EDITORIAL: Clementi's case remains relevant today
Overturned verdict is reasonable, but sets bad example for future
A dark part of Rutgers history is resuscitated and once again brought to national spotlight: the Dharun Ravi case and its inextricable story of Tyler Clementi.
The name Tyler Clementi must be only be vaguely familiar to today’s college students, partly because his story unfolded when most of the current student body was still in middle school or high school. But his memorable name likely stuck with some after all these years because his story revealed an awful reality that happens to people, especially students, in this day and age.
Six years ago in September, Clementi was just a first-year attending Rutgers and adjusting to his new environment in the New Brunswick-Piscataway area. Only a few weeks into the semester, his roommate Ravi and another student, Molly Wei, used a webcam to secretly spy on Clementi hugging another man in a vulnerable and intimate encounter. Ravi disclosed his thoughts on Twitter, “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” oddly relishing in his discovery. Two days later, he posted on Twitter that he intended to set up another viewing, and one day after that Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
Ravi was not charged with Clementi’s death — and he shouldn’t be because it was not a homicide case. But Ravi committed a reprehensible act that should be met with reprimand and retribution: There should be some form of punishment to set a precedent for others in the future. Ravi was convicted in 2012 on several counts of bias intimidation, spent 20 days in jail and donated $10,000 to a program to help victims of hate crimes. But due to a recent ruling that says the bias and intimidation law is vague and unconstitutional, the court threw out the charges against Ravi, and now he has nothing on his record. Although he served his time — and it is uncertain whether he will be retried and convicted for other offenses — it is critical for something, anything, to be on his record. The lack of long-term consequence shows that as long as you can deal with 20 days in jail and have enough money to donate to a non-profit, you can infringe on the privacy of others come off scathe-free. Just like nothing ever happened.
Clementi left an indelible mark on New Jersey and even more so on Rutgers. The University possesses The Tyler Clementi Center, which is a collaboration between Rutgers University and the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and it shares and researches information about coming of age in the Digital Age. There has also been a greater focus on education about bias on campus, particularly focusing on LGBTQ identities. Issues of bullying and bias have been brought to the forefront after this incident.
Yet despite this powerful effort to recover from and prevent what happened to Tyler Clementi from happening again to another person, the prevalent and negligent use of social media like Snapchat and YikYak indicate the possibility that this situation could occur again. Regardless of whether the person identifies as being within the LGBTQ spectrum, he or she is still susceptible to invasion of privacy — and that’s what makes Clementi's story still relevant. How many of the people being taped on Snapchat knew that their sexual encounter was being filmed? How many of the people that uploaded naked photos on YikYak knew that their photo was shared with others? It’s an age where there’s a false semblance of privacy, and there’s a real threat of finding an image or video of yourself online under compromising circumstances.
Clementi demonstrated six years ago that this issue is not only demeaning, but also fatal. This problem must be swiftly addressed.
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