Reflect on past, learn to accept, respect others
I celebrated my 20th birthday on Sept. 22, 2010, while a student at the University. I sat in my residence hall doing Spanish homework and sorting through the birthday comments I received on Facebook. However, what I didn’t realize was that on that same day, University first-year student Tyler Clementi would take his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
I saw several Facebook posts from other University students in the following week that there were news reports about a sex tape that was recorded in a University residence hall room. I didn’t think much of it. “Probably some dumb freshman,” was my thought. But in the next couple days, the local and national media started to converge upon the University, creating media frenzy, and the story started to come to light. The name Tyler Clementi appeared in the papers and newscasts along with Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei.
The reported story was that Ravi set up a video camera in his room — Clementi and Ravi were roommates — and captured Clementi having sex with another guy. The video was allegedly streamed online via Wei’s room and promoted on Ravi’s Twitter account. It was reported that Clementi felt that he was being bullied because of his sexuality and spoke about the situation with his resident assistant through the University — Residence Life and possibly through the Rutgers University Police Department — and online via a message board on the website “JustUsBoys.”
My guess is that Clementi was seeking help on his situation but decided to take his own life for the fear that everyone would find out he was gay. One week after my birthday, on Sept. 29, the police found Clementi’s body north of the George Washington Bridge where he apparently jumped to his death. His death shook the campus and received worldwide attention. I myself was interviewed on WCBS 880 AM, PIX 11 and Telemundo about his death.
When I was in my afternoon class, I stumbled upon an article from mycentraljersey.com, which stated that the filming incident was recorded in Davidson Hall on Busch campus. I lived in Winkler Hall my junior year, right across from Davidson. My friends and I couldn’t believe that the incident happened on our campus, right next to us. I was surprised that a story, which received worldwide attention developed across the street from where I lived.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community at the University reacted to the Clementi suicide in several ways. A “die-in” was held on the steps of the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus, a candlelight vigil was held on the steps of Brower Commons and a rally for safe spaces was held, which resulted in the creation of an LGBTQ living-learning community for the fall 2011 semester. The group Queering the Air demanded a month later that the University take action on LGBTQ issues on campus. On Facebook, students organized an event called “Black Friday” in which students would wear black to mourn the loss of Clementi. A fraternity set up a table at Brower Commons with a card that was signed by students and was sent to Clementi’s family.
Ironically, the suicide occurred around the same time the University launched a two-year project known as Project Civility, which is supposed to teach people that being civil, showing small signs of gratitude to one another and publicly exchanging ideas would result in a more charitable campus culture and reduce hostility. Project Civility also sought to teach people how to respect one another regardless of who or what the person is. For me, civility is about being loyal to one another, exchanging ideas that benefit the community and society as a whole, acknowledging the differences between yourself and others and respecting the choices that they make without resorting to judgment. What those two students did to Clementi was anything but civil.
It’s going to take a while for all the negative notions about people to subside before our society can move on and accept people for the way they are, because there will be ignorant people who keep spreading lies and misconceptions about groups of other people. When it comes to homophobia and stigmas, HIV/AIDS can often be a source of bullying. Even though HIV/AIDS is a disease that anyone can catch, certain ignorant people still refer to it as a “gay” disease. I’m Hispanic, and in my culture there seems to be a stigma when a man comes out as gay. Part of the stigma stems from the continuance of the “machismo” attitude. Machismo is the belief that a man should act tough and commanding while treating women as if they were lesser beings.
Machismo also requires men not to act feminine because the machismo attitude considers any feminine man not to be a man at all, which is why there is some stigma when it comes to homosexuality in Hispanic households. I know this because my mom lived in the time when machismo was dominant. She tells me that a man who is strong and not ladylike is a real man. It was acceptable back in the old days, but now machismo is nothing but an old relic from the past. It must either be toned down or eliminated.
This stigma attached to gay people as being different or being strange is something that needs to go away. They’re people like you and me, no different than someone who is straight. Bullies like to target LGBTQ youth only because they themselves don’t know tolerance toward others. When you add misconceptions to bullying, the situation becomes worse.
On the day when Clementi’s body was discovered, there were a lot of articles online about his death. My sister was shocked to find out through the Chicago Tribune. When I posted on Facebook that the whole video stream happened across the street from my residence hall, one of my friends commented on my status update, but she didn’t know why there was a media circus happening at the University. I had to fill her in on the whole story while I was in class. My mom heard about it, and she told me, “These kids need serious guidance.”
I’ll end by saying this: I was walking across the George Washington Bridge and saw a suicide prevention sign on the New Jersey side of the bridge. I thought to myself, “This is where Tyler took his life all because of the immature actions of his roommate.” The actions of a person can impact others, regardless of how big or small those actions are. This immature act caused someone to take his own life. When filming the video, I’m sure the both Ravi and Wei were shocked by what they saw. They probably made disparaging comments about Clementi’s sexuality. They probably never thought anything more than a few jokes about Clementi would be made. But now, I’m sure they regret streaming that video — not only because it ruined their reputations but, more importantly, because it led to the death of a fellow student and human being.
Nelson Morales is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in Latin American studies. He is also a staff photographer at The Daily Targum. This piece originally ran on the blog Get Down PSA (getdownpsa.blogspot.com) on Monday.