After Rutgers suicide, University policy remains unchanged
Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, after his roommate allegedly posted footage on the Internet of Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man. His roommate and another freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy in relation to the incident and have since withdrawn from Rutgers. Clementi’s suicide has sparked national discussion about discrimination, bullying and privacy issues, and New Jersey politicians have responded with legislative efforts at the state and federal levels.
At the University level, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Cole Crittenden GS ’05 said it is unclear whether “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” will be amended, but he emphasized that the University has had ongoing discussions about its provisions since before the tragedy.
“Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” states that “abusive or harassing behavior, verbal or physical, which demeans, intimidates, threatens, or injures another because of personal characteristics or beliefs or their expression, is subject to University disciplinary sanctions.” Personal characteristics or beliefs include, but are not limited to, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion and disability, according to the rulebook.
Crittenden explained that administrators have wondered whether it would be better to have language addressing specific situations, such as electronic privacy, or whether such an approach would hamper the University’s ability to respond to situations now encompassed by the broad language. He said he did not think “anyone believes we would have a difficult time adjudicating the matter” if a situation such as the Rutgers incident arose at Princeton.
Rutgers’ Code of Conduct was updated in April to specifically prohibit recording others without their consent in areas “where there is an expectation of privacy with respect to nudity and/or sexual activity,” including bathrooms and bedrooms. Rutgers is currently reviewing the code in light of Clementi’s suicide.
Beyond disciplinary policy, Crittenden said that the University is also “as well prepared as anyone could be” to prevent a suicide from occurring.
“I don’t think that this somehow made us think that we need to start talking about how we help and support students dealing with a crisis, whatever that crisis may be,” Crittenden explained, though he added that “no one can be 100 percent prepared.”
Crittenden noted that residential college advisers play an important role in monitoring potentially problematic situations, and that much of the RCA training conducted at the start of every academic year focuses on crisis management.
One specific University response has been to offer outlets for dialogue among members of the LGBT community.
“Tyler Clementi’s death was tragic and felt by members of the community along with great sadness and anger,” Debra Bazarsky, director of the LGBT Center, said in an e-mail.
In an effort to help members of the University community cope with the tragedy, Bazarsky noted, the LGBT Center has sponsored forums and organized panels with Counseling and Psychological Services counselors from University Health Services. The events explore why such incidents occur and aim to foster open discussion of “homophobia and community dynamics” at the University, Bazarsky explained.
Hoping to confront these issues at the national level, Bazarsky said, a group of students is producing a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, a series of online videos about LGBT bullying, homophobia and the challenges of coming out.
In recent weeks, politicians have also introduced legislation on the state and national levels.
In New Jersey, state lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” on Oct. 25 that would strengthen school bullying legislation originally passed in 2002. The new legislation would require all public schools and public universities in the state to include anti-bullying policies in their codes of conduct. For elementary and secondary schools, personnel would be required to undergo anti-bullying training and issue formal reports on incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation.
State Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, a Democrat who is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the legislation would hold schools accountable by evaluating them on their response to bullying incidents.
She said she hoped that through the legislation, the state would be “changing the culture of the kids in K-12.”
“On the higher end, we’re creating a student code of conduct” so that when students enroll in college, “the whole mentality ... will be much more respectful,” Huttle added.
On the national level, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., drafted legislation aimed at protecting college students from harassment.
If passed, the legislation would require colleges to formally prohibit student harassment, including cyber bullying, and provide funding for schools to establish programs to deter harassment of LGBT students.
“The tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Tyler Clementi spurred Senator Lautenberg to look into options to better protect college students from harassment and bullying,” Gail Ribas, a spokeswoman for Lautenberg, said in an e-mail.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article stated that peer advisers from the Sexual Harassment/ Assault Advising, Resources, and Education program participated in events organized by University Health Services. It was actually UHS staff affiliated with the SHARE program that participated.