On Tyler Clementi's Suicide

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Ian Parker's piece on the young teen who committed suicide at Rutgers in 2010 is well-reported and complicates the picture some. By "complicates" I don't mean that it makes Dhuran Ravi--the freshman who spied on Clementi--sound anymore sympathetic. But it does add some interesting data-points to what we consider bullying. To be clear, I've viewed the anti-bullying movement with some skepticism


From the piece:

One afternoon last October, a year after Clementi's death, the image was projected onto two giant screens in a hall in a student center at Rutgers. CNN was taping a special, "Bullying: It Stops Here," hosted by Anderson Cooper. The audience consisted mostly of Rutgers students--Tyler Picone sat in the front row--and they listened courteously as a floor manager called out "Are you guys excited to be on TV?" and "You're a good-looking group," then coached them on how to express shock or grief while watching the panel. The discussion, involving Dr. Phil McGraw, Kelly Ripa, and Robert Faris, a sociologist at U.C.-Davis, and others, began with Cooper declaring that Tyler Clementi's life had been "thrown onto the Internet." 

Then, in what may have been quiet recognition that the source of Clementi's despair was unknown, and may remain unknown, the show barely mentioned Clementi again. Its primary subject was the meanness of middle-school students. Clementi was a totem, but not part of the story. Outside, I spoke to Eric Thor, a junior, and the president of Delta Lambda Phi, a gay-oriented fraternity. " 'Bullying' is trying to be a label that covers all negative interrelations between students," he said. "If you say the word enough, it starts to lose meaning." He noted that Clementi had lacked a close ally at Rutgers. "Everyone needs a sidekick. I don't think he had that." 

With that said, I was left with very little sympathy for Ravi, a rather persistent homophobe and young egotist, who is now facing ten years in prison after declining a plea-deal that would have given no jail time. I don't know if he "bullied" Clementi, or not. The label isn't so important to me. What he actually seems to have done--thoughtlessly making an exhibit of a troubled young man in a cruel quest to ingratiate himself to his peers--and the fact that that deed ended in a death, strikes me as bad enough.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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