I was quite frankly surprised when I heard that the jury in the Dharun Ravi case had thrown the book at him. I never expected conviction on anything other than perhaps invasion of privacy in this case. But a jury clearly decided that there was enough of a trail of evidence to demonstrate that Ravi knew perfectly well what he was doing and that what he did was a hate crime. I suppose I underestimated my fellow New Jerseyans.
There is an element of the bloodthirsty mob about some of the reaction to the conviction, what with people commenting on news sites of their own fantasies about what might happen to a slightly-built, nice-looking young man of twenty in prison. I think that's excessive, and I say that as someone who has endured my share of bullying in my life.
My first bully was in elementary school in Mountainside, New Jersey. Sometimes she was my friend, most of the time she was my enemy. It's hard to imagine an elementary school kid able to emotionally torture another one, but she sure did with me. Much of the rest of my childhood didn't deal with specific bullies, but the garden-variety cruelty of kids who shunned or made fun of me because I was short, overweight, used a ridiculously large vocabulary, and just didn't "fit in." Of course there was that incident of being smacked in the face at school because I had refused to sell a kid cigarettes paid for with food stamps at my job at the A&P -- and then being asked by the high school principal what I had done to make her slap me, but whatever.
Later on in college I was referred to as "The Evil Troll" by a boy I had talked to once at a freshman mixer and again the next day who had decided he wasn't interested. He was not someone I pursued, but I suppose his friends had ragged him mercilessly enough for even talking to me that the moniker was developed and stuck. It was still there even two years later when I started dating someone else from his dorm.
Every time a kid commits suicide after being cyberbullying, I am thankful that I am not young now. I was a deeply unhappy kid with low self-esteem who didn't seem to fit in anywhere. For a while it seemed that the internet had made it possble for geeky, awkward kids like me to find like-minded souls, but that was before Facebook and Twitter. I can't even imagine what the 24 x 7 opportunities presented by social networking would have done to me. I think I probably would have joined the ranks of those kids found hanging in their rooms, unable to take it anymore.
Dharun Ravi didn't "make" Tyler Clementi jump off a bridge. As Dan Savage points out
, there is another person involved in this case and he has NOT felt it necessary to die. It was wise of the prosecutor in this case to not seek to link what Ravi did with Clementi's suicide directly, because no one can tell how much is too much for any particular kid. Some kids are more resilient than others.
But there's something else operative here that no one is mentioning, and that is why on earth these two kids were selected as roommates for each other. My first college roommate was a drop-dead gorgeous prom queen from Haddonfield, New Jersey. We had exchanged friendly letters all summer, hers loaded with "i"'s dotted with smiley faces. But when I showed up on campus two days late because I'd had to attend my grandfather's funeral, her lip literally curled up the minute she looked at me. That night I called home, crying that I'd never seen so many unfriendly bitches in my life.
The next semester, Prom Queen found a new roommate with whom she had more in common. I was then placed with a young woman from Jamaica. Now if you fast forward to today, when my department hired a contractor from Jamaica, I had developed a fondness and affinity for Jamaica and Jamaicans, and she and I became friends quickly. But back then, V. and I had nothing in common. She was unhappy and homesick, and my frame of reference and my own unhappiness left me with nothing to use to help her. She left the school after one semester.
My third roommate was a senior -- a 23-year-old divorced evangelical Christian who strongly disapproved of the partying I was doing. Ironically, I got along with her better than any of my others. I still have a beach towel she gave me as a Christmas gift during the semester I roomed with her.
Schools pride themselves on being grounds for kids to learn to live with people who come from different backgrounds. The school I went to was this pissant little college in eastern Pennsylvania, populated with people whh literally thought Jews had horns, so there wasn't all that much diversity. That's probably why I was placed with two people who also "didn't fit in". But for many kids, college is the first time they share a room with someone, and it's the first time they're away from home. Tyler Clementi is known to have been a shy, quiet, musical, and introspective kid, where Ravi was that kind of confident, outgoing guy who was at home in front of a computer as well as out on an athletic field. It appears Ravi was uncomfortable with the sexual orientation of his roommate, and who knows what kind of sexual issues he might be dealing with inside himself, since for the most part, if you scratch the surface of a homophobe, you'll find a closet case inside. But this was a serious mismatch, and you have to wonder -- in these days of eHarmony and every other kind of matching service imaginable, why on earth doesn't Rutgers use some kind of metrics to pair these kids up in a more compatible way?