WASHINGTON, D.C. — It's been several weeks since the nation was stunned by Tyler Clementi's suicide. The Rutgers University freshman took his own life after his roommate allegedly posted a video of Clementi's intimate encounter with another man.
On college campuses, the incident raised awareness about the dangers of cyberbullying and the strains felt by students who have been digitally harassed. The issue is likely to be a topic of conversation on Thursday (October 14), when President Obama takes the stage for an MTV youth town hall special called "A Conversation With President Obama."
MTV News visited Howard University on Wednesday to ask students about their thoughts on the issue.
"[Considering] that suicide, especially among the gay population, is on the rise, it's one of the most disheartening things to experience," said freshman Castell Abner III, 18, who said he knows what that kind of harassment is like because it happened to someone in his family. "I know exactly what it's like to experience someone being bullied because of their sexual orientation ... it's disgusting ... bullying doesn't accomplish anything ... especially at a place of higher learning, where [diversity] should be celebrated."
Nearly all of the students we talked to said they had either been the victims of bullying or knew someone who had been and all agreed that the anonymity and ubiquity of Facebook, MySpace and AOL's popular instant messaging service make it easier for students to be harassed.
"I think it's senseless," said Maurice Gattis, 18, who favors some government action on the issue. "In the digital age, you don't have many laws that govern what happens outside of schools and campuses and what happens on Facebook or MySpace or any social networking [site]. All these bullying [incidents] are occurring and there's no laws in place to stop them from happening and they're having adverse effects. I think the government should step in to protect us from cyberbullying."
Detroit's Justin Jennings, 18, said it seems as if cyberbullying is far more prevalent these days, especially at universities, and whether it has to do with sexual orientation or just not fitting in, he also believes the government should take action.
"Open bullying, it should [lead to] suspension," he said, proposing sanctions at universities for those who engage in cyberbullying. "People are staying on the Internet 90 percent of the time. You never know what people are going through. If someone kills themselves on your hands ... it's not going to be good."
At the end of the day, 19-year-old Christianna Ware said she thinks it's up to each individual to act responsibly, but she agreed that the government should look into passing laws that could protect online privacy so "you cannot post people's private information online just because you feel like it. The situation with the boy's room?" she said, referring to Clementi allegedly being recorded while in his own dorm room. "Where can [you] really be safe at if you can't be safe in your own little space? That's the only square that you have in college to call your own and you have to share it with someone else. But you don't have any privacy because they go online and post it, which is not fair."
Whether it's cyberbullying, the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the economy, job creation or some other pressing issue, you too can ask the president about his plans to remedy the situation. He'll be taking questions from Twitter, as well as the live audience, during Thursday's conversation. From now through the live show, tweet your questions with the hashtag #ask jobs or #ask economy (or another topic that's important to you). You can also visit the Twitter Tracker to submit your question and see which #ask topics are trending.
We're not just looking for your questions, though. We're also interested in how you're feeling about the country, the world and your own lives. We want to hear from you about your greatest hopes and fears, so tweet your answer to those questions to #mygreatesthope and #mygreatestfear, and your thoughts might get read during the live broadcast.
Do you think the government should draft legislation to address cyberbullying? Share your opinions in the comments before asking the president about it on Thursday.
"A Conversation With President Obama," a production of MTV News and BET News, will be hosted by MTV News' Sway Calloway, BET's April Woodard and CMT's Katie Cook. The show will air live at 4 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. CT (and tape-delayed at 4 p.m. PT) on MTV, BET, CMT, mtvU, Centric and Tr3s. The show will also stream on MTV.com, BET.com, CMT.com and Tr3s.com and will be made available on-demand 30 days after its initial airing.