*this was written for the newspaper*
Suicide among college students has always been a heatedly discussed topic due to the perceived causes; too much stress, too much homework, peer pressure, parental expectations, scholarships on the line and the list goes on. This past week has brought another cause for those statistics to rise even higher; the continued bullying and forced outing of homosexual students. Most often by other students using social media outlets, such as Facebook, My Space, or even Youtube to expose a fellow students sexual orientation and laugh it off as a joke. In just a matter of a few weeks 7 suicides have been reported at various colleges around the United States; all of them were homosexual students that had been bullied or outed prior to their suicides.
Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, recently committed suicide by jumping off a bridge after two of his fellow students secretly filmed him engaging in a sexual encounter with another male. They invaded his privacy and put the video on the internet for all to see and comment. The two students involved, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, are facing up to 5 years in prison if convicted of invasion of privacy. Clementi is the latest in a string of suicides that has the gay community in an uproar at the continued ""othering"" of homosexuals and the forced outings and resulting abuse or deaths as a result. Mass media and the ability to see things streamed live on the internet has given people a voracious appetite to see ever more personal and "real" moments in what otherwise should be personal and private matters. Anyone with a cell phone or video camera apparently believes they have the right to film at will and upload at leisure without a second thought to the consequences.
We have to ask ourselves at what point do we step back and let people have their privacy? When do we stop and tell ourselves that this is not our business, nor the business of anyone else? We have no right to see it much less put it out there for others to see it and judge? For most people, seeing a link or a Youtube video highlighting just such a private moment causes not even on moment of hesitation before happily clicking on it to view someone else at their most vulnerable. Do we ever wonder if that person or persons in the video gave permission to be filmed? Do they know it's now there for our viewing pleasure? Obviously not always or people like Tyler Clementi wouldn't feel suicide was the only way out of his shattered world.
People might ask, why did he kill himself over a video? Why are those 2 students blamed for his death? They didn't throw him off the bridge or even encourage him; all they did was film him having sex and put it on the internet for every homophobic gay hating basher to come along and point a finger and judge him. The comments left by said viewers were disgusting and a painful reminder of just how far we still have to go in accepting sexual orientations other than hetero. Also, we have to consider that Clementi, and other such victims, hadn't disclosed their sexual identity to their own families and this forced outing had sent them into a panic that spiraled out of control.
Whatever the reason Tyler Clementi eventually came too before climbing onto that bridge we can be assured of one thing, when we bully, when we tease, when we judge, when we hate, when we treat people who are not the same as us as "less than" or "inferior" we might as well be putting the bullet in the gun ourselves, handing them a glass of water to down those pills, or even giving them a hand up to climb on that ledge.
We are guilty when we use words to hurt, to diminish, to destroy self esteem. Tyler Clementi had a right to be who he was. He had a right to engage in private matters without fear of being videoed and exposed. He had a right to assume he had the rest of his life to figure himself out and decide for himself what he wanted to share with the world and what he wanted to keep to himself. Those two students took that right away and the result is that Tyler came to the conclusion the only choice left to him was to end his life.
College is a new and exciting experience for most students. Away from home for the first time, experimenting and discovering who we are while navigating the corridors of college life. Most of us are using this experience to better ourselves and improve our own lives; others are wasting this opportunity to play with the lives of others with disasterous and even fatal consequences. Most of us have grown up sufficiently to be socially acceptable members of society. We have learned how to "live and let live" and accept every person as an individual with the right to choose who they are; if we don't like it we can walk away. Bullying someone, or invading their privacy because you find what they do different or abnormal or even humorous might seem inconsequential to you, but have you thought would it would feel like if you were the one under the spotlight?
What are you doing with your college experience