This past week, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey, committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another friend streamed Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man onto the internet. According to a New York Times article about Clementi’s death, for which the two other students are now facing criminal charges, “In recent weeks, several students have committed suicide after instances that have been described as cyberbullying over sexual orientation, including Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., who hanged himself from a tree in his backyard last month.”
Clementi’s death has sparked a lot of questions. How is the evolving world of technology increasing the danger of cyberbullying? How careful should people be about what they do with that technology and what information they put onto the internet? Is the constant access to streaming, tweeting and texting something that is desensitizing us to what is and is not acceptable to share with the world about those around us?
In last week’s issue of The Knox Student, an article ran that was titled, “Knox more open to LGBTs.” In this article, all five Knox students that were interviewed expressed feelings of acceptance and comfort on the Knox campus in terms of how the campus accepts the LGBT community. “None of the students interviewed could think of an incident in which they were harassed or even made uncomfortable about their sexuality while on campus,” the article said. We must also remember that there is hope online, such as sex columnist Dan Savage’s YouTube project “It Gets Better.” This project aims to help depressed LGBT-Q adolescents cope.
It is sad that this is outside the norm. It is sad that we should consider ourselves lucky to go to a college where acceptance of differences in sexual orientation is more widespread. Then again, perhaps there are people on this campus who have had negative experiences similar to Clementi’s or another type of bullying but do not want to talk about it.
We must not take our environment here for granted. No place is immune to bullying, but if it is true that Knox is so accepting, we must take this sentiment with us when we leave. We must remember that the world has a much wider variety of worldviews, some of which might be similar to those of the students that put Clementi’s sexual encounter up on the internet without regard for his personal privacy. Whether technology is something that increases the rate of cyberbullying within the next few years or not, there is no excuse (like desensitization) that can possibly be accepted for what those Rutgers students did. Technology itself cannot be blamed for this, but rather the people who did it.
And if some sort of bullying (cyber or not), whether or not it was related to sexual orientation, has happened at Knox, we encourage those who know about it not to stay silent. We encourage those who know about it to speak out and help put it to an end, and help those who have endured it to overcome. The word “bully” seems to have a playground connotation, but as the case of Clementi and so many others have demonstrated, it is something that potentially affects all ages and all people. If Knox really is as accepting as we seem to be on the surface, we encourage everyone to spread this attitude towards the rest of the world. If we are simply a campus under the illusion of how accepting it is, that won’t get us anywhere.