Sasha Menu Courey's death prompts university inquiry

The University of Missouri is investigating events leading up to the suicide of Sasha Menu Courey, a 20-year-old Toronto woman who was attending the school on a swimming scholarship.

Toronto-born swimmer was on a scholarship at the University of Missouri

In this 2010 photo provided by the University of Missouri Athletic Department is Sasha Menu Courey. The Canadian family of former University of Missouri school swimmer says the school and its athletics department failed to properly investigate her alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in 2010. Menu Courey struggled with mental illness and committed suicide 16 months later. (University of Missouri Athletic Department/Associated Press)

The University of Missouri is investigating events leading up to the suicide of a 20-year-old Toronto woman who was attending the school on a swimming scholarship.

Sasha Menu Courey took her own life in June 2011 and her parents say the university and its athletics department by now should have investigated her alleged off-campus rape in February 2010.

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Watch CBC News Toronto at 5 pm tonight to see Michelle Chueng's story about the struggles Sasha Menu Courey's family had getting help for their daughter in the months before her death.

Sasha's parents spoke with CBC's Michelle Chueng this week and said their daughter's time at Mizzou, as the university is known, started well.

Lynn Courey and Mike Menu say their daughter's scholarship was a dream come true. In her first year, Sasha made friends and thrived as a member of the school's swim team.

"Once she was there, she was the life of the party," Courey said. "She liked to give huge bear hugs. That's where her nickname Sasha Bear came from."

Courey said her daughter kept a detailed journal tracking her performance in the pool. In class she also did well, registering a 4.0 grade point average in her first semester.

"She was always goal-oriented," said Courey. "Her friendship with the team was incredible."

But something changed in her second year, when Sasha began to struggle with depression. A back injury prevented her from competing and she had a difficult breakup with her boyfriend.

"The fact that she wasn't at the pool swimming, that was starting to have a major impact on her," said Courey.

After Sasha's death, her parents found out their daughter claimed she had been raped more than a year before her suicide.

University leaders say they didn't learn about the purported attack until after Menu Courey's death. They also said they followed the letter of the law because they didn't have specific knowledge of the attack and no victim to interview.

Sasha never reported the incident to police, but her mother says her daughter wrote in her journal about telling her school adviser and campus medical staff.

The university didn't immediately investigate the death of Menu Courey, who by then had withdrawn from classes at the university's urging and lost her financial aid. The school said in a statement that a newspaper article about Menu Courey's suicide briefly alluded to the alleged assault, but didn't meet the legal standard that the school "reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment."

It was only after media reports this year questioned what university officials knew about Sasha's struggles when the University of Missouri decided to pay for an independent inquiry.

School spokesperson John Fougere told CBC News the inquiry is aimed at looking at how the school responded, and whether it could have done more to help Sasha.

"The investigation …  is more about 'Did our staff act appropriately? What did we do right? What did we do wrong? what can we do better next time?'" he said.

The University of Missouri says an independent investigator will report back to the school's board in April about how to better support students in crisis.

Menu and Courey have channelled their grief into a mental health foundation named in Sasha's memory. They want accountability from Missouri, though Menu said the couple hasn't hired an attorney and isn't "looking for money."

"We just want to make sure that changes are made," Mike Menu said. "We need more than Band-Aids. We need a transformation."

With files from CBC's Michelle Chueng, The Associated Press