Monday, September 19, 2011

Tyler and Me: A Day I Will Never Forget

On September 22nd, 2010, I celebrated my 20th birthday while a student at Rutgers University.  I sat in my dorm room sorting through the birthday comments I had received on Facebook and doing my Spanish homework.  However, what I didn’t realize was that on that same day, first-year Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, would take his own life by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge.

During the following week, I saw several Facebook posts from other Rutgers students that there were news reports about a sex tape that was recorded in a Rutgers dorm.  I didn’t think much of it; “probably some dumb freshman” was my thought.  But in the next couple of days the local and national media started to converge into Rutgers creating a media frenzy and the story started to come to light.  The name Tyler Clementi started to appear 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 (Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi were roommates) and captured Tyler having sex with another guy.  The video was apparently streamed online via Molly Wei’s room and promoted on Ravi’s twitter account.  It was reported that Tyler felt that he was being bullied because of his sexuality and spoke about the situation with his resident assistant, through the university (Rutgers Housing and possibly through RUPD), and online via a message board from the website Just Us Boys.  

My guess is that Tyler was seeking help on his situation but decided to take his own life for the fear that everyone would know he’s gay.  One week after my birthday, on September 29th, the police found Tyler’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.

What made this case hit so close to home was the fact that the dorm that Ravi and Molly videotaped Tyler in was right across from where I was living.  When I was in my afternoon class, I stumbled upon an article from that stated that the filming incident was recorded in Davidson Hall.  I lived in Winkler hall my junior year, which is right across from Davidson residential hall.  My friends and I just couldn’t believe it the incident happened on our campus, right next to us.  I was surprised that a story that received worldwide attention developed across the street from where I lived.

The LGBTQ community at Rutgers reacted to the Tyler Clementi suicide in several ways.  A “die-in” was held on the steps of the Rutgers University Student Center a candlelight vigil was held at the steps of Brower Commons (a public forum in the College Ave Campus), and a rally for safe spaces (which an LGBTQ living-learning community was created for the fall 2011 semester) was held.  A month later, a group called Queering the Air, called for demands for Rutgers to take action on LGBT issues in the university, following Clementi’s suicide.  On Facebook, students organized an event called “Black Friday” in which students would wear black to mourn the loss of Tyler.  There was even a fraternity that set up a table at Brower Commons with a card that was signed by students and was sent to the Clementi family. 

Ironically, the suicide occurred around the same time Rutgers launched a two-year project known as Project Civility, which is supposed to teach people how being civil, showing small signs of gratitude to one another, and publicly exchanging ideas would result in having a more charitable campus culture and reducing hostility while applying the same to society in general.  And how to respect one another regardless of whom 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 you and him/her, and respecting the choices that he/she made without resorting to judgment.  What those two students did to Tyler was anything but civil.

For us, as a society, to move on and accept people for the way they are, it’s going to take a while for all the negative notions because there will be ignorant people that keep spreading lies and misconceptions about groups of people.  When it comes to homophobia and stigmas, HIV/AIDS can often be a source for others to bully.  Even though HIV/AIDS is a disease that can be caught by anyone, certain ignorant people will still refer to HIV/AIDS as a “gay” disease or other hateful terms to demean a person. 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 to not act feminine, for, as any man who was acting feminine wasn’t considered a man, 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 and she tells me that a man who’s strong and not lady-like is a real man.  It was acceptable back in the old days but with everything progressing forward Machismo is nothing but an old relic from the past.  It must either tone down or be eliminated.

This stigma of homosexuals 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 towards others.  Just like when people are being tested for HIV and STD’s.  The results from HIV and STD testing can change the life of somebody and fears that if the results were public, people would treat him/her as a pariah and bully him/her for having a deadly disease.  When you add misconceptions on top of bullying, it makes the situation worse.  

I remember on the day in which Tyler’s body was discovered, there were so many articles online about his death.  My sister found out about it via the Chicago Tribune and was shocked.  When I posted on Facebook that the whole video stream happened across the street from my dorm, one of my friends commented on my status update but she didn’t know why there was a media circus happening at Rutgers, so I had to fill her in on the whole story, while I was in class.  My mom heard about this story and she was saying to 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 NJ side of the bridge and thought to myself “this is where Tyler took his life, and all because of the immature actions of his roommate.”  The actions of others can definitely impact a person regardless how big or small.  This immature act caused someone to take his own life and now Darhun Ravi and Molly Wei will have to live with the fact that they are responsible for Tyler’s suicide.   When filming the video, I’m sure the both of them were shocked by what they saw and probably made disparaging comments about his sexuality.  They probably never thought anything more than a few jokes about Tyler would be made.  But now, I’m sure they regret streaming that video.  Not only because it ruined their reputation but, more importantly, because it led to the death of a fellow student and human being.

Nelson Morales Jr.
GET DOWN Youth Blogger
Rutger’s University Student

 Photos: Jennifer Kong

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