Clementi family visits Rutgers
For the first time since his brother Tyler Clementi would have graduated last May, James Clementi and his mother Jane Clementi visited Rutgers.
Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old first-year student at Rutgers–New Brunswick in 2010, jumped to his death after discovering he was recorded having a romantic tryst with another man by his roommate, 18-year-old Dharun Ravi.
With Mental Health Awareness Week right around the corner, James Clementi, Tyler Clementi's older brother, spoke to students about his brother’s suffering, and the options people in similar situations as his brother have at a lecture hosted at the Busch Student Center Cove last night.
The Rutgers chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), an organization dedicated to hope, help and awareness regarding mental health, asked James Clementi, spokesperson for The Tyler Clementi Foundation, to share alternate options people have when they feel depressed or are being bullied.
“It is intense to be here," James Clementi said. "He would have graduated this past May."
James Clementi said Tyler Clementi, a Ridgewood resident, was excited to start college at Rutgers after high school.
“For him, (it was the) first time he was going to be himself and was expecting to find a lot of support here,” he said.
From Tyler Clementi's arrival at Rutgers, he did not get the reception he hoped for, he said. For one, the Ravis did not acknowledge the Clementis as both families moved their sons into their residence hall.
Ravi had instant messaged his friend saying 'F--- my life, he’s gay,'" James Clementi said.
“Tyler was really walking into a trap in a lot of ways,” he said. “His roommate was biased in a lot of ways.”
The purpose of bringing James Clementi to campus was to spread mental health awareness and end the stigma surrounding it, said Christina Mulvihill, vice president of TWLOHA and an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student.
“Our main message is suicide prevention and mental health awareness,” Mulvihill said.
A lot has happened to the Clementi family since Tyler passed away nearly five years ago, James Clementi said.
Tyler was taking a lot of big steps in his life at the time, like moving into a residence hall and coming out as a gay to his friends and family, he said.
Tyler Clementi was unaware that Ravi used Google and Facebook to find out that Tyler Clementi was gay, his brother said.
The incident that caught media attention nationwide was when Tyler Clementi requested his roommate give him privacy one night, and Ravi recorded his roommate's intimate actions with another man, with the intention of virtually broadcasting the recording on Twitter.
“His world became very small at that point,” he said. “He became fixed on looking at Twitter.”
Ravi’s Twitter page is the last website Tyler Clementi looked at before leaving for New York City to commit suicide on the George Washington Bridge.
“We don’t talk about this as a society,” James Clementi said. “We sweep it under the rug.”
Founded by James and Tyler's parents, the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s purpose is to use Tyler Clementi’s story to help other people that find themselves in similar mental, emotional and social situations.
The foundation tries to focus on the third-party bystander instead of wholly focusing on a victim, because they believe in the importance of encouraging people to speak out about incidents they witness, James Clementi said.
Eighty percent of all bullying happens in front of a witness that does not take decisive action in response to it, James Clementi said.
“College is a very daunting task, especially for freshmen who are new,” said Eric Ho, president of TWLOHA and a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “If even one person had gone up to him for support, we believe that Tyler would still be with us today."
The Foundation has an online pledge for bystanders to transform themselves to “up-standers,” James Clementi said.
He recommends everyone who agrees with the policy print the sheet and hang it up in residence halls, offices and other places on university campuses, to make a statement that the flyers signify safe spaces.
“This is your school, and your campus, and your community and you have a responsibility,” James Clementi said. “Let go of fear and give up that fear to help.”
James Clementi also urged people to be aware of the weight of their words when using terms that could be hurtful.
Sexual orientation is not the only reason people are targeted, but is the most common, he said.
James Clementi screened a website, nohomophobes.com, which counts how many times people use words such as “faggot” and “gay” each day on Twitter.
“This is Twitter alone,” he said pointing at numbers in the thousands.
“(Be) aware of that language and (make) a personal choice,” he said. “It’s not about you, it’s about the people around you.”
The Tyler Clementi Foundation is also collaborating with the New York Law School to create the The Tyler Clementi Center for Law and Policy at New York Law School, James Clementi said.
“There are not a lot of legal resources to help people who are suffering from online bullies,” he said.
By creating other campaigns and groups, The Tyler Clementi Foundation hopes to make a difference in how people behave and treat each other.
James Clementi said he does not want others to let people get to a point where they are standing on a bridge, considering whether or not to commit suicide.
“By sharing our stories together, we can change the stigma,” he said.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said this was the first time the Clementi family visited Rutgers since Tyler Clementi's death. It also said that Tyler Clementi was unaware that the University sent names and email addresses to roommates of incoming first-year students.