Tyler Clementi, Tragedy, and the Media Response

In the wave of the recent
death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who committed suicide after his
roommate broadcasted Clementi’s sexual activities on the internet, I was
thinking about the response to the suicide.

Before I go any further, I
should comment on a few things. First, I think it goes without saying that
Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and his friend Molly Wei, were wrong to
publicize Clementi’s encounters on the internet. It was a breach of privacy and
is contrary to basic norms of civility and decency. I’d like to echo the
sentiments by all who were similarly bothered by the activities of Ravi and
Wei. Secondly, Clementi’s death was tragic. He was clearly in an emotionally
fragile state after the broadcast, and felt that there were no resources to
assist him such that he resorted to suicide. It is great to see other people
shaken into action – as they seek to provide resources for students in similar
situations such that these vulnerable students don’t turn to such desperate
actions. And, of course, it goes without saying that this is a reminder that we
should affirm the dignity of all people–regardless of race, religion, political
ideology, or sexual orientation.

Given all of this, I was
intrigued by an editorial published in the Rutger’s student newspaper, The
Daily Targum, concerning the reaction to Clementi’s reaction that argues people
were insensitive to his death by using it as a cause: http://www.dailytargum.com/opinions/media-exploits-university-tragedy-1.2354299.

Perhaps the punchiest bit
of the article is the last line: “Let us – family, friends and the
University together – mourn for Clementi, and just for him, rather than using
him as a martyr for a cause.” 

I’m going to begin by saying that I
disagree with a good bit of the Daily Targum article. The efforts of LGBTQ
alliances and other student groups to prevent future deaths like Clementi’s are
admirable. It’s important to ensure that there are resources available for
students who feel their situations so desperate that suicide seems like the
only option. 

This being said, it is important that
we give Clementi’s death the proper weight and respect it deserves and not
reduce his tragic death to an opportunity to launch campaigns. Take for
instance, Cindy McCain’s comments that Clementi’s death is terrible, but
“something good will come from it” in relation to her opposition to
California’s Proposition 8.  In linking issues of same sex marriage, about
which there can be reasonable disagreement, to issues of bullying and hate
crimes (that we all agree are wrong), we’re failing to recognize Clementi’s
death for the tragedy that it was. 

2 thoughts on “Tyler Clementi, Tragedy, and the Media Response

  1. No, I mean to say that even if we grant that the ends of LGBTQ efforts are good (in wanting to prevent suicides), to reduce Clementi’s death to a jumping off point for these efforts is not good.

  2. I’m a little confused: I’m not sure whether or not you’re advocating the occasion of such a death as a “good” jumping off point for LGBTQ efforts, or condemning it. You seem to imply both.

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