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Is Rutgers University Student Tyler Clementi’s Roommate The Only Person To Blame For His Death?

Submitted by on October 5, 2010 – 11:44 am6 Comments

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the recent death of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi.

If you haven’t heard by now, Clementi committed suicide almost two weeks ago—just days after his college roommate, 18-year-old Dharun Ravi, illegally broadcast photos and video of Clementi and a male lover in the room they shared at Rutgers. Ravi did it by activating the webcam on his computer shortly after Clementi asked his roommate if he could use the room for a couple of hours. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” Ravi tweeted on September 19. “I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

Two days later, Clementi again asked Ravi for permission to use the room—and again, Ravi took to his now-defunct Twitter account to let the world know about it. “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours or 9:30 and 12,” he tweeted. “Yes it’s happening again.”

As a result of this invasion of privacy, Clementi made the decision to take his life just one day later. “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” he posted to his Facebook wall on September 22. By the end of the week, news of Clementi’s death began to spread around the Rutgers campus and Ravi and friend Molly Wei (the girl referenced in the first tweet) were placed under arrest and charged with two counts of invasion of privacy.

The story, as expected and as it should, has set off a nationwide feeling of outrage. Ravi and Wei have been labeled as the clear villains in the story, a couple of cyber bullies who used technology to tease someone about their sexuality and, ultimately, caused him to take his own life. To a degree, they obviously must bear the brunt of the criticism that’s being thrown their way. Their actions did, after all, set Clementi off. Without their prodding and their inexcusable invasion of privacy, there’s a good chance Clementi would still be living and would still be a member of the Rutgers University community.

However, I hope Ravi and Wei aren’t the only villains you see when you think about the tragic case of Tyler Clementi. Because there’s a lot more to learn when you look at this case. For starters: This should serve as yet another example that, like it or not, there are teenagers, young adults and even grown adults out there that are gay and are scared to come out for fear of what others might say and think about them. It sounds like lip service at this point, but there have to be groups, hotlines and especially college services that are developed specifically to help people who are living in fear out.

Second, it sounds like Rutgers actually knew about the bullying that was taking place in Clementi’s case and, though they claimed they were taking it seriously, moved entirely too slow to provide help. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that although college is a time for teenagers to grow up, most students are still just kids when they start. They don’t see the big picture and, unfortunately, they don’t realize they have their whole lives ahead of them. Clementi was obviously feeling hopeless at the time he took his own life. Rutgers should have acted more swiftly to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

And, finally, though it hasn’t been brought up—not yet, at least—technology is another villain in this situation. Bullying wasn’t any less cruel than it is today back in the 1980s and 1990s but, at the very least, it stayed confined to a small group of people. With the way that Twitter, Facebook and iChat work today, cyberbullying has taken bullying to a whole new level. These days, taunts from a bully aren’t restricted to the playground at school or to the dorms at college. They’re broadcast for all to see. And, unfortunately, there isn’t enough communication between kids, parents and school administrators about it. Schools have to step in and get involved in these incidents of bullying and make sure that they are handled properly. Guidelines have to be set and rules have to be followed by anyone using these new forms of technology.

There’s no doubt that the actions of Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei had a serious impact on Tyler Clementi. What they did was terrible and they should be punished for it. I just hope that they’re not the only ones that get criticized as the media continues to cover Clementi’s story. It’d be yet another tragedy in an already tragic case.

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