NU students say Rutgers case raised awareness for LGBT issues

Stephanie Haines

In the wake of the conviction of former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi, who shared his roommate’s intimate encounter with a man via livestream, some Northwestern students recall the incident with remorse.

In September 2010, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after learning that his roommate, Ravi, was spying on him with a webcam. Ravi had tweeted he had used a webcam to spy on his roommate and urged some of his friends to watch the video.

In October 2010, University President Morton Schapiro and former Vice President for Student Affairs Bill Banis sent an email to the NU community supporting NU’s LGBT students in light of Clementi’s death and other concurrent bullying instances targeted at the LGBT community.

Though Ravi was not charged with the death of Clementi, he was convicted of all 15 charges brought against him, some of which include the invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and tampering with evidence. Some charges potentially bear 5 to 10 years in prison.

The case has sparked a nationwide debate about whether or not Ravi’s actions constitute a “hate crime.”

“It’s definitely a sad thing,” said Chris Garcia, a member of NU Rainbow Alliance’s executive board. “It’s sad that this was an issue that needed to be addressed. I am sad for both Clementi’s and Ravi’s families. It is what it is. This happened and there are mistakes made.”

Bienen senior Austin Siebert said he dealt with an abusive, homophobic roommate at his previous school, American University, before transfering to NU.

“My reaction to it is that it’s sick,” Siebert said about the Ravi case. “And in a way I felt though (Clementi) may not have intended to be, he is a martyr for gay rights.”

Siebert also said the saddest part of Clementi’s story is not that his sexual orientation was “exposed,” but that “he was developed to see his relationship as shameful and therefore unbearable to live (with). And society made him feel that way.”

Siebert said when living with his former roommate, there were not many legal protections for gay people, so he did not think complaining to authorities would help his situation. He said he talked to one of his teachers, who is an NU alumnus, and his teacher helped him through the situation.

“So far Northwestern has been wonderful,” Siebert said. “I am in a fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and they have been very accepting. And everyone else here, too.”

Cory Slowik, Rainbow Alliance’s student outreach and guidance and peer solutions (GPS) chair, said she thinks this case is important because it sheds light on bullying and its effects.

“It’s good that the mainstream media is talking about it,” the Communication sophomore said. “It has started up a lot of initiatives to help young people who are struggling with their identity to cope.”

Slowik also said the struggles Rainbow Alliance generally sees are students “at the intersection of identity.” She said most questioning students have trouble reconciling their sexual identity with their lives at college. This, according to Slowik, is often the first time students are away from their family and friends they have known for years, and that causes them to really question who they are.

The Rainbow Alliance GPS program pairs up questioning students with Rainbow mentors if they want to talk about their issues, Slowik said.

“We want people to come without fear of repercussion,” Slowik said. “We want students to feel safe.”

Slowik said she thinks it is also important to foster a community with heterosexual students because many people who do not identify themselves as LGBT still care about these issues. She said they also want to show that LGBT students have friends beyond their community.

Jim Neumeister, assistant dean of students and director of student conduct and conflict resolution, told The Daily in an email that the University takes actions “very seriously” that harm a person based on his sexual orientation, as well as online harrassment. He said the Student Code of Conduct outlines various regulations for taking action in situations similar to that of Tyler Clementi.

“Students who are alleged to have violated any of these policies would be subject to disciplinary action as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct,” Neumeister said in the email. “If they are found in violation, students could face disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the University.”

Maureen Costello, Teaching Tolerance director at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., told The Daily in an email that college administrators know they need to do a better job acclimating their incoming students to the diversity of people they encounter at college.

“Incoming students, particularly, are finding their way,” Costello said in the email. “The message in this case is that you don’t find your way and assert your identity by isolating and targeting someone else. We hope that it helps all students understand the need to learn how to negotiate differences and live together.”

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