Tyler Clementi and all of the bystanders
What about the bystanders?
Where were the people who knew what had happened to Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi and did nothing to help when he learned he had been secretly recorded while having sex with a man in his dorm room and the images were broadcast over the Internet?
Clementi jumped off a bridge after this occurred. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, as well as fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi’s privacy.
Middlesex County prosecutors in New Jersey say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex Sept. 19, and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter the day before Clementi’s Sept. 22 suicide.
The death sparked a public discussion about the dangers of social media and the need for stronger legal penalties for cyber-bullying. The last time there was so much public discussion of the topic was after the suicide last January of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince after she was the victim of bullying and cyber-bullying; six young people were arrested on charges including criminal harassment, violation of civil rights with bodily harm, assault, stalking and statutory rape.
We like to talk about getting tough when tragedy happens.
What we don’t like to talk about after the shock of the tragedy fades is what parents and schools should have done years earlier to create a climate in which kids don’t do mean things to each other, or, if they do, in which there are other young people who recognize the wrong and step in to stop it.
And we certainly don’t like to talk about how most schools today are so focused on narrow academic objectives that they, as Malcolm Gauld, an expert on character education and president of Hyde Schools wrote in this post earlier this year, “actually fuel many of the problems we profess to want to solve.”
Bullying is not a small problem. Government statistics show that at least a third of students ages 12-18 report being bullied during the school year. And the consequences can sometimes be life-long.
More than 40 states have some sort of law that makes bullying illegal, yet there is no enforcement and the harassment of students by their classmates remains common.
Schools hold assemblies on character development, and promote “words of the month” -- respect and trust are two favorites -- but kids know that schools and a lot of parents are obsessed with test scores and grades and everything else takes a lesser importance.
Such important work should be a priority of the Education Department, but, alas, there is no billion-dollar competition for states to help schools implement comprehensive anti-bullying programs.
Such programs -- the ones that evidence shows work best to reduce bullying -- include every child and every adult in the school building, and teach all kids when and how to intercede in an incident to help a victim without getting hurt themselves. And kids can learn how not to be victims.
It isn’t easy work, and the results can be slow to come, but the issue is one that schools shouldn’t ignore. Parents shouldn’t either.
I keep wondering about the kids who knew what was happening to Tyler Clementi and did nothing to step in to help him. Perhaps it may have made a difference to him, perhaps not.
The crime is in the not trying.
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| October 1, 2010; 2:37 PM ET
Categories: Bullying, College Life | Tags: bullying, clementi suicide, cyberbullying, dhraun ravi, gay suicide, invasion of privacy, molly wei, phoebe prince, rutgers university, student suicide, tyler clementi, tyler suicide
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