The death of Tyler Clementi, 18, a freshman at Rutgers University, just weeks ago has refueled the gay and lesbian rights debate nationwide. The fourth in a string of gay teen suicides, Clementi's has struck a chord in the hearts of many, both gay and straight.
What is particularly unnerving in Clementi's case is the fact that he was being videotaped without his knowledge in his own dorm room. And by his own roommate.
This seems to violate ethical conduct on multiple counts, including that they were roommates, human beings and fellow freshmen (which can be a daunting exploration of the self and of a new place).
(For more, read Bullying, Suicide, Punishment New York Times, Oct. 2, 2010.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up not too far from Tyler and graduated from Rutgers in 2008; my younger brother graduated this past May. While I never lived on campus and am straight, Rutgers was known as an accepting community where many people from many lifestyles and cultures lived, worked and thrived together.
But no community is free of hate. (Or asinine teenagers.)
Rutgers President Richard McCormick has pledged to "make certain that our campuses are places where students of all races, faiths, cultures, and orientations feel accepted and respected." Ironically, Rutgers announced the start of Project Civility a few weeks before the invasion-of-privacy incident involving Clementi. The two-year project will address "the critically important issues of personal privacy and the responsible uses of technology, which have been brought into sharp focus this week."
Clementi's suicide also seems to have added depth to debates surrounding "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," according to Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine in an interview with MTV News. He says that certain policies like Don't Ask send all Americans the message that gays are "second class" citizens.
Ellen DeGeneres posted a video in response to bullying. http://www.facebook.com/#!/video/video.php?v=592846987806
If public outcry and celebrity endorsements are any indication, more communities will be re-evaluating their tolerance and their LGBT student support systems and teaching responsibility.