh reported the sexual assault to her resident advisor , who filed an incident report. The complaint alleges that Penn Police then investigated the sexual assault, though the Division of Public Safety said that all sexual assault cases are investigated by the Philadelphia Police Department, not Penn Police. Singh received a forensic rape examination at Jefferson Hospital, according to the complaint. She also reported the sexual assault to the Counseling and Psychological Services office, who noted that Singh was experiencing depression, anxiety, nightmares, erratic sleep and loss of appetite due to the sexual assault.
The complaint states that CAPS scheduled an appointment for Singh with a therapist, but when she attempted to schedule a follow-up, CAPS had no availability and did not attempt to schedule another appointment with her despite knowing about her depressive state. Singh informed Student Intervention Services and the Penn’s Women’s Center, both within the Vice Provost for University Life office, that her sexual assaulter was still living in her dorm, which was causing emotional difficulties for her. On Feb. 7, Singh was notified that her assaulter would be removed from her dorm, but he maintained access to the building and other buildings on campus.
The Office of Student Conduct notified Singh on Feb. 17, a month after the sexual assault, that they were beginning their investigation into the assault, according to the complaint. On Mar. 30, Singh’s assaulter demanded that OSC facilitate a formal hearing before a panel to dispute the charges against him.
Although the Philadelphia Police Department investigated the sexual assault and created a report, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office declined to prosecute the sexual assaulter.
The complaint targets the University for negligence in pursuing her case because of the changeover in the sexual assault investigating procedures over the last few years. The hearing was cancelled when the alleged assaulter accepted disciplinary sanctions — agreeing to avoid contact with Singh and leave her college house.
Singh became depressed, began drinking heavily, and started exhibiting avoidant behavior as a result of the trauma of her assault, the complaint says. In January 2013, Singh was placed on academic probation and faced various other student misconduct offenses, including not meeting certain undergraduate Nursing requirements and failing a writing seminar course. Her student account was placed on disciplinary hold, preventing her from registering for classes, which prompted the University to ask her to vacate student housing on Feb. 8 due to underenrollment.
The day following the notice of her removal from campus housing, Singh was found unconscious in her dorm room after having consumed the cyanide salts, and she was not able to be revived.
Singh left two Post-it notes behind before her suicide — one with her sister and moms’ phone numbers on it, and one with the passcode to her laptop and instructions for her sister to open her suicide note document. According to the complaint, in her note, Singh wrote about the OSC investigation into her student misconduct and about her ongoing troubles at the University.
Vice President for University Communications Stephen McCarthy declined to comment on the lawsuit, stating, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”
Mental health has been an ongoing conversation among Penn students and administrators, who witnessed a string of six student suicides in 15 months. Since Singh’s sexual assault, the University has undergone a significant remodeling of its sexual assault reporting and investigating processes.
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that the investigation conducted by Penn Police into Singh's claim of sexual assault was alleged in the family's lawsuit. The Division of Public Safety maintains that all sexual assault investigations are handled by the Philadelphia Police Department, not Penn Police.
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