In the wake of the death of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi , his fellow students organized a protest to highlight the issues that led to his apparent suicide — namely, violations of personal privacy and respect for all individuals, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
But that protest did little to change the mood on the university’s campus, as students struggle to come to terms with the tragedy and figure out how something like this could happen.
“My initial reaction was shock. It’s kind of infuriating that some people can be so immature. We live in 2010; it’s not 1950,” Rutgers freshman Emily Williams said. “You come to this big state university — with, what, 26,000 students? — you have to know coming in that it’s going to be extremely diverse, and people need to stop being so immature and naive and a little more accepting.”
“We all feel like we should’ve been supporting each other — we don’t support bullying — and we were shocked to hear of something like that happening,” Stephanie Berryer Jean-Louis added. “Today’s mood [on campus] was very dark, and everyone was talking about it and everyone just couldn’t believe that something like this could happen at our school.”
Those sentiments were echoed by practically every Rutgers student MTV News spoke to Thursday, but after the initial shock of Clementi’s suicide wore off, many were left wondering: Could something like this happen again? And, more importantly, is Rutgers a safe haven for LGBT students? The answer to those questions seemed to vary.
“That’s difficult to say, [because] Rutgers is so huge and there are so many different cultures on campus,” freshman Taylor Tullo said. “In my experience, I’ve dealt with a lot of homophobia already, and I’ve only been here for about a month. So I think it’s the type of students that are here, and maybe it’s because I’m young and not a lot of kids are educated or exposed to different cultures. I just think it’s shocking that, we’re coming here to learn, and part of that is safety, and I don’t think that has really been supplied by Rutgers.”
“I feel like we really take privacy for granted these days. I’ve heard so many of my classmates talk about teasing people for this or that,” Marissa Lugo added. “It’s almost as if, even though we’re in college, a lot of us haven’t matured to the level you’d expect.”
And while most expect that Rutgers will make some changes as a result of Clementi’s death — including the increase of so-called “safe spaces,” gender-neutral, gay-friendly residences on campus — those are still yet to come. For now, most are still attempting to come to terms with the loss of one of their fellow students and the actions that led to his death.
“It’s truly upsetting to me that people can’t just accept people for who they are. Instead, they felt the need to make a spectacle of somebody because of their differences,” Lugo said. “I’m not really surprised [it happened], but I’m saddened by it. It’s really difficult for me to talk about.”