Monday, October 04, 2010

"Rutgers student Tyler Clementi's suicide spurs action across U.S."

In today:
Relatively few people knew Tyler Clementi before he jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge, but the wake from that act is now felt around the world.

Within hours after the Rutgers University freshman’s body was discovered in the Hudson River last week, his name became known around the world.

MTV stars were lining up to film anti-suicide announcements in his name. Ellen DeGeneres posted a personal tribute to Clementi on her website. Almost every major media outlet in the country devoted time to the story and tens of thousands of people participated in internet memorials to the 18-year-old Ridgewood student.

A bill is already being drafted in New Jersey to stiffen criminal penalties for cyber harassment. Gay rights groups announced a series of New Jersey town hall meetings on Oct. 6 and 7 in Clementi’s memory.

Why has the case touched such a nerve?

"Intolerance is growing at the same time cyberspace has given every one of us an almost magical ability to invade other people’s lives," said Robert O’Brien, a Rutgers instructor who says he has, by default, become a spokesman for "overwhelmed" lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus.

No one knows why Clementi, a talented young violinist, took his life, but it came after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a webcam to watch Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man in their dorm room, prosecutors said.

Ravi had set up the webcam and was watching with a friend, Molly Wei, in her room in the same dormitory, according to authorities. Both have since been charged with invasion of privacy. Clementi appears to have found out about the webcast afterward and had filed a complaint with the resident assistant, according to comments posted on a website that seemed to be written by the Rutgers student, even though he didn’t use his name or name of his school.

He jumped on Sept. 22.

It took a week to find the body.

The memorials in his honor were arranged within hours, ironically, through the same social media used to torment him.

"Tyler is the fourth highly publicized gay teen to kill himself in four weeks and he did it the day after the release of the first major study of college campuses that found homosexual students are most likely to experience blatant oppression and hostility," O’Brien added. "I think many people are finally saying enough is enough."

The Clementi case also occurred on the eve of a series of weeklong events across the country in anticipation of "National Coming Out Day" on Oct. 11.

Another factor, several experts said, is Rutgers University is not a parochial little school in the middle of the Bible Belt. It is a diverse series of campuses in the heart of one of the most cosmopolitan regions in the nation.

"Rutgers is justifiably proud of its history as a very progressive, inclusive school. If things like what happened to Tyler Clementi could happen at Rutgers, then gays aren’t going to feel safe on any campus anywhere," said Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a safer college environment for LGBT students.

"People worried about LGBT kids in high school, but figured they were safe once they got to college," Windmeyer added. "This is a national wake-up call."

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