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Rutgers’ Student’s Death Sparks Shock, Outrage

Courtesy of flickr.com

The nation was shocked last week when Tyler Clementi, a freshman student at Rutgers University, jumped to his death last week from the George Washington Bridge.

Despite the fact that numerous college students commit suicide each year, Clementi’s death was particularly unnerving as his death is one of the four recent suicides prompted from bullying a student’s homosexuality or alleged homosexuality.

Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, allegedly streamed live video on the Internet of Clementi engaging in a sexual encounter with another man from the room of another freshman, Molly Wei. The night of the video’s taping, Ravi’s Twitter post read, “Roommate asked for the room ‘till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

Ravi and Wei have been charged with invasion of privacy under New Jersey Law, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Hate crime charges are being considered for the pair, which would lengthen a potential sentence to 10 years, according to a New York Times article, “Legal Debate Swirls Over Charges in a Student’s Suicide,” published Oct.1.

Hours before taking his own life, Clementi’s Facebook status read, “jumping off the GW bridge, sorry.”

University of Massachusetts students were saddened at the news of the Clementi’s death. Freshman Sarah Zuraw said she thought the whole affair was “pretty terrible.” Evan Sheinhait, also a freshman, was “surprised at how quickly it had all escalated and that the suicide happened so early in the semester.”

The news of the suicide caused outrage from the American media. Television personalities including Katie Couric and Ellen DeGeneres decried the taping on their shows and the event has been discussed extensively in the New York Times, Huffington Post and on television news networks.

The case has been discussed in light of the plight of gay teens generally, who commit suicide at four times the rate of straight teens, and of the growing phenomenon of cyber-bullying, according to a New York Times blog entitled, “Motherload.”

The reaction at Rutgers was strong as well. Candlelight vigils were held, as well as a protest by gay students for safe spaces and general safer living on campus. According to the Examiner, Rutgers students debated whether the taping was in fact a crime or merely a “thoughtless prank.”

In Rutgers’student newspaper, the Daily Targum, the editorial board criticized those who protested outside the student center, claiming they and certain members of the media were “exploiting” the tragedy. In the Oct. 5 editorial entitled “Media Exploits University Tragedy,” the editors denied the legitimacy of gay groups using the tragedy as a rallying point, writing, “the focal point of Clementi’s tragic death should have been a boy’s inability to deal with the hardships of life.”

The editorial inspired a huge debate on the Targum’s website, with 419 comments posted as of Monday night. By comparison, both of the Targum’s Monday editorials netted a total of three comments. Some comments attacked the use of, “the hardships of life,” to refer to Ravi and Wei’s actions. A number of comments called for the expulsion of Ravi and Wei and criticized the Rutgers administration for failing to discipline Wei and Ravi.

It is not yet clear whether Rutgers will discipline Wei and Ravi. The Rutgers Student Code of Conduct contains a clause designating “making or attempting to make an audio or video recording of any person(s) on University premises in bathrooms, showers, bedrooms or other premises where there is an expectation of privacy with respect to nudity and/or sexual activity, without the knowledge and consent of all participants subject to such recordings,” a separable offense, according to the Rutgers Student Code of Conduct.

According to the New York Times article “Before Suicide, Hints in Online Musings,” published on Sept. 30, there is evidence that Clementi informed a residence assistant of his situation less than 24 hours before his death. According to a blog titled “Kashmir Hill” on Forbes.com, messages posted onto a site for gay men from a computer at Rutgers seem highly likely to have originated from Clementi. The user “cit2mo” details his roommate’s spying on him with a webcam and asks for advice on what to do. In the final posts, the writer says, “went to the nearest RA,” to complain, who he said, “Seemed to take it seriously.” The RA allegedly asked cit2mo to, “email him a written a written paragraph about what exactly happened.”

UMass residential assistants Alex Tasak and Daniel Child said that if faced with a complaint of a roommate streaming video onto the internet they would immediately refer the matter to the Residence Director of their cluster. “I would first talk to the roommates separately, and ask the victim if there was anything I could do to help” Child said, “and then ask the other one ‘what were you thinking?” Tasak and Child agreed that the offender would then most likely be expelled from student housing. Tasak also noted that if the victim of the invasion of privacy seemed distressed she would escort them to Mental Health Services.

The UMass Student Code of Conduct does not specifically designate nonconsensual recordings as an offense, but the document does list “harassment” as a violation of the code. The term “harassment” is defined broadly, with special concern reserved for “incidents in which students are subject to such conduct because of membership in a particular racial, religious, gender or sexual orientation group, disability or veteran status.”

Melanie Muller can be reached at mpmuller@student.umass.edu.

Comments
11 Responses to “Rutgers’ Student’s Death Sparks Shock, Outrage”
  1. dnnj56 says:

    Really outstanding article. That’s partly because it’s a good solid piece of reporting in and of itself, and partly because so much of what I’ve read elsewhere has been so poorly researched and written. This is one of the few pieces I’ve seen anywhere that shows an understanding of due process, presumption of innocence, the difference between facts and allegations, and the value of referencing sources.

  2. AmIWhoIAm says:

    Yeah. I agree with dnnj56, this article is easily the best ones I’ve read so far.

    Some of other ones are out right arrogant, and bias.

    Does anyone know what roll Molly plays in this except for Ravi coming into her room, and using her computer? I’m just curious, because non of the articles talk much about her roll.

  3. cynthia vanderwerf says:

    Very well written and balanced

  4. dnnj56 says:

    AmIWhoIAM — the only bit of factual evidence I’ve seen reported anywhere that mentions Wei is a twitter post, attributed to Ravi, saying he was in her room when he turned on his webcam and watched. So I think the little bit of information you mention may be everything that actually has been disclosed to the public, and it doesn’t really show she was involved in or knew what he was doing, or that she was even there at the time. The local authorities must have some evidence or they wouldn’t have charged her, but just being charged doesn’t mean the evidence proves she’s guilty of anything. So I think at the moment folks just have to see what role, if any, she played in all this.

  5. Amy Ferber says:

    so happy to read this excellent article from a college student. It exemplifies what makes good journalism, speaks to what measures may be taken to address such behaviors and what resources are available to help a student who has been traumatized by stupid bullying.

  6. Fae says:

    A few corrections:
    – the Facebook post from Clementi was minutes before his death rather than hours.
    – Clementi complained officially about his roommate several days before his suicide (after the first of two incidents of his privacy being invaded), asking for a room change.
    – cit2mo’s posts as quoted were on a justusboys website rather than the blog mentioned.

  7. anonymous says:

    There seems to be a lot of discussion about student codes of conduct and streaming – but what about roommate responsibilities? No one seems to be asking if it is a good idea to come to college and immediately start throwing your roomie out to accomodate your personal encounters. These kids had only been roommates for a couple of weeks – was this young man so repressed at home that he went crazy as soon as he got to campus? Which begs the bigger question – This young man lived at home for 18 years and knew his roommate but two weeks — who do you suppose was really responsible for his self-loathing and depression? Why didn’t he call his parents if he was having problems?

  8. mg says:

    Extreme arguments are interesting…”throwing your roommate out” is a choice phrase. Roommates in college should respect one another’s privacy which is the bottom line. Requests for “alone time” is not unreasonable. Any roommate who invades another’s privacy should be held accountable for their actions. This went far beyond a mere prank or even invasion of privacy.

    Perhaps anonymous should consider their “own self-loathing and lack of compassion.” Shame on you and shame on both of those college students who should be held accountable for their actions.

  9. cjf549 says:

    anonymous: No matter what was going on or happening previous to this incident, it doesn’t excuse what happened. Streaming live, private video of someone is wrong and an invasion of privacy no matter the circumstances outside of that moment. Try to have a heart here, please.

  10. Eric Parsons says:

    This reports a terribly sad and complex event; probably the best article about it that I have seen to date.

  11. Fanny Pizana says:

    I’d definitely recommend anyone watching for more of a “complete” experience, see until perhaps episode 39 and embrace the rest as an OVA type format. And yes it’s sure that the series wasn’t concluded because of the “final arc” (which the novel was published by now…but no word from them wanting to keep the anime at all = )

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