Rutgers University Mourns Student's Suicide
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And we begin this hour with a story that raises new questions about privacy in the Internet age and also about cyberbullying among college students. It involves a student named Tyler Clementi from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
BLOCK: The shy first-year student had only been on campus for a few weeks when he committed suicide last week. That followed the live Webcast of his romantic encounter with another young man. It appeared on the Internet without his consent.
We'll get to some of the broader issues after this report from Joel Rose in New Brunswick.
JOEL ROSE: Student reaction to Tyler Clementi's suicide ranged from shock to sadness to anger. Oscar Mordkovich has been a student at Rutgers for four years.
Mr. OSCAR MORDKOVICH (Student, Rutgers University): I thought it was kind of ridiculous, just the fact that in this day and age, that this occurred. Like maybe if this was, like, 50 years ago, it would be somewhat understandable. But, like, to do that to somebody, especially your roommate, I just think is, like, outrageous.
ROSE: Mordkovich didn't know Clementi personally. Few of the roughly 29,000 undergraduates on this New Jersey campus did, until the 18-year-old student jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week.
Senior Francine Lucas says it's affected everybody.
Ms. FRANCINE LUCAS (Student, Rutgers University): I think everyone on campus is going to take a moment to think about this, reflect. Hopefully, it'll be a learning lesson, a chance for people to mature and, hopefully, create a dialogue, because that's all we can really hope for.
ROSE: Others are hoping for justice. Sarah Hartnett is a junior.
Ms. SARAH HARTNETT (Student, Rutgers University): I think it's such an invasion of privacy. I think it's terrible what they did to him, and I hope that they get the maximum like five years in prison. I really do.
ROSE: According to county prosecutors, Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi and dorm mate Molly Wei are charged with invasion of privacy and other crimes for secretly placing a camera in his room and transmitting a sexual encounter on the Internet.
Mr. GREGORY BLIMLING (Vice President for Student Affairs, Rutgers University): I've been working with students as student affairs administrator now for 36 years, and I have never encountered a situation like this one.
ROSE: Gregory Blimling is vice president for student affairs at Rutgers. Blimling says federal law prohibits him from talking about Clementi's sexuality. But he insists that Rutgers is a welcoming place for all of its students.
Mr. BLIMLING: We are fully engaged with our LGBT community. We have a variety of programs and activities in which we try to make this an accepting and secure environment for people from all different backgrounds. We take great pride in the fact that Rutgers is one of the most diverse universities in the United States.
ROSE: Rutgers has extensive suicide prevention services, though Blimling says it's not clear if Clementi tried to use. Others say Rutgers' administration isn't always sympathetic to the gay and lesbian community.
Robert O'Brien is a professor of anthropology at Rutgers.
Professor ROBERT O'BRIEN (Anthropology, Rutgers University): What I know from talking to my students is that while Rutgers has done a tremendous job providing a safer space for LGBTQ students, it's far from a safe space.
ROSE: To be clear, though, do you think that the university could be doing and maybe should be doing more?
Prof. O'BRIEN: Yes.
ROSE: O'Brien says gay and lesbian advocates have been lobbying the university to designate special LGBT-friendly dorms on campus, so far without success.
But Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality says the real failure here occurred before any of these students got to Rutgers.
Mr. STEVEN GOLDSTEIN (Chairman and CEO, Garden State Equality): Where was the stopgap in society that these kids faced, whether it be parents, classes, school or friends or someone to say you can't bully, you can't harass someone because they're gay or a member of any other minority community? How did these alleged perpetrators fall through the system?
ROSE: Memorial services for Tyler Clementi have yet to be announced.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in New Brunswick, New Jersey.