Lawsuit Alleges School Didn’t Stop Bullying That Led To Girl’s Suicide Death | #ActToChange

Emilie Olsen in a photograph uploaded to social media.
Emilie Olsen in a photograph uploaded to social media.

Nearly a year after 13-year-old Emilie Olsen was found dead of an apparent suicide, her parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the Fairfield County school district in Ohio alleging that the school didn’t do enough to stop the bullying that led to Emilie’s death.

Emilie, who was adopted at the age of 9 months from China, grew up in Ohio where she faced bullying to severe that she suffered chronic depression and anxiety. The bullying included name-calling, physical abuse, and at least one incident where a girl reportedly followed Emilie into a bathroom with a razor and told her to kill herself. In addition, school bullies engaged in cyber-bullying; they created a social media account that subjected Emilie to slut-shaming and homophobic slurs.

In an online chat to a friend, Emilie reportedly said:

“I’m causing all this trouble on Earth. And people look at me like I’m a freak and I’m tired of it,” she wrote to a fellow student at Fairfield Middle School in an online chat. “It hurts when you have to explain yourself to people you don’t know or like. You feel them judging you, staring at you, talking about you.

Although Emilie’s parents repeatedly raised the issue of Emilie’s bullying to school administrators, they did little about the problem. School administrators allegedly failed to discipline Emilie’s bullies, nor did they encourage Emilie to see a counselor or encourage access to resources to help her cope with the emotional impact of her chronic bullying, even when they were made aware of the lasting problem. Instead, after Emilie’s death, administrators initially denied that Emilie was a victim of bullying and abuse, until this fact became undeniable through independent investigation.

Now Emilie’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit charging Emilie’s school violated her civil rights in failing to protect her from an environment of unending hostility. The lawsuit further argues that the bullying that Emilie faced was explicitly racialized, spurred on in part by Emilie’s identity as an Chinese American in a county that is made up of nearly 90% White residents.

1 in 5 Asian American students are victims of bullying with over half of those victims saying that their abuse occurred in school classrooms, the highest incidence of in-class bullying reported for any race or ethnic group. In certain areas, incidence of bullying is markedly higher for Asian American youth, particularly among Sikh Americans and Muslim Americans. In addition, more Asian American students report that their race was a focal point of their bullying, compared to children of other races.

Earlier this year, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders launched #ActToChange, a nationwide anti-bullying campaign focused on raising awareness to stop the peer-to-peer violence that targets our Asian American young people, and other youth of colour, in schoolyards and classrooms. The campaign was created in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans in Entertainment. Speaking to NBC News:

“Education is a right for everybody, but bullying has become a civil rights issue because it’s constantly interfering with their education,” Aasees Kaur, a Sikh Coalition advocate, told NBC News. “[Students] have to find that ounce of courage to stand up against bullying and keep going back [to school] because it just takes one voice to really change things.”

We expect that our nation’s schools should be places of safety, support and learning for our children, but for Asian American children as well as many children of colour, classrooms are places of hostility and violence. For Emilie, the classroom was a place of abuse, and those who should have been charged with her protection apparently did nothing to keep her safe.

Our children deserve so much better.

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  • Myra Esoteric

    When I was in an inner city high school and middle school many of us Asian youth were targeted for “coin shake-downs” due to a belief that “Asians and ‘Arabs’ were rich”. I personally, got shit for my accent and for my legal name being different from the name that I used in real life.

    But is this a public policy issue? I strongly feel that this is more of an issue of a linkage with the media. Asians are portrayed in a negative light and as weak in the media. Especially for kids who are adopted, who don’t know that much about their culture, sometimes the media is all they know about their heritage.

    This issue is not going to be resolved until US hegemony is no longer a going concern. Because as long as the West views itself in competition with countries like China, India, the Arab world, it will be an issue just like South and West Asian kids are frequently heckled as “Isis and Saddam”. There are also more subtle stereotypes for example East and South Asian men being portrayed as emasculated, which portrays the entire culture as weak.

    IMO this gets into more of a sticky situation. We cannot legislate away bullying and to do so is a grave mistake. It is more of a cultural and individual issue – and one with the media.

  • Skeet Duran

    No charges? Whoever created this fake Instagram account should be identifiable by the investigators. Fatality caused by bullying based on race or homophobia, if caught would be charged as a hate crime.

    All the orphan kids growing up in Asia hoping and dreaming someday to be adopted by American parents, to them it’s like hitting the jackpot, set for life. Little do they know disasters can come their way.

  • Skeet, would it be okay to edit your comment to either reduce the size of that image or link it rather than embed it, or alternatively to push the image to the bottom of your comment rater than the top so that it hides behind the “see more”? I don’t think signal amplifying the stuff that cause Emilie so much pain really honours her memory.

  • Skeet Duran

    ikr, a lot of times I only wanted to post a link but it always displays a whole pic or video scaring people.

  • Yeah Disqus is good and convenient for many things but really obnoxious on others lol!