Schools need firm response to bullying

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As many of us have probably heard recently, there has been a disturbing rise in suicides among high school and college students this fall. These suicides have been largely attributed to bullying, mostly due to the perceived or actual homosexuality of the target. Though suicide is a prevalent problem, this recent surge has gotten significant news coverage and prompted a response on the national level.

In particular, the death of Tyler Clementi prompted a significant response from the media and supporters of LGBT students. The “It Gets Better” campaign, launched by famous — or perhaps infamous — blogger Dan Savage, implores people to post videos to YouTube explaining why life will get better and showing LGBT adults living happy, successful lives despite terrible experiences at school.

The campaign has been very successful in terms of responses. Hundreds of people from across the country have posted videos to YouTube supporting the project. This also includes many notable celebrities: Among others, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman, Lance Bass, and members of the cast of Wicked have contributed videos.

The project is certainly a step in the right direction, but it does not address the root problem, no matter how many celebrities post videos. Although it is impossible to completely eliminate bullying, students can easily be equipped with the tools necessary to deal with the resulting stress. However, this requires schools and even universities to admit that bullying is a problem, which some are unwilling to do. Rutgers University, which Clementi attended, rushed to absolve itself of any wrongdoing in Clementi’s death. The university president, Richard McCormick, claimed that “based on everything I know, I believe that we did all we could and we did the right thing.”

For those who do not know the details, Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, allegedly set up a webcam to record Clementi during an intimate encounter, and then broadcast this encounter over the Internet, which prompted Clementi’s suicide. Even though Clementi had filed a complaint with his resident assistant about a previous incident where Ravi used the same setup but failed to catch an intimate encounter, Rutgers failed to enact preventative measures sufficient to prevent the second incident.

It is important to note here that this voyeurism is illegal, and Ravi and an accomplice have had charges laid against them for the act. If Rutgers had been truly concerned with doing “the right thing,” it would have made appropriate arrangements after the first illegal act by the roommate, instead of allowing the county prosecutor to settle the matter after Clementi’s death.

The “It Gets Better” project is not the only outcome from the recent spate of student suicides. Support lines have cropped up all over the country for bullied youth, including the Trevor Project which runs both a telephone hotline at (866) 488-7386 and a secure instant messaging service for teens to reach out to supportive individuals.