A Volatile Mix: Sex, Obsession, Microaggressions and Mental Health at UVa

by James A. Bacon

Kieran Bhattacharya, a University of Virginia School of Medicine student who claims he was expelled for challenging left-wing political orthodoxy at the school, has filed new papers expanding upon his allegations. Among the more explosive charges, he asserts that he was twice committed against his will to psychiatric facilities, given antipsychotic medication, and once woke up from his tranquilized state to find himself in a car bound for a private psychiatric hospital in Petersburg.

UVa’s response to Bhattacharya’s “dissident speech” is “reminiscent of the infamous ‘treatment’ of dissidents in psychiatric hospitals in the former Soviet Union,” says the pleading, which was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville in support of a request for a jury trial.

Adding another new dimension to the lawsuit, Bhattacharya contended that his ex-girlfriend collaborated with med school officials to drum him out of school after he had broken up with her. He describes her as a controlling, manipulative and vindictive woman who boasted how she had gained revenge against two former boyfriends at Emory University by charging them with rape.

After reading the filing, one is inclined to believe that one of two things must be true. Either the UVa med school is sitting on the biggest scandal in its history or Kieran Bhattacharya is a young man in serious need of help.

Bhattacharya filed the suit in April, tracing his expulsion from the medical school program to a previous incident in which he had attended an October 25, 2018, seminar on “micro-aggressions.” During the question-and-answer session he politely but persistently challenged the professor’s presentation. How did she define the “marginalized” groups who were victimized by micro-aggressions? How does the person receiving a micro-aggression know the intention of the person making it? How can the perpetrator know if his comment will be deemed offensive?

In Bhattacharya’s April recounting, numerous people were offended by his questions. Nora Kern, a urology professor, flagged him with a Professionalism Concern Card, which triggered a series of one-on-one meetings and convenings of the Academic Standards and Achievement Committee to probe his “unprofessional” behavior. In the initial filing, he alluded to the fact that that Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs John J. Densmore had sent him a letter stating that he needed to be seen by CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] before he could return to classes. He did not reveal in his initial filing that he had been previously committed for psychiatric treatment. The lawsuit concluded by describing how he was suspended from the med school program and then barred from the grounds when the university issued a no-trespass order, effectively expelling him from the school.

A week after Bhattacharya filed suit, the university filed a response denying  that his expulsion was motived by political animus. UVa officials claimed that Bhattacharya’s behavior was “erratic and troubling” to the point that Densmore was so concerned that he accompanied the student to the University’s counseling center, and confirmed that Bhattacharya was involuntarily admitted to the hospital thereafter. As for the trespass order, UVa said it stemmed from Bhattacharya’s threatening behavior and was not tied to his remarks about microaggressions.

Entre la femme. Bhattacharya’s Thursday filing fills in much of the back story. Bhattacharya grew up in Hawaii, attending HP Baldwin High School in Maui. Having skipped Kintergarten, he graduated from high school at age 16. He received a full tuition merit scholarship and stipend to attend the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, from which he graduated in 2016 at age 19 summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry. From there, he went to the UVa School of Medicine.

Before entering medical school, Bhattacharya had never been in a serious romantic relationship or had any sexual experience. At med school he began dating a fellow student, Angel Hsu. Their relationship was tumultuous but it would become serious.

In her LinkedIn profile, Hsu described herself as a “sexual assault peer advocate” while completing her undergraduate studies at Emory. Hsu told Bhattacharya that she had filed Title IX claims against two of her prior sexual partners, whom she called “rapists.” Proceedings resulted in a “no contact directive” against one of the ex-boyfriends and a one-year suspension against the other. “Angel Hsu boasted to Mr. Bhattacharya of her skillfullness in getting these charges to ‘stick’ by coaching witnesses,” states the filing.

Bhattacharya claims she entertained the idea of using similar tactics at UVa.

Angel Hsu told Mr. Bhattacharya on at least three separate occasions that she was going to make false charges against at least three fellow students at UVA Med School who were members of the Class of 2020 with whom she had falling-outs. With respect to one of these three students, Angel Hsu expressed her determination to have that male student “charged with rape” (and began spreading rumors to that effect) because she believed that he had been responsible for a Professionalism Concern Card that had been issued against her in November 2017 by Dean Peters, who was Angel Hsu’s Dean at the time.

Bhattacharya found Hsu “to be an extremely domineering, controlling, vitriolic, and vindictive domestic partner,” says the pleading. In October 2018 she sent him an electronic communication in which she described him as her “Bitch.” On multiple occasions, she had threatened him that if he ever broke up with her, she would retaliate by bringing up his “purportedly ‘checkered’ mental health history.”

Mental health issues all around. When their relationship began, Hsu told Bhattacharya that she was taking prescription medication for depression. Shortly after, Bhattacharya contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her. That incident created trust issues in the relationship and inflicted both physical and emotional pain upon him. Hsu insisted that he take her prescription drug to alleviate the STD symptoms. “Foolishly, Mr. Bhattacharya took the prescription drug without knowing what he was taking,” says the filing. The next day, in January 2017, he suffered severe side effects and went to the emergency room at UVA Medical Center, where he was hospitalized and received psychiatric treatment. 

“Traumatized and demoralized” by that experience, details of which had leaked out to students and faculty members, Bhattacharya took a year-long leave of absence to write articles and textbook chapters about his passion, orthopaedic surgery. During this time, he received psychiatric counseling and treatment from a private physician in Charlottesville. He also moved in with Hsu.

In 2018 Hsu, who was 22, informed him that she wanted to take off a year from medical school so the two of them could graduate at the same time in May 2021 and “couples match” in the same geographic area for residency programs. Her condition, though, was that Bhattacharya had to propose marriage to her after taking the United States Medical Licensing Exam scheduled for February 2019.

According to Bhattacharya, he never proposed to her. In his mind, the relationship continued to deteriorate.

In Mr. Bhattacharya’s experience, Angel Hsu did not respect his privacy or maintain confidentiality with respect to information that he had shared with her in confidence. For example, she disclosed Mr. Bhattacharya’s STD infection and his January 2017 hospitalization within the UVA MEd School community. For quite some time, Mr. Bhattacharya was afraid to leave Angel Hsu or any way challenge her.

He had known for a long time that he would not propose but had been afraid to tell her so.

The blow up. On Oct. 24, 2018, the day before the microaggression panel discussion, Bhattacharya and Hsu got into an argument that prompted him to “do what he had long contemplated but been afraid to carry out: end the couple’s relationship.”

Bhattacharya had received a “sub-par” grade on a pass/fail exam in a Hematology Summative course he had neglected to focus instead on studying for the United States Medical Licensing exam. During that argument, according to the pleadings, Hsu demanded that Bhattacharya provide a better explanation for failing the exam. She “wanted him to comply with certain psychiatric recommendations that she would prescribe — or else he would face involuntary hospitalization.” If he performed poorly on the medical license exam, she said, she would dump him. Bhattacharya departed for the health sciences library where he could study, find some space from Hsu, collect his thoughts and develop an exit strategy from his relationship. Despite concerns that she would not take the break-up well, he “felt a euphoric sense of liberation” that she would soon be out of his life.

The next day was the microaggression seminar when he challenged the thinking of the presenter, and some people in attendance were shocked by his words. Events unfolded essentially as described in Bhattacharya’s initial lawsuit pleading — he was dragged through a painful bureaucratic process. But the updated filing provides new details, especially how the controversy over his comments in the microaggression seminar merged with concerns about his mental health. The new pleadings reveal the alleged role Hsu played behind the scenes telling Dean Densmore that she thought Bhattacharya’s mental condition was worsening.

On Nov. 14, 2018, Densmore insisted that Bhattacharya undergo a psychological evaluation. Under the impression that he would be suspended from med school if he did not comply, Bhattacharya submitted.

He was assigned to Katie Richard, whose profile describes her as an “LGBTQ affirming and trauma-informed therapist … WPATH certified, kink and and poly friendly.” Further Richard’s profile says, “I strive to bring a feminist, social justice and antiracist lens to my work.” Indeed, after evaluating Bhattacharya, she reported that he had made “sexist, demeaning” comments. In the evaluation report she wrote:

Dr. Densmore walked him in today because there has been concern expressed about a number of recent events: Kieran failed 2 of his last 3 exams; Kieran attended a panel regarding microaggressions and many concerns were raised by the panelists and others in attendance that Kieran was confrontational. His girlfriend recently broke up with him because of his behavior, describing him as paranoid (she was adamant that there were no safety concerns); he had not been sleeping; and he is smoking an increased amount of marijuana.

After more than three hours of consultation, Richard issued an emergency Custody Order on the grounds that Bhattacharya was a threat to himself and others and was unable to care for himself. He was handcuffed and taken by two police officers to the UVA Medical Center for a Temporary Detention Order hearing. Bhattacharya could not participate because he was given an injection of Haldol, an anti-schizophrenia drug, and Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication. He was subsequently hospitalized and released Nov. 16.

The lawsuit says that things did not go as Densmore and Hsu had hoped, however. Providing no concrete evidence for the following, it conjectures:

Dean Densmore, Dean [Christine] Peterson, and Angel Hsu needed more ‘evidence’ that Mr. Bhattacharya should be involuntarily hospitalized again. Angel Hsu was more than happy to try to provide such “evidence.” As of November 14, 2018, Angel Hsu had reportedly been “adamant that there were no safety concerns.” On November 19, 2019, however, Angel Hsu was telling Dean Peterson that she “perceived him as a danger to me.”

The reality, according to the pleadings, is that Hsu was stalking him. Indeed, she and someone at the university had repeatedly called Bhattacharya’s mother, who flew to Charlottesville to attend to the crisis. Hsu persuaded his mother to go along with a plan developed in conjunction with Densmore and Peterson to obtain an Emergency Custody Order and a Temporary Detention Order. In the lawsuit, Bhattacharya claims to have video evidence that a Nov. 19 meeting with Densmore showed no conduct on his part that would warrant calling the police. But he was once again handcuffed, tranquilized and hauled off to a hearing at which the evidence was based on information from Hsu. He was transported to a psychiatric facility in Petersburg and then released.

As described in the initial filings, the Academic Standards and Achievement Committee suspended Bhattacharya. He appealed the suspension. Then he received notice he could not take the U.S. Medical Licensing exam because he was no longer enrolled in med school.

Meanwhile, Hsu continued to insist that she did not feel safe. Someone from the university called Bhattacharya’s father and claimed that his son might be criminally involved with some type of “alt-right, storm front” extremist group. On Dec. 30, 2018, the UVA Police Department issued a “no trespass” warning and on Jan. 2, 2019, issued a formal No Trespass Order barring him from stepping foot on the university grounds — no reason given and no opportunity to defend himself. Later, by way of explanation, the UVA police would state that “concerns were raised about comments on a chat room that were perceived as threats.”

“To this day,” says the suit, “Mr. Bhattacharya has not been told what conduct on his part supposedly ‘compromised safety and security and caused fear.'”