After the tragedy at Rutgers University in early 2010, I hoped online bullying would subside. Barely a month into his first semester in college, freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Unbearably tormented by his roommate, Clementi’s transition from high school to college was not as smooth as most. The final straw was an explicit video Clementi’s roommate filmed without his permission and unlawfully uploaded to the Internet.
As if the move from the security of a family home into the wilderness of a freshman dorm isn’t nerve wrecking enough, Clementi was also dealing with internal curiosity regarding his sexual orientation. A small fish in a huge mess of 40,000 Rutgers undergrads, Clementi may have believed he would be able to slip under the radar.
Most commonly recognized by young adults as the “time to experiment,” the appeal of university living is endless. No parents, no curfews, no cleaning, what could be better? Unfortunately for Clementi’s roommate, that freedom was short-lived. Linked to the suicide of his 18-year-old companion, Dharun Ravi regrets his “thoughtless, insensitive, immature, stupid and childish choices.” Not only does Ravi have to endure three years of probation after 30 days in jail, but he also has to live with what he did for the rest of his life, which is enough to make any man go crazy.
Although Ravi is blessed with the opportunity to live another day, his bullying has serious consequences that are either misunderstood or commonly overlooked. With the help of social media sites and technological advances, Ravi was able to push his roommate so far over the edge he landed in the Hudson River.
“I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” Ravi tweeted to his followers on September 20, 2010. After having seen the personally invasive video of him with another man and two days of repeatedly looking at the Twitter feed in which he found his roommate’s hurtful words, the shy, talented violinist took matters into his own hands.
Ravi’s lack of remorse is very disconcerting to me. Unable to retract his life-changing words from the Internet, Ravi feared his apology would make him look insincere. Anti-bullying commercials, annual performances in the gym/cafeteria, and commercial pop-ups are not enough to instill the severity of the crime into the stubborn heads of young adults. For a week or so, calculus must take a back seat to bullying-prevention awareness. If the youth of America is thoroughly educated to the consequences of bullying, many students will be more inclined to watch what they say. In hindsight, the guilt that Ravi has to endure on a daily basis is enough to make any 20-year-old sign off of Twitter before pressing ‘send.’
Bullying is a common occurrence amongst young adults and teens. Due to the popularity of the crime, and various degrees of intent, it is hard to decipher against the cases that are going to escalate and the cases that are petty arguments. Unfortunately for the family and friends of Ashley Riggitano, there is no longer a case to investigate.
On February 6, 2013, Riggitano leapt off the George Washington Bridge. Enticed by Facebook messages she had received earlier in the day, Riggitano had reached her breaking point. “Those who incessantly blame others as the cause of their issues should perhaps take a step back and reevaluate these situations. The common thread may be that ‘they’ aren’t the problem, but rather that YOU are,” were the last words Riggitano posted online.
The 22-year-old owned a jewelry business called Missfits with her long time friend Victoria Van Thunen. As one of the five women banned from Riggitano’s funeral, I believe more than just business may have gotten in the way of the dynamic duo. “If you work in the fashion business, your name and reputation is everything,” a friend of Riggitano reported to the New York Post. Reportedly a young woman who needed mental help, the aspiring fashionista allegedly “planned this from the beginning.”
According to the Post, Riggitano started an argument with her then boyfriend, Drew Heissenbuttel over a friendship he had with their classmate Alison Tinari. Riggitano sent Tinari a Facebook message instructing her to stay away from her boyfriend.
Tinari fired back with remarks such as, “Go try to kill yourself on Xanax again, you unstable loser. Go f*** yourself and never speak to me again.” Unacceptable in any situation, this type of response is considered a suicidal threat, which no authoritarian would take lightly. After informing Tinari of the severity of her actions, Ashley ended her life.
Similar to the aftershock experienced by Ravi in 2010, Tinari claims, “The only thing I’m ashamed of is what I said about her overdosing on Xanax. I shouldn’t have said that.” In order to avoid the guilt and consequence of her harsh words, Tinari is playing Riggitano’s victim. There are reports of Riggitano harassing Tinari on Facebook via the private message function, although the two are not friends.
I strongly believe that adrenaline plays an important role in the development of an online argument, as does the anonymity of the computer screen. After about a month of exchanging hateful words online, Riggitano wanted the notifications to stop.
It is difficult to tell when something is a seemingly harmless exchange of hateful words or something bigger. The most effective way to tell the difference is to not get involved at all. I believe that the sooner bullying subsides amongst young people, the lower the suicide rate will become. A common misconception, there is a difference between standing up for yourself and putting someone else down.
It is important that high schools encourage bully prevention awareness and provide alternative ways for students to handle their problems. Although some may be more comfortable behind the security of a computer screen, it is important to stress that confrontation is a part of life. Everyone must learn when to responsibly fight their battles and when to call for help.
The tragic correlation between bullying and suicide is devastating. A permanent fix for a temporary situation, the fact that bullying takes some people that far is hard to come to terms with. If many people have been bullied to the point they see no hope for the future it is time to look at the severity of the crime, instill greater situational education, enforce anti-bullying clauses, and put an end to the madness.Tags: Ashley Riggitano, Boyfriend, bullying, Facebook, George Washington Bridge, internet, Rutgers University, suicide, Tyler Clementi