Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
As spring break ends, students will return to Rutgers University on Sunday — two days after a verdict in the trial of Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers student who was accused of spying on his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi's sexual encounter. Ravi was found guilty on all 15 criminal charges, including a conviction on hate crime charges. Clementi committed suicide in 2010, days after learning of the spying.
Rutgers issued a statement shortly after the verdict was announced on Friday saying this tragedy, “which will forever affect the lives of the families involved, deeply touched the Rutgers community and the world.” But officials say there are no other formal plans from the administration to communicate about the verdict, leaving it to students and academic departments to make sense of it themselves.
“The University has not provided a lot of guidance on this issue at all,” said Karen Cerulo, chair of the Sociology Department. She has led discussions of the case with her own students and said other departments are taking similar initiative.
Given the nature of the issues raised by the case — privacy, hate crimes, and the use of social media — Cerulo said studying what happened goes to the heart of the work she and her colleagues do.
“This is a teaching moment,” Cerulo said.
Rutgers University has made changes to its housing policies since Clementi’s death, including a pilot program where students can select a known roommate of any gender, as well as a roommate matching option for first-year and transfer students who are interested in being paired with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer roommate.
Last month, student leaders participated in a bystander intervention workshop. It is part of an on-going campaign, sponsored by the Office of the Dean, to provide members of the university community the tools to stand up to hate and report bias.