News | Student Life

Impostor posed as Columbia student for at least 9 months

Birva Patel—perhaps better known as Rhea Sen, the young woman who posed as a new student throughout orientation week and the first week of classes—was arrested at least twice in the last week, after it became clear that she had falsely claimed to be a Columbia student for at least nine months.

Patel, 26, was arrested on the Morningside Heights campus for criminal trespass on Thursday and Saturday, according to court documents, and again on Monday night, according to witnesses. Despite reports from students that they encountered her on campus throughout last winter, spring, and summer, she went unnoticed by university authorities until the end of August, when International Student Orientation Program leaders reported her to their supervisor for suspicious behavior.

But on Monday—one day after Spectator reported her first arrest—students told Spectator that they had seen her on campus as early as December 2011, going by her real name and claiming to be a junior studying engineering.

Patel was arraigned on Sunday before being released on her own recognizance. The judge, Abraham Clott, issued a temporary order of protection, according to court documents, although it was unclear to whom it was issued. A police spokesperson was not able to confirm as of press time that Patel had been arrested again on Monday.

Six students said they met Patel earlier within the last year and were immediately put off by her unusual behavior.

“She just had this weird vibe,” said Anna Prouty, BC ’14, who met Patel at UNI Café in April. “I love awkward people—I’m kind of awkward—but it wasn’t like that. It was, ‘Hi, can I hang out with you?’”

Students who interacted with Patel gave similar characterizations of her behavior: She approached them and all but demanded to be friends, and she repeatedly lied about what she was studying and what school she was in. Three of those students received rambling, sometimes profanity-laced Facebook messages from her. Others saw her on the subway, often waiting on the platform as trains came and went.

One student, who requested anonymity because Patel knew his contact information, said he met Patel in December at the Toni Stabile Student Center in Pulitzer Hall, when they were both pulling all-nighters. Public Safety officers would check for Columbia ID cards nightly and the student said Patel had one, though when she stepped out to grab some food at UNI Café, she told him her card was demagnetized and asked if he would reopen the door for her.

Another student, who requested anonymity because Patel has her phone number, said she met Patel in March, also at UNI Café. Noticing Patel’s strong Indian accent and wanting to help the seemingly lonely woman make friends, the student—a member of the Hindu Students Organization—invited her to Chamak, a Pakistani event that would take place that evening. Patel and the student exchanged phone numbers, and Patel promised to come to Chamak, before backing out.

Patel also promised to go to Tamasha, a South Asian cultural showcase, and texted the student that she was in Roone Arledge Auditorium during the event. But she later texted that she had lied and “had to go out.” The student grew frustrated that Patel never seemed to follow through despite saying that she wanted to meet more people.

Janelle Bracken, Business ’13, met Patel in February in the lobby of Uris Hall. Patel told Bracken that she was an undergraduate student but had attended Business School happy hours on Thursdays. Bracken, relaying the encounter to her Business friends, learned that they had also seen her at happy hours and had been asked by her to log her into Uris computers. Patel Facebook-friended Bracken and asked if she wanted to go clubbing, and when Bracken declined, Patel vehemently denied attending the happy hours and cursed Bracken out.

Students who interacted with Patel said that while she seemed to know enough details about Columbia to make it plausible that she was a student, she sometimes blanked on basic facts.

“I said I went to Barnard, and she went, ‘What’s that?’” Prouty said.

Patel told the student in the Hindu Students Organization that she was a junior in Columbia College studying biomedical engineering—a major offered only at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. When Tanay Doctor, SEAS ’15, asked Patel if she liked working with Andrew Laine, the chair of the department, “she seemed to have no idea who he was,” Doctor said in an email.

Students who met her had different reactions to Patel’s lies. Some felt threatened, while others wrote them off as the behavior of an awkward student.

The HSO student grew suspicious of Patel when she gave her email address as bap6660@barnard.edu, considering Patel had said she went to CC. The student became even more suspicious when an email she sent to that address bounced.

“I felt unsafe. I felt like she was psychotic,” the student said.

Rachel Meirs, CC ’14, met Patel in May on South Lawn and was immediately “weirded out” by the many questions Patel asked her. Meirs grew even more suspicious when she saw Patel riding the subways alone late at night. After seeing Patel sleeping against a pole on the 42nd Street subway platform, Meirs began to write down every time she saw Patel, which eventually amounted to seven times.

“After I saw her at 42nd Street, I thought, this is actually really strange behavior,” Meirs said. “What I thought was that maybe she was just an insomniac, maybe she had nothing better to do at night. She always looked really tired whenever you would see her.”

“She just seemed weird,” Prouty said. “She didn’t seem dangerous.”

finn.vigeland@columbiaspectator.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Birva Patel had asked Janelle Bracken, Business ’13, to log her into computers in Uris Hall. In fact, Bracken had heard from other Business students that Patel had asked them to log her in. Spectator regrets the error.

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Anonymous posted on

"So listen... can I have your UNI? Can I haaave it?" Someone please spoof this.

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Anonymous posted on

I was sitting outside Lerner last weekend with a few friends (a mix of guys and girls). Patel approached us and during our conversation, one of my friends mentioned that she went to Barnard. Patel asked, "Do all of you go to Barnard?" obviously unaware that Barnard was an all-girls school.

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Anonymous posted on

she also didn't know that carmen was an all freshman dorm.... she

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Anonymous posted on

I ddn't know Carmen was a freshman dorm either, I did live in Carman my freshman year however

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Anonymous posted on

Guys, I have a theory: She is institutionally homeless (a lot of people are in this city/country/world), lonely/scared/destabilized by it (it sounds like she has been living outside for at least over a year, putting her at a young age to have to go through this for that long) and was using Columbia to fill some void (like escape the constant stigma of homelessness). Here's another theory: she is harmless, should not be spending her nights in jail repeatedly even though she is an unwelcome person now, and we should all try to ignore this and leave it to public safety instead of speculating endlessly about the poor girl. I have a final proposition: if she wants to tell us her story, she will contact the spec. I'm sure they've sent her a facebook message by now asking for an interview. And read the Anti-Oedipus goddammit. You'll be guaranteed to stop trying to diagnose everyone.

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Anonymous posted on

at last someone with a little bit of sense left in this debate.

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Anonymous posted on

Ahmadinejad is invited by Columbia as the guest of honor but when an immigrant is caught trying to get a free education we cart her away like a criminal. This girl needs help and Columbia unfortunately failed to detect the signals for the past 9 months! FAIL.

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Anonymous posted on

wait, who said she was an immigrant? or trying to get a free education? what

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Anonymous posted on

if it's any consolation to you i laughed at this.

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rick131 posted on

She should not be allowed on campus or in any building. Why when women are arrested they are back on the street one hour later. A male would be in jail by now. She is dangerous and a huge security risk.

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Anonymous posted on

She's the next Columbian urban legend... well, the only Columbian urban legend.

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Anonymous posted on

I have seen her at NJIT. Think she was a student there. She did have an NJIT login cuz I've seen her use the library computers. I can tell it was her.

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Anon posted on

Yes....I have met her too. She was the one faking the baby bump for 2 months on-campus.

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Anonymous posted on

This story is old news. We get it, she lied. She never actually harmed anyone, though. Now it's become a bunch of people whining about her cause it's trendy, where were they nine months ago? I'm more interested in the plagiarism story of that Bonacolta girl. Even so, it's the 9/11 anniversary, let's focus on what really matters.

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Anonymous posted on

Ester Reed....
Some guy named Hector says hes 20 but looks 30...
Happens all the time.
she was sleeping in the bushes on campus, Hector sleeps in Butler.
Look around!!!

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Halcyona posted on

Yes, her behavior is strange but c'mon have some compassion for this young woman who at a very young age is obviously suffering in more ways than one, and none of us are privy to these details. So go on your way and remember to exercise compassion and love and understanding for those less fortunate.

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Anonymous posted on

The reporter is definitely milking this sad story for all its worth. Where is the compassion? Where is the empathy? Just goes to show, if you're not a paying columbia student, the school'll toss you aside and throw you in jail. The school could care less about the ochoa's of the world, it's all about making money.

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Anonymous posted on

I know this young woman from NJIT, I kinda know her story too. I heard that she got raped by her boyfriend and dumped, she went insane, lives homeless for a long time, cut out her connection with her parents from India, I am worried about her life, how sad it is.

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Anonymous posted on

I am sorry but last I heard she did not have a boyfriend. She should have been on OPT after graduation but since she did not get a job or return back, I think she is out of status, so she should be an illegal resident. By the way how do you know her story? I think she changed after going through the stress of her Masters thesis at NJIT but actually did not finish it, she was supposed to take classes instead (to cover the credits) but I think she did not finish them either.

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Anonymous posted on

i know this girl from NJIT and she used to fake baby bump last year (Sep 2011). Also she did complete her masters because i was there for the graduation. And one more thing she did have a boyfriend and there is some truth to what Sarah says here

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Anonymous posted on

Atul you are right about her studies. I have heard alot of unbelievable stupid stories from her friends during the time she was studying in NJIT and after NJIT by other people. She needs some kind of psychiatric help and should go back at her parents home

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Anonymous posted on

bap6660? that's kind of a sinister choice of uni

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Anonymous posted on

Not surprised to hear about her. I met this young lady at NY Penn station a couple of months back. She claimed to have lost her phone, and requested for using my husband's phone to call one of her friends. We checked the phone when she gave it back to us, it was a little disturbing to see that she had been searching for details about pepper spray, We went up to her and asked her why she browsed for details about pepper spray instead of calling her friend. She replied that her friend needed details about pepper spray. She called herself Birva.

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Anonymous posted on

She is definitely homeless and mentally disturbed. It is very, very sad. Columbia officials were notified about her in the spring (by me and others) - she was taken to St. Luke's at least once, but they let her out and she just keeps coming back to campus. It makes sense - there is free food, warm buildings and bathrooms for her to clean up and change in. She is mentally unstable though and needs help - it is very, very sad and Columbia officials need to do something about this.

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Anonymous posted on

omg where is this free food on campus i want some

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Anonymous posted on

This is sad. Please be kind. She obviously need help. Does anyone know how we can reach her to help her? Please post her contact details so the community reach out to her. Arresting her is not the answer.

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Anonymous posted on

I met this girl at Starbucks last year and she immediately asked me if "I was on Facebook" and some vague questions about classes. I was obviously trying to study and then she also asked me about some indian groups to join, assuming I had some Indian/potentially Middle Eastern descent in me--I tried to show her the link via the Columbia website. Very odd--lucky i did not accept her on Facebook.--messaged me under the name "Birva Patel" as well. Still quite gutsy and valiant of her to try to get her education on. Definitely one of the most exciting things to happen at Columbia.

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Anonymous posted on

Who is the legal guardian for this girl, and what's her legal status? if she is an international student and illegal, she would be send back to her home country. For her sake I hope she is an american, she stands a better chance of getting medical help that way in US itself, rather than in some other country.

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Anonymous posted on

Barnard students should stop saying they're part of Columbia. You didn't get into the main campus, stop trying to pretend you did.

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