After Suicide, Pressure Grows For Rutgers Officials A month since the death of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, the university's president says the school did all it could do and did the right thing. But some activists say a climate of intolerance toward gays and lesbians persists on campus in the wake of Clementi's suicide.
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After Suicide, Pressure Grows For Rutgers Officials

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After Suicide, Pressure Grows For Rutgers Officials

After Suicide, Pressure Grows For Rutgers Officials

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Im Melissa Block.


And Im Robert Siegel.

It's been one month since Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide. He jumped from the George Washington Bridge not long after his roommate allegedly posted video of his sexual encounter with another man on the Internet. The tragedy sparked national discussion of bullying of gay youth.

As Joel Rose reports, gay activists at Rutgers are still fighting for changes, even as life on campus returns to normal.

JOEL ROSE: The TV cameras are mostly gone now, and the debate over Tyler Clementi's suicide has quieted down.

Ms. RACHEL MCGOVERN (Student, Rutgers University): People make references to it sometimes. Should certain, like any events remind them of it, it'll come up. But, like, I don't think that anybody really has a conversation about it at this point anymore.

ROSE: Thats freshman Rachel McGovern. She's eating dinner with friends at a campus parking lot filled with a popular collection of food vendors, known as the Juice Trucks.

Unidentified Man #1: Give me chicken fingers (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #2: And a Fat Mom.

Unidentified Man #1: And a Fat Mom.

ROSE: Also here grabbing coffee and cake is Rutgers senior Frank Blaha. He thinks university administrators - right up to president - could have handled the Clementi situation better.

Mr. FRANK BLAHA (Student, Rutgers University): I think he had a real opportunity to open up a dialogue about tolerance. And more than that, what is and is not acceptable behavior for the students of this university. I think they just let it go by.

ROSE: Rutgers' President Richard McCormick has said very little about the events surrounding the suicide.

Dr. RICHARD MCCORMICK (President, Rutgers University): I recognize that people wish we could say more than we're saying, but we're not able to do so while an investigation is being conducted. I'm sorry about that.

ROSE: That was McCormick last night, speaking briefly with reporters before a regular student assembly meeting.

(Soundbite of a gavel hammering)

Unidentified Man #3: Without further ado, I would like to present to you...

ROSE: While most of the meeting was devoted to mundane concerns, like parking and tuition, anthropology professor Robert O'Brien used the occasion to bring up the problems that gays and lesbians face on this campus.

Professor ROBERT O'BRIEN (Anthropology, Rutgers University): I get phone calls, e-mails, office visits, crying before class, crying during class, crying after class, as a result of the treatment that particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students are experiencing. These things make them what I call a hidden population of Tyler Clementis.

ROSE: Also speaking at the meeting, Rutgers senior Aaron Lee said the university does offer counseling services for gay, lesbian and transgender students like him.

Mr. AARON LEE (Student, Rutgers University): But sometimes it is very hard to find them. Not everyone is prepared to be in a position where they have to try multiple times to reach out for help.

ROSE: Lee and other activists repeated their call for the university to create gender-neutral housing and take other steps to make the lesbian, gay and transgender communities feel more comfortable. Rutgers' President McCormick promised to consider those demands.

Dr. MCCORMICK: And we're not going to relax our commitment to making this a welcoming environment for everyone.

ROSE: Not everyone likes the way gay and lesbian groups have responded to Clementi's suicide. Senior Frank Blaha thinks these groups shouldn't be using the tragedy to advance their own agenda.

Mr. BLAHA: I think they were so out of line. If you wanted to hold a rally for tolerance, that would've been fine. But instead they tried to co-opt it for their own gain, so that they could get their own housing and dining halls, or whatever it was they were after.

ROSE: But activists, including Professor Robert O'Brien, want to use the issue to maintain pressure on the university.

Prof. O'BRIEN: The real crisis is below the tip of the Tyler Clementi iceberg. It's the daily suffering of LGBTQ youth that is not appreciated by the wider society.

ROSE: As long as people keep talking about Tyler Clementi, O'Brien says he'll keep pushing Rutgers to change. That may prove to be a tough sell on a campus that's largely trying to move on.

For NPR News, Im Joel Rose.

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