Posted by the Editorial Board
A recent tragedy has reverberated around our campus and others across the world. On Sept. 22, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly streamed a video of his sexual encounter with another man. This horrifying incident exposes the urgent need to reevaluate and strengthen our community's commitment to abolishing intolerance.
We know Tyler's story, because it's everywhere. Celebrities released video tributes, legislators pushed for new criminal penalties and newspapers across the globe covered the incident. But discussion of Tyler's death on campus took a turn when Jen Burden, Skidmore's director of Health Promotion, sent out a campus-wide email about the tragedy.
"I would very much like to believe that the sort of cruelty that Tyler experienced would not take place on our campus," Burden said in an email that expressed the anger and frustration that we all felt at hearing his story. "Unfortunately, my desire to believe these things does not make them so."
With her thoughtful and impassioned letter to the student body, the conversation changed. It was no longer, "How could something this terrible happen?" but now, "Could something this terrible happen here, at Skidmore?" And the answer, unfortunately, is a frightening and undeniable ‘yes.'
We are living in the beginning of a new millennium where technology has overshot morality. The growing pains inherent in this transition have left us communicating in a thousand different ways without yet understanding the responsibilities involved in their use. We live in a time of instantaneous communication and, simultaneously, continuing prejudice and hatred: Tyler Clementi's death is an expression of how dangerous this can be.
This tragedy further resonates with the hopes and disappointments we all felt upon coming to college for the first time. As freshmen, we arrived at Skidmore expecting college to be a safe space of progressive understanding and open-armed acceptance. Unburdened by the expectations and disappointments we might have suffered at home, we looked forward to the freedom of discovering ourselves in a community that, everyone assures us, will embrace us for who we are.
We love our campus, but no school can live up to the expectations of a wide-eyed first-year. That's why the college spends weeks training RAs and peer advocates, holds lectures on diversity and combating prejudice and equips a Counseling Center that allows students to make appointments free of charge. A student in Tyler's situation would have many avenues to seek help, we assure ourselves.
But Rutgers offered a Counseling Center, campus diversity initiatives and RAs who spoke with Tyler days before he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Policies and training can only go so far: it falls to us, as members of the college community, to make up the difference by refusing to tolerate cruelty and prejudice in our fellow students.
As she ended her email, Jen Burden said, "I would like to believe that we are not a community of silent bystanders." If we want to prevent Skidmore becoming a home to the same kind of tragedy suffered by Tyler Clementi, we can't be.