Suicides prompt action.
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A gay rights group, citing what it called a “hidden population of Tyler Clementis,” asked the Rutgers University administration to do more to ensure gay students’ safety on campus.
“What we want is to address the issue of this hidden population that is hidden because of a lack of understanding of what they are dealing with,” said Robert T. O’Brien, an assistant instructor of anthropology and one of the co-founding members of the group, Queering the Air.
Speaking before a small demonstration, O’Brien and other campus community members said Clementi’s widely publicized suicide a month ago, along with another suicide of a gay Rutgers student in March, exposed what they said was a pervasive stigma against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people at Rutgers and in society at large. Unacknowledged prejudices, they said, can prevent students from getting the help they need during traumatic situations or even to address their daily medical and social needs.
Rutgers University President Richard McCormick said he is taking the groups’ concerns seriously, and the university is considering many of its specific demands, including introducing gender-neutral campus housing, improved counseling services and better sensitivity training for faculty.
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“I know they have concerns that we need to address in the months and the years ahead,” he said. “They deserve to feel as comfortable and as welcome at Rutgers as everyone else.”
The group used a student government meeting to air their concerns. Top university administrators were on hand to discuss the results of a student campus life survey, including concerns about the student dining hall, tuition rates and campus transportation. Shortly before the meeting, O’Brien presented McCormick with a three-page copy of an e-mail he sent earlier that evening outlining the group’s concerns.
“Our society is not as safe or tolerant a place for LGBTQ and other historically oppressed groups as many would like to believe,” the e-mail read. “and, as a consequence, the suffering of individuals in these groups too often goes unnoticed until a tragedy occurs.”
Clementi, a Rutgers freshman from Ridgewood, N.J., killed himself after his roommate allegedly broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with a man over the Internet. The incident, which followed a string of suicides committed by gay young people who had been harassed on the Internet, sparked a national conversation about gay bullying and Internet privacy.
Aaron Lee, a fourth-year transgender student, said Rutgers is safer for gay students than many other places, but the university’s resources are not always easy to find.
“Not everyone is prepared to be in a position where they have to try multiple times to reach out for help,” he said.
University student body President Yousef Saleh, a senior from Jersey City, N.J., also said reports that Clementi had attempted to address his problem through a resident assistant and had written about his concerns on a gay Internet forum demonstrated that the university’s counseling services are not as accessible as they should be.
“The support is there, but they’re not aware of it, or it’s not advertised,” he said.
Queering the Air leaders say they have compiled complaints from LGBT students about safety, housing and medical and counseling.
The New Brunswick, N.J.-based group, which is not a university club but includes members who are students, faculty and staff, asked the Rutgers administration to take the following steps:
— Create gender-neutral housing — housing with mixed-gender dorm rooms and bathrooms — where members of the LGBT community might be more comfortable.
— Change residential screening practices to ask students if they would be comfortable living alongside LGBT students.
— Establish a committee with LGBT students, faculty and staff to review policies and procedures regarding harassment complaints and student services.
— Empower the committee to investigate the events leading up to Clementi’s suicide and determine steps to provide a safer campus.