Many Flagler students say Rutgers suicide reveals consequences of bullying and discrimination

By Ryan Buffa and Kristin McIntosh |

The recent suicide of a Rutgers University student opened the eyes of Flagler College students and spread conversations around the country. To raise awareness about the dangers of cyber bullying and the ongoing discrimination of homosexuals, many Flagler College students showed support by wearing purple on Oct. 20.

Club Unity of Flagler College chose to join in a nationwide movement called “Spirit Day” where supporters of LGBT rights could wear purple to show their support. They chose to use the color purple from the LGBT flag because it means spirit.

“I think it shows that people need to be less ignorant and more accepting,” Flagler College student Kathleen Casagrande said.

This event was prompted after recent suicides by young people, including Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on Sept. 22, after a webcast of his sexual encounter with another man was streamed live.

Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, and Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, 18, have been charged with invasion of privacy for the allegation of placing a camera in Clementi’s dorm room and streaming his encounter without his knowledge or consent.

In New Jersey, it is a fourth-degree crime to collect images showing sexual content or nudity without the subject’s consent, and it is a third-degree crime to transmit the relevant content. If convicted, both Ravi and Wei could face up to five years in prison.

Clementi posted a farewell status update on Facebook, “Jumping of the gw bridge. Sorry” before his suicide.

In a Fox40 Sacramento News report, Dr. Michael LaSala, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University said, “Research shows that such harassment can have a devastating effect on LGBT kids [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] kids’ mental health risk.”

Joe Neri, a sophomore at Flagler College, said he does not think Ravi and Wei meant for this to happen. He said it was simply a practical joke, but the two students should still be punished. “I think accidental manslaughter might be appropriate, but it’s hard to pin a set punishment on incidents like this,” Neri said.

But a 2009 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that of the 90 percent of gay and lesbian students bullied this year; two-thirds say they feel unsafe at school.

According to the Chicago youth-market research firm TRU, one-third of American teens have fallen victim to cyberbullying. Homosexual discrimination is a common occurrence among teenagers and in September alone, three other teenagers committed suicide due to homophobic bullying – Seth Walsh, 13; Asher Brown, 13; and Billy Lucas, 15- as reported by FOX 40 Sacramento News.

Ravi and Wei will not be facing any charges like the one Neri suggested. However, the prosecutor may add a hate crime charge to the case, which would increase the possible prison sentence to 10 years. New Jersey has one of the strictest hate crime laws in the nation. But, New Jersey law requires evidence of intent to cause harm in order to add a hate crime charge.

Luanne Peterpaul, who is also the vice chairwoman of Garden State Equality, a LGBT civil rights organization, said in order to apply the hate crime law prosecutors would need to establish that the defendants were motivated to act because they perceived Clementi as gay, which can be difficult to prove.

Carly Lupo, a psychology major at Flagler College, took an opposing stand on the situation. She said she does not believe that Ravi or Wei should be held responsible for his death. Although she does think they had bad intentions; she does not necessarily think they were as drastic as forcing Clementi to take his own life.

“I believe that Tyler’s form of suicide was active, meaning that he felt as if suicide was the only way to escape his painful situation,” Lupo said.

While the gay community is still fighting with politicians for civil rights such as the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and Marriage Protection Act, many hope this is a chance for people to open their eyes about the reality of homosexual discrimination.

In a Politics Daily article, Clementi’s parents said, “Regardless of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family’s personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity.”

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