Student Suicide Sparks Outrage, Remorse
The death of a Rutgers University freshman stirred outrage and remorse on campus from classmates who wished they could have stopped the teen from jumping off a bridge last week after a recording of him having a sexual encounter with a man was broadcast online.
Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River last week. His body was identified Thursday after being found in the river a day before.
“Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened,” said Lauren Felton, 21, of Warren. “He wouldn’t have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life.”
Clementi was a violinist whose life revolved around music, said Ed Schmiedecke, the recently retired music director at Ridgewood High School, from which Clementi graduated this year.
“He was a terrific musician, and a very promising, hardworking young man,” Schmiedecke said.
“Musically, Tyler was destined for greatness,” childhood friend Mary Alcaro, who played in a summer music academy with him, said Thursday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “I’ve never heard anyone make a violin sing the way he did.”
Gay rights groups say Clementi’s suicide makes him a national example of a problem they are increasingly working to combat: young people who kill themselves after being tormented over their sexuality.
Clementi’s roommate, Dhraun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi’s privacy. Middlesex County prosecutors say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi’s suicide.
A lawyer for Ravi, of Plainsboro, did not immediately return a message seeking comment. It was unclear whether Wei, of Princeton, had retained a lawyer.
Collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime. Transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years.
A lawyer for Clementi’s family has not responded to requests for comment on whether Clementi was open about his sexual orientation.
Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said he would let Attorney General Paula Dow decide whether to prosecute two classmates on civil rights charges. But he sent a warning to students who taunt or pull pranks on others.
“You don’t know the feelings of the people on the receiving end of that,” he said. “You can’t possibly know. There might be some people who could take that type of treatment and deal with it, and there might be others, as this young man obviously was, who are much more greatly affected by it.”
ABC News and The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Clementi left on his Facebook page on Sept. 22 a note that read: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” On Wednesday, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.
Even if the young violinist from Ridgewood was not well known at his new school, his death stirred outrage.
“The notion that video of Tyler doing what he was doing can be considered a spectacle is just heinous,” said Jordan Gochman, 19, of Jackson, who didn’t know Clementi. “It’s intolerant, it’s upsetting, it makes it seem that being gay is something that is wrong and can be considered laughable.”
Other students who did know Clement were upset that they didn’t do more to help him. “I wish I could have been more of an ally,” said Georges Richa, a freshman from New Brunswick.
About 100 people gathered Wednesday night for a vigil on campus. They lay on the ground and chanted slogans like, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going home.”
Several gay rights groups linked Clementi’s death to the troubling phenomenon of young people committing suicide after being harassed over their sexuality.
Nine out of 10 gay, lesbian and bisexual students are bullied in school, according to a 2007 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, CBS News National Correspondent Jeff Glor reported on “The Early Show” Thursday. And they are four times more likely to attempt suicide, according to a 2007 Massachusetts youth risk survey.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said in a statement that his group considers Clementi’s death a hate crime.
“We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented and kind,” Goldstein said. “And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport.”
Last week, Dan Savage, a columnist at the Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger, launched the latest of several efforts to try to stem the problem: the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel where gay, lesbian and bisexual adults share the turmoil they experienced when they were younger – and that their lives are better now.
In response to Clementi’s death and other incidents, the group Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays said it would issue a “call to action” on the subject on Thursday.
Rutgers University President Richard McCormick wrote in a letter to the campus, “If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s standards of decency and humanity.” Coincidentally, the university on Wednesday was launching a new two-year Project Civility, designed to get students thinking about how they treat others.
Meanwhile, for some of Clementi’s new classmates, the first time they learned much about him was when they got word of his death.
“I guess the only person I haven’t talked to is Tyler ’cause he’s like really quiet and shy,” said Justin Lee, a freshman from Princeton who lives on Clementi’s hall.
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