Clementi tragedy could have happened anywhere

Has our value of compassion and regard for others gone missing? College should be a time of insight and growth. (AP Photo)

By Shannon McCray Darko
Alumna, Class of 2006

My heart feels like it’s been ripped out—literally. I’ve just finished reading the umpteenth article on the recent apparent suicide death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman whose alleged intimate moments with another man were broadcast on the web by his roommate. I’m part of this young generation who relies heavily on technology to keep informed and, yes, entertained throughout the course of any given day.

What I am not a part of though, is the indisputable lack of decency and civility that appears to have overtaken our generation, and indeed, our entire society. As if obnoxious cell phone ringers sounding off in offices, schools and other places of business aren’t indicative enough of the complete lack of respect this so-called “advancement” in technology has brought us, we now have a much more severe case of respect and civility being lost when one or most students think it’s okay to surreptitiously film someone else in his or her most private moments and participate in its dissemination in the name of amusement.

Almost anyone (wannabe celebrities aside) would be mortified to know that they were secretly being taped, but add to this chagrin the fact that this happened to Tyler all within a few weeks of starting a new life as a college student, trying to find his niche in what should have been an exciting and refreshing time in his life. Reports have yet to confirm whether young Tyler was gay or not, and the specific details of what exactly his roommate captured on camera have not even yet been substantiated.

However, Tyler’s sexuality should not be the scandal here. The true scandal is that in 2010 anyone finds it permissible to mock and harangue someone simply because of his or her sexuality. Though, by the way young males often interact with each other, their speech littered with anti-gay slurs veiled as “just jokes,” it seems as though it is perfectly acceptable to treat gays—or those merely suspected of being gay—with disdain and contempt. I can’t help but wonder if Tyler had been in his room with a female if his peers would have found their need for mockery equally as imperative. It’s doubtful.

The accused are young, and of course, naïve. It is to be assumed that they had no idea their actions might weigh heavily in Tyler’s decision to take his own life. They probably thought they would just have a few laughs at Tyler’s expense in their mad dash to bond and make friends with others in their dormitory during those early and impressionable stages of their first few weeks of college.

What a way to bond. By selfishly seeking to bolster their “cool factor” among dorm mates, they likely did not consider—or care about—that by possibly outing Tyler, or just by the act of publishing his private moments online, the humiliation and pain they would have caused him. Their need, like so many others’ in today’s tech-and-media-obsessed world to be the first to post a “gotcha” moment of sensational “news” is proof that our value in compassion and regard for others has gone missing. In the end, a family is without their loved one, a college campus is without a budding scholar and a world is without a person who should have felt cherished instead of derided.

College should be a time of exploration, learning, adventure, insight, growth and self-actualization. What happened at Rutgers could very well happen at any college or university across America. It is my sincerest hope that the bright and talented students at The College of New Jersey learn from this tragedy and work to ensure such a collapse of civility does not find itself welcome on your campus.