Clementi case still lingers on college campuses
Published: Friday, May 25, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
The results of a 2005 survey on DePaul University’s campus climate for LGBTQ students showed that almost 60 percent of LGBTQ students have hidden their sexual identity on campus “for fear of personal safety, discrimination or rejection.” Furthermore, 71 percent of LGBTQ respondents said they witnessed homophobia or hate crimes on campus, and over half of all students surveyed said LGBTQ students were likely to be harassed on campus.
These statistics take on a new light in the aftermath of New Jersey vs. Dharun Ravi, a court case that determined the fate of the former Rutgers University student. On Sept. 19, 2010, Ravi performed the 21st century equivalent of peeking through a keyhole. He remotely turned on his dorm room webcam to view his roommate, fellow freshman Tyler Clementi, kissing another man. Clementi jumped off a New Jersey bridge the day after Ravi “dare[d]” his Twitter followers to watch Clementi on a second occasion. On May 21, Ravi was found guilty of 14 counts, including invasion of privacy and evidence tampering. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a counseling program on cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles, along with fines, community service, and probation.
DePaul junior Jose Juarez said this case reveals a larger picture of discrimination and homophobia. “Cases like these definitely allow people to think, ‘Hmm, maybe there is something socially and judicially wrong,” Juarez said. “I am not too sure if it will create harsher sentences, but I think it will gain momentum to create change.”
DePaul professor Gary Cestaro, director of DePaul’s LGBTQ Studies program, said he was willing to accept the sentence as reasonable but was concerned that Ravi has offered no public apology and that his attorneys are already planning an appeal. “I hope it makes college students think more about the personal challenges faced by some of their LGBTQ classmates,” Cestaro said. “College campuses should offer a non-threatening, supportive environment for students grappling with issues of sexual and gender identity.”
Prior to the webcam spying, Clementi struggled with his sexuality. According to messages on his computer, his mother re¬acted negatively to his orientation. Investigators also found a file titled “Why does it have to be so painful” and a photo of the bridge he would later jump off of. If a similar case happened at DePaul, Cestaro said he would expect the administration and the community to approach it “very seriously.”
However, DePaul law professor and former American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois president Jeffrey Shaman said the case was more about invasion of privacy, rather than bullying. “While the sentence in the case was relatively light, nevertheless the case sends a strong message that invasion of privacy, as well as bullying, is pernicious behavior that violates the law,” Shaman said. “Gay and lesbian individuals are entitled to be treated with the same respect and dignity as any other person.”
Juarez agreed that the sentence was lenient and that Ravi’s use of the webcam constituted a hate crime. “The expansion in technology has made it easier to ‘bully’ others, and while we have laws for hate crimes [and] violence, we have nothing close to the harassment that happens over the World Wide Web, and it hinders all of these cases and allows people like Ravi to only spend 30 days in jail for a malicious act of homophobia.”
Five minutes after Clementi posted a Facebook status saying he was going to jump, Ravi sent Clementi a message that concluded with “I’m sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured.” But for Juarez, Ravi’s words didn’t match his actions.
“It would be one thing if it was a freshman antic where he pulled a prank, but it’s completely another issue when there is intention to display publicly the private acts of two men,” Juarez said. “His intentions definitely make it more than just a prank.”