Rutgers New Brunswick freshman Tyler Clementi died last week after committing suicide. His death occurred a few days after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, used a web cam to record a sexual encounter involving Clementi and another male.
Ravi and Wei have both been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy. The two accessed a webcam belonging to Ravi in the room that he shared with Clementi in Davidson Hall on Busch campus, and recorded the sexual acts while also transmitting the feed onto the internet. Ravi tweeted about what was being recorded and encouraged friends to join him in a live webchat, so that they could view the feed as well.
“Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went to Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Ravi posted this to his twitter account on September 19th; the account has since been deleted.
Two days later, Clementi again requested privacy from Ravi, who once again set up a live feed of Clementi’s activities.
“Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again,” Ravi wrote, posting to his twitter account on September 21st.
On September 22nd Clementi wrote on his Facebook status, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Later that evening, Clementi’s driver’s license and Rutgers I.D. card were found in a wallet left on the George Washington bridge. Two witnesses saw Clementi jump from the bridge.
A body was pulled out of the Hudson river but as of September 30th was not identified. The body was confirmed as Clementi’s on Thursday September 30th. Clementi’s family attorney Paul Mainardi has released a statement confirming Clementi’s suicide.
“Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician. The family is heartbroken beyond words. They respectfully request that they be given time to grieve their great loss and that their privacy at this painful time be respected by all. The family and their representatives are cooperating fully with the ongoing criminal investigations of two Rutgers University students,” said the statement.
Rutgers University President Richard L. McCormick issued a statement to the Rutgers community on September 29th.
“I deeply regret that today we learned from the family of one of our students that they believe their son has committed suicide. We are profoundly saddened by this report, and our hearts and prayers are with the parents, family, and friends of this young man,” the statement said.
“Two fellow Rutgers students have been arrested and charged with invasion of privacy for their actions in that incident. If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university’s standards of decency and humanity… We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family during this most difficult time.”
If Ravi and Wei are convicted of the invasion of privacy charges against them, each could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. Both Wei and Ravi have been released from jail, Ravi after posting $25,000 bail and Wei of her own recognizance. Both surrendered themselves to campus police.
Rutgers University’s Code of Student Conduct explicitly states that students may not videotape or record students without authorization. If Ravi and Wei are both found to have breached this code, they could face penalties which range from being reprimanded to permanent expulsion from the university.
It is a fourth-degree crime in New Jersey to collect or view depictions of nudity or sexual contact that involves another individual without that person’s consent. Distributing or transmitting those images is a third degree crime, according to the state’s invasion-of-privacy laws.
It is now being suggested by friends of Ravi’s that Ravi did not intend on violating Clementi’s privacy. However, Ravi’s posts on twitter and the second webcam transmission on the 21st negate this claim.
Gay rights groups have declared outrage over these events, stating that the loss of Clementi is a result of the widespread issue of bullying and harassment in the LGBT community. It is speculated that Clementi had not “come out” to friends and family; however the family attorney would not comment to the media on the issue.
In response to Clementi’s death, students at Rutgers New Brunswick staged a “die-in” on the evening of September 29th. The students have been demanding gender-neutral, queer friendly spaces for students to live on campus to avoid intimidation and discrimination from other students. Clementi’s death has intensified this campaigning. Around twenty students laid down outside of the College Avenue Student Center while around a hundred other students stood on the sidelines in support of the protestors and in honor of Clementi.
Jackie Lafleur, a food Science major from the school of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers New Brunswick, spoke to the Gleaner staff about the atmosphere on the New Brunswick campus and the toll that these events have taken on students- whether they knew Clementi or not.
“Everywhere there are news cameras and reporters, which is crazy, and in every single class today they (Professors) stopped and talked about this because everyone is upset and angry. People are standing around with megaphones and shouting for equality. Everyone is so alarmed that this has happened at Rutgers. They’re horrified that something like this could happen at a campus that’s all about diversity.”
On Friday October 1, students at Rutgers wore black in honor of Clementi, and flowers were laid in memorial to him between Brower Commons and Stonier Hall on the New Brunswick campus.